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Effective Teaching...

by Harry and Rosemary Wong

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This article was printed from Teachers.Net Gazette,
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October 2008

Boaz City Schools: Professional Learning Teams


“Welcome to the world and to our special community in Boaz, Alabama!” greets every newborn delivered in this unique city.  Before Baby has left the hospital, a county health official delivers a gift from the Boaz City School System to the newborn and the parents.

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The present is a special baby welcome bag.  The gift includes a baby t-shirt, a book, “Mama, Do You Love Me?”   and a letter from the superintendent explaining the value of reading to children early, all in a bag designed by a teacher.

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Superintendent, Leland Dishman (above), says, “We start the Team concept early—very early with our infant learning welcome bag.  Members of our team selected the contents of the bag and it sets the expectation at birth that we all work together to benefit children.”

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Thus, it is no surprise that when a new teacher joins the Boaz City Schools staff, they are given a TeamBoaz T-shirt.

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Leland Dishman continues, “Our curriculum is developed and delivered via the Team philosophy.  As a school system team, we write across the curriculum to prepare for our state writing assessment.  We use the same concept for seamless transitions with our grade level teams and school teams.

“We use teacher teams to develop standards, create assessments, and analyze data to improve student and teacher performance.”

Focus Is on Student Learning

The Boaz City School’s model for education places a dual focus on both teacher and student learning.   Professional learning communities are born of collective and collegial learning.  Teaching is not done in isolation, devoid of input, data analysis, or group learning.

“We realize that we must be persistent in our beliefs, that we must understand the process of change, and we must be committed to improving our school system,” says Leland.  “It is important that the education of our young people be relevant to our community and our world.”

Leland continues, “We know that to be successful, there must be mutual cooperation, emotional support, and personal growth.  We work together to achieve what we cannot accomplish alone.”

This explains why the Boaz City Schools are all ranked in the top ten percent in the state.  Click here to read more about the individual schools and their Alabama reporting information.

The Team Concept Starts Early

There are many varied teams within the Boaz City School System.

Literacy and learning are such strong concepts that the Boaz City School System doesn’t wait until kindergarten to get involved in a child’s life. Involvement starts at birth.

Preschool Program.  Next comes the pre-school program that is a result of a grant written by a team of teachers led by chief grant writer, Jeana Ross.  This endeavor demonstrates teamwork among parents, teachers, individual school administrators, and district wide administrators.

Since the state department of education does not fund preschool in Alabama, the team members procure funding through grants.  The same process is used to fund an after-school program, summer programs, and a family literacy program.

School Safety. School safety is a major concern and Boaz is not any different than the thousands of schools facing safety and security challenges daily.  They have written collaborative grants by teaming with the Boaz Police Department to provide safety training to school officials and elected leaders.

Through these collaborative efforts, the Chief of Police, Terry Davis, teaming with school employees, wrote a grant that will put new security measures in place in the Boaz Schools.  This project required the collaboration of the school system, Mayor’s office, City Council, and Boaz Police Department.

Juvenile Needs. Teachers and administrators team with the Juvenile Judge and parents’ council to provide services to students in need of special attention from the courts.  This is an early intervention and dropout prevention program.  The Boaz philosophy states, “We can do something to help every child succeed.”

Academic Success Begins at the Top

The Board of Education and the superintendent form an important collaborative team.  Working together they create the climate in which all the other teams can operate with confidence and efficacy.  “Outside observers might be surprised at our Board meetings,” says Leland. “Business is conducted in a congenial and professional manner.  Everyone on the team understands his or her role and purpose.  It is truly an exemplary collaborative team.”

School leadership teams are active within each school.  Consisting of the principal, assistant principal, instructional specialist, reading coaches, guidance counselor, and key teachers, these teams work in partnership to arrive at decisions that once emanated solely from the principal.

Other school teams are structured along grade and subject level areas.  Meeting a minimum of once every three weeks, team members collaboratively analyze student data and discuss anecdotal evidence.  The results are used to produce on-going and specific academic interventions.  Support services are accessed to help develop learning plans designed to meet specific needs.

The system leadership team and school teams look both internally and externally for on-going professional development leadership.  Teachers share instructional strategies with each other providing mutual learning opportunities.  An instructional coach in each school helps to lead the professional development process.

Coaches play an important role in development of teachers.  Click here to go back to our February column and read about the value of coaches.

Leland says, “We believe collaboration and collective decision making is imperative for the success of a true Professional Learning Community.  Our collaborative teams are the instruments of change in the Boaz City School System.  Together these teams achieve what cannot be achieved by individuals acting alone.”

Leland continues, “These collaborative teams form the backbone of our Professional Learning Communities.  When educators work together in a deliberate fashion, they become more professional and are better able to influence the learning process at every level.  The major focus of our teams is the learning process.  We hold ourselves personally responsible for the learning that takes place in our schools.”

At the district level, the leadership team consists of the superintendent, the assistant superintendent, directors, principals, and assistant principals.  This team empowers its participants with both the responsibility and authority to make decisions in the best interests of their learning communities.

The system-wide advisory team is another key collaborative team that works at the district level.  Consisting of directors, principals, teachers, parents, and community stakeholders, this team keeps a finger on the pulse of the entire system.  The team meets on a monthly basis and serves as the clearinghouse for new ideas, innovations, and programs.

Leland says, “Every member of every team is comfortable sharing ideas, challenges, and educational issues.  In this way we are able to work collaboratively to arrive at new techniques or new solutions to improve our educational instruction.”

Setting the Direction

Collaborative system-wide teams began at the beginning to set the vision, mission, and beliefs for the school system.

The Vision
The Boaz City Schools will achieve and be recognized as A World Class School System “Committed to Excellence for ALL students within five years.”

The Mission
The mission of the Boaz City School System is to provide each student with optimum opportunities to learn, achieve, grow and succeed to his/her fullest potential through high academic standards in a safe and controlled environment.

The Belief
We love Our Boaz City Schools and hold that our children are our society’s highest priority.

The philosophy of the Boaz City Schools Learning Community is based on research, best practices, and a belief that quality standards must be drawn from a variety of sources.  Its key beliefs closely relate to Richard DuFour’s research that suggests professional learning communities must have the following beliefs:

Professional Learning Communities must focus on these principles:

According to Leland, the Boaz City School System is a research-based, data-driven system.  “Our teams draw information from the most effective educators (e.g. Hunter, Wong, DuFour, Covey, Collins, Payne, Blankstein).  We apply their ideas and techniques to our students and community.

“Some might think that we have ‘stolen’ great ideas from great educators and imbedded them in our instructional practices,” surmised Leland.  “And they would be absolutely correct!”

“The very basis for a Professional Learning Community is the ability to learn from others.  To draw on the experience of others.  To try proven techniques and ‘bend’ them to fit as appropriate.  Together we learn.”

Teams in Action

There are five schools in the Boaz City School System.  Each one is an excellent school and embodies the team culture.  The principal of each school drives the various teams toward building “A World Class School System.”

Next month we’ll share the story of Boaz Middle School and how its principal, Ray Landers, recently named Middle School principal of the year, has achieved world class status at his school.

Gather a group of your colleagues and use the team approach to glean information from this month’s and next month’s column and how it can be applied to your school setting.

Remember, Leland says they try proven techniques and ‘bend’ them to fit as appropriate.   You can do the same.  Exercise your collective minds to create an environment of collaborative effort to provide each student with optimum opportunities to succeed and learn.


Harry & Rosemary Wong products: http://harrywong.com/product

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