Teacher Leadership Drives Student Learning

Maine Township High School District 207, located just past the Chicago O’Hare International Airport, has a simple mission: to improve learning for 6,500 students coming from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. All three of Maine Township High Schools made the Washington Post “Challenge Index,” which represents the most rigorous high schools in America. District 207 credits a deep teacher leadership focus as key to this success.

Each District 207 high school has four instructional coaches who teach half-time and have Instructional Coaching duties for the remainder of their contractual day; in addition, each department has a discipline-specific instructional coach who is released from a supervision duty to help support classroom teachers. This individual coaching model is supported by a network of teacher leaders that includes:

  • The largest group of Google-certified Education Trainers in the world, as well as the largest group of Johnson and Johnson-trained Cooperative Learning trainers; and
  • Large cohorts of teachers trained in problem-based learning through the Illinois Math and Science Academy, differentiated instruction, as well as neuroscience-influenced instruction.

The district hosts weekly teacher meeting time to provide focus on student outcomes, as well as virtual learning communities using Google+. What follows are examples of programs that have evolved from these teacher leader communities:

  • Maine East Science Department Chair and teacher Aida Awad uses Google Apps for Education to improve student formative assessment. Through the use of a process graph in Google Apps, students self assess their mastery of clear learning targets.
  • Maine South Social Science teacher Mike Biondo uses the Autocrat mail-merge script (found as an Add-on in Google Sheets) to design assessment and feedback loops. After completing a Question Formulation Technique exercise to begin the unit, students complete a polling process to narrow down a set of questions to those of highest priority. They use the Socrative app to narrow this set down to three priority questions. Mr. Biondo found this approach allowed students to practice and refine their thinking and skills in a way that led directly to the summative exam for the unit.
  • District Career and Technical Education Coordinator Kim Jablonski uses applications like Kaizena to provide audio feedback to students to help inform scoring on the class rubric. She found that scoring this way allowed students to, “internalize it more and take greater action on asking questions, practicing or making corrections. Students often followed up by commenting back through the application or through email, but the feedback generated more discussion in class.”
  • Maine West Fine Arts teacher Greg Regalado creates documents that include photos submitted by students that express various art themes. He puts these into a shared class folder on his class website and asks his students to find 2 to 4 pictures that represent specific themes, and then group them into the in appropriate document. They then write a brief description of these images that analyze why these images represent various art themes. Once students have completed their independent work, the shared documents became the basis for classroom discussion.
  • Allison Gest is a science teacher at Maine South High School who uses Google tools in ways that make the paper exit slip obsolete. By using Google forms, Ms. Gest is able to check for student understanding, as well as add assessment features that allow her to check for a lesson’s effectiveness. Ms. Gest also uses Google Apps to get students involved in their own assessment. Click here for more details: https://blog.versal.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/versal_CaseStudy-Gest-WP-1007.pdf.

Having a focused framework to create an environment of continual teacher growth is central to meeting the needs of all learners. At District 207, our teachers’ evolution is helping drive improved student learning.

Dr. Wallace is his sixth year as the Superintendent of Maine Township High School District 207. Prior to becoming Superintendent, he spent four years as the District’s Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. He is a former English, journalism and computer science teacher as well as Assistant Principal and Principal at the high school level. He is passionate about neuroscience and the amazing discoveries that are providing the best information ever about how humans learn.