(Matt Meyer, Heather Martin, Emiko Conroy, Tim Greenlee)
On November 16th, Forest Hills Public Schools acknowledged the collaborative achievements of Knapp Forest's fifth grade teachers with its first-ever "Teacher Team of the Year" award. The next week, I sat down with the team to record this podcast (check it out -- run time is 18:40).
Highlights from the podcast...
The team's journey began in earnest about four years ago, when they took a deeper look at the DuFour PLC questions:
1. What is it we expect all of our students to learn?
2. How will we know if they have learned it?
3. How will we respond when one or more of them don't learn it?
4. How will we respond when one or more of them already know it?
(In our district, these four questions underpin our inquiry cycle)
Beginning with one unit in math, and with some self-acknowledged skepticism, they decided to try grouping all of the kids based on what they needed around fractions -- or as the team described it, the "fifth grade nemesis." The students were given a pretest, and each teacher took a different tier of students. When the team analyzed the data at the end of the unit, Heather said they were "blown away" at the growth exhibited by every single student. She adamantly noted, "we couldn't turn our backs on that data."
The team continued the new model for math, and at end of the school year, they decided to go all in with language arts as well. They planned together over the summer, and launched the next fall with reading, writing, and math.
The teachers change growth groups unit by unit, and year by year. The team believes that this grows their teaching practice, and continues to push them to learn. It also breathes life into the idea articulated by Tim, that "these are all our students, and we're going to find a way to work with all of them, and get all of them to grow." It shows students that it doesn't matter which homeroom teacher they are assigned to at the beginning of the year - they have four teachers, all committed to each of them.
The model also enhances student engagement. As Emi shared, "I think that they look forward to coming to school. I look forward to coming to school, too, you know, and working with all of these individuals. And the kids, they come into school ready to learn, and I think it's attributed to having teammates like this."
As we wound up our conversation, Matt voiced advice that his teammates wholeheartedly agreed with: "Accept that the job is bigger than one person. That it's okay to blow up the model. And we're all products of the model...but you gotta have the trust to say, 'it's bigger than me. I need help to do it better for the kids.'"
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