Teachers Leaning on Teachers

from Educators' eZine

To enhance learning in a digital environment, Kindergarten through 6th grade teachers in the Maize School District, in Maize, Kansas, have been working together to create a database of all of their best teacher-created resources and activities.

As a growing Wichita, Kansas suburban school district, our need for teachers to have a means to share materials between schools grew as well. In a district with a growth rate averaging around 200 students per year, with over 6000 students and 400 teachers, bringing teachers together to share their ideas can be difficult. The district utilizes a campus concept, whose eight buildings include: a K-1 building, a K-5 building, two 2-5 buildings, a 6-8 building, a 7-8 building, as well as both a high school and an alternative high school for grades 9-12.

With sustained growth, a variety in building configuration and additional professional development required for changing technology, the need to continually improve procedures and provide a place to share best practices, resources, and instructional strategies becomes critical. According to Kanigel (1997) utilizing best practices is a philosophical approach based around continuous learning and continual improvement.

The accountability required by No Child Left Behind, coupled with the need for developing common practice and standard procedures for integrating new technology hardware and software into the curriculum places further demands on staff to develop methods of sharing at all levels in order to improve constantly. According to Minerich (2002) the Japanese word kaizen has been imported into Western organizational language and stresses the importance of efforts to improve constantly. Kaizen comes from two Japanese words: kai, which means "to change," and zen, which means "good or for the better." Together, the words mean continuous change for the better." At Maize it was decided that by defining methods used to get things done and providing organizational consistency we could enhance continual improvement and student achievement. We found that utilizing a common location to access best practices helped to enhance and develop the philosophy of continued growth for both teachers and students.

Kaizen is a philosophy which views improvement as a gradual and methodical process. This concept involves making the learning environment more efficient and effective by creating a team atmosphere, improving everyday procedures, providing for personal satisfaction, and providing more engaging enriching activities (Minerich, 2002). In the Maize district, in order to provide a team environment for continuous learning and improvement, professional learning communities (PLC) are incorporated into the development of staff K-12. We encorage teachers to share resources and best practices at these collaborative meeting sessions.

In the initial stages of building learning communities while organizing resources and encouraging staff to grow, we asked the question: "Why reinvent the wheel for each school?" As a result, we incorporated into the district procedures the opportunity for cross-curricular and grade level collaboration time. The implementation of PLC time throughout the district has provided a vehicle for teachers to collaborate and share their ideas of "what really works" for student achievement and continual growth. It has also created a "community of learning" within the district (Eaker, DuFour R, & DuFour R, 2002).

When asked, "What makes this work at Maize?" The authors find it to be the Kaizen philosophy of continuous improvement. PLC groups meet every other week to evaluate what they're doing and to help each other to find the best strategies to meet the needs of all students. However, the issue of bringing grade levels together across the district requires a system that is constant and ongoing rather than occurring only periodically on scarce professional development days. (Garet, Porter, Desimone, Binnan, & Kwang, 2001)

Getting Started:
Even before the district implemented professional learning communities, the K-1 school shared a network space where they were allowed to store their activities in their own folders, for all teachers in the building to view. The technology integration consultant created a shared folder organized for staff members to pull from each others folders, and activities. This shared folder contained activities organized into content folders. Teachers provided the input for organization of the folders, and how to provide efficient access to the activities. Since the district shared a reading series, it was beneficial to organize the activities within Kindergarten and First Grade reading by units. As the district has continued to grow, the buildings and grade levels have continued to be reconfigured, pulling K-1 teachers to other buildings. It was at the request of these teachers to have access to their K-1 network database that initiated the district to create a K-6 database that all the elementary schools could access.

The new database:
The district technology specialists collaborated to create a network database available to all elementary teachers. Technology Integration Specialists from each school began organizing the material and Technology integration consultants keep each submitted activity organized within the folders for easy retrieval.

Another resource that encouraged curriculum structure is the fact that the district has implemented several interactive whiteboards. Each grade level also contains a folder with interactive whiteboard activities created by Maize teachers and consultants to go along with the curriculum they are teaching. The teachers continue to work together to create activities in reading and math which enhance curricular series that they use. Teachers are not required to create activities, but are free to use whatever they want.

Another resource provided by the district are video clips from United Video Streaming (UVS). Teachers have incorporated these visual enhancements into their lessons. Teachers also share PowerPoints and activities that go along with these videos. They access district UVS videos through a shared database as well, which eliminates the need to download the same video multiple times. "If someone else has already created a great lesson on something you're looking for, it seems redundant to have to recreate it because you don't teach in the same building with that teacher" was a comment from one staff member.

Staff Development
The implementation of the new network database has been a wonderful tool for staff development. The district provides paid mini-workshops called "staff academies." As teachers participate in these workshops, the assessments and activities that they create to go along with the curriculum are made available on the network for all teachers to access. Staff Development Consultants are able to pull "models" of what they are teaching, and the activities related to exactly what those teachers are teaching. These are valuable resources because they have been created by Maize teachers to go along with Maize curriculum. Teachers are encouraged to give themselves credit on the activities as "publishers" of the materials, but many choose to be anonymous.

The network has created an online collaboration and has really changed the "this activity is mine because I created it" attitude into a "look what I made! Try it!" attitude. This enhances the professional learning community and helps us embrace new philosophies and opportunities for learning in a digital world.

Email:Jennifer Kern

References

Eaker, R., DuFour, R., & DuFour, R. (2002. Getting started: Reculturing schools to become professional learning communities. Bloomington, Indiana: National Educational Services.

Garet, Porter, Desimone, Binnan, & Kwang, 2001

Kanigel, R (1997). The One Best Way: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency. New York: Penguin Books.

Minerich, J (2002) The zen of improvement; Magazine Article, Source: The Manufacturer US Published: March 2002

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