Growing phenomenal teachersTeacher Leadership Program sowing seeds for new instruction
BY KARYN SPORY
Mt. Pleasant News
It’s an exciting time in education, says Katie Gavin, director of instruction at Mt. Pleasant Community School District.
As the way children learn changes, so does classroom instruction and at the crux of that paradigm shift are the district’s instructional coaches and the Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) System.
“Yesterday, I had a meeting with all of my (instructional) coaches, and one of my elementary coaches was ecstatic,” said Gavin. “Look at what we did with technology with kindergarteners,” she recalled the coach saying.
What had they done? They had created books on their iPads. “(The coach) was so excited and the teacher was so excited to demonstrate what the kindergarteners could do,” Gavin remembered.
Each student was given a letter to write. Then, the kids were videoed saying the letter, what sound it makes and how they remember what each letter says. The students then edited the video together to make a digital book. “They created it,” Gavin says beaming. “They were videoed, they put it together and now they can open up their iPads and turn the page like a book and they’re published.”
Gavin, who has a copy of the project on her laptop, said when the kids were shown the finished project they were immediately engaged. “With technology, every student had some sort of creativity (put into it). And it furthered their phonics learning. That’s what we want for the kids,” she said.
This type of digital learning is a far cry from what classrooms looked like even a decade ago.
“When I was going to school, we had to know how to look up things in a dictionary. We didn’t get to Google things,” she said. “When two-year-olds can use an iPad more proficiently than a 40- or-50-year-old, there are some big differences in wiring going on in brains.”
As the world evolves, Gavin said, so does the way children learn and classrooms function, that’s why the district’s teacher leadership program is vital.
Gavin said many teachers in the district did not grow up as “digital natives” so it takes time to become proficient. “Yet, when we have coaches, we can do it together,” she said. “(Teachers) are learning and they’re empowering each other and the kids are excited. That’s what I want to continue into the future for the district and our students.”
Mt. Pleasant Community School District began it’s teacher leadership program three years ago. The program, which is funded by the state, believes improving student learning requires improving the instruction they receive, according to the Iowa Department of Education website.
“Through the system, teacher leaders take on extra responsibilities, including helping colleagues analyze data and fine tune instructional strategies as well as coaching and co-teaching,” the website says.
“It’s become pretty personal to the district,” Gavin says.
Gavin, who worked at the Great Prairie Area Education Agency, said each district aligns their teacher leadership program to what works best for their school. “Mt. Pleasant is no different,” she says. “Some districts believe in the observation and feedback cycles. Some districts are not as formalized and a little bit broader.”
Mt. Pleasant, Gavin says, has taken that broader approach, taking the strengths of each teacher leader and aligning them with a teacher that needs that support or connection. “It allows (our coaches) to be successful and the teachers who partner with them to be successful,” she said.
As the program progresses, Gavin said co-teaching has become vital. “That takes the fear out of ‘am I doing it wrong?’” Gavin said. “It really builds that trust in their relationship so when (a teacher) is stuck, it’s not that they have to tell an administrator they screwed up or don’t know what they’re doing. It’s ‘let’s work on this together.’”
What the program boils down to, Gavin insists, is growing phenomenal teachers, which are who students need in their classrooms.