“We need to move from great teaching to great learning.”
That was what Assistant Superintendent Doug Young said when discussing Sealy ISD’s new approach to teaching its students. During the school board meeting on Sept. 20, one of the main talking points was how the ISD principals are going about accomplishing two of the board’s goals for the 2017-2018 academic school year.
One of those goals is to incorporate Professional Learning Communities within the local schools.
“It’s a culture,” Superintendent Sheryl Moore said. “It’s finding out ‘so what did you learn?’ The Professional Learning Community is all about setting out your standards about what’s non-negotiable on what you’re going to learn, making sure you deliver it to the kids and make sure they actually understand it.”
Moore admitted it may seem like something that has been done before but she clarified it’s the level of specificity that makes PLC so effective. Each principal explained during the meeting how they were implementing the culture in their own schools.
Megan Oliver, principal of Sealy High School, said the focused plan is something that has been missing in the school’s plan in the past. She said the teachers looked at the past data regarding End of Course Assessments then used them to compare to the first pre-test Sealy High gave their students this year. They then looked question by question to see how each student performed.
This helped teachers create a hyper-focused way of going forward with instructional planning and focus.
“It’s a good place to start and good information to start with,” Oliver said. “I’m excited to move forward with that in those major tested areas.”
As for Sealy Intermediate School, Principal David Janecek said communication among his teachers will be a primary focus.
“It’s very similar to all the years of teaching and coaching, you talk about what you want to do, what you’re doing and then look at the results,” Janecek said. “What we’re asking the staff to do is be successful for our kids.”
Janecek sat with all the school’s department directors to walk through exactly how they are going to go about helping the students who are struggling to better grasp the concepts but also help the students who are excelling continue to learn.
He said that sharing the language and strategies that teachers use helps the most effective ones come out and be shared and utilized throughout the entire school.
“They’re sharing this information and they’re using things they’d never thought of,” Janecek said.
Like Sealy High School, the intermediate school is also using data analysis to track student’s progress. Janecek said they look at data boards that track multiple subjects and how students score on it to help break it down for teachers.
Janecek said the teachers focusing on data and working together will allow for a better learning environment for the students.
Mary Gajewski, principal of the elementary school, also implemented six-minute morning meetings between the faculty to help facilitate the relationships and communication between all the teachers.
There is also a minimum of one meeting required between the teachers of each grade level. The kindergarten and first-grade teachers actually meet twice a week.
“It’s so that you’re not teaching someone else’s plan that you’re not as familiar with,” Gajewski said.
One of the biggest changes made at the elementary school is what is called Tiger Time. Tiger Time is an hour set aside for each grade level every day in which they work a half hour on reading and another on math.
The students who score better in those areas have their own separate Tiger Time in which they will pursue other areas and projects.
“It allows us to be much more targeted when teaching the kids,” Gajewski said. “Honestly, the kids want to go to Tiger Time.”
While these are solid first steps in implementing the culture of Professional Learning Communities, Moore stressed that this is still a long process.
“We’re very much in our infancy because when you talk about changing culture that is a couple years’ process,” Moore said. “I’m taking all of the principles and Mr. Young and we’re doing two-and-a-half-day training in November.”
Moore said that training will help the administration further implement the PLC culture throughout the school system as time goes on.