"Student-based collaboration that is the key to our grade-level meetings," said the Fletcher Elementary School fourth-grade team of Ardith Baldwin, Amanda Chitester, Diane George, Gail Heil, Joey Leone and reading coach Stephanie David. "We recognize and respect each other's strengths, which allows for high expectations, and we expect everyone to meet the same high expectations in our classroom. We have seen improvements in our students due to our collaboration."
With the new Common Core standard in all elementary schools, grade-level meetings become vitally important. Every elementary school teacher meets formally as a team with their grade level a minimum of once a week. The time that many teachers put into teaching goes well beyond just the weekly meetings. Teams and teachers meet informally throughout the school day and before and after school to collaborate and share information to better their students' education.
Team meeting agendas looks similar at the elementary-school level. Teams look at the standards for each subject to determine what students should be able to do at their particular grade level, and teach those specific skills in their individual styles in the classroom. The team creates a common formative assessment to check to see if students learned, and which students may need help. If a student needs help, formative assessments drive instruction and enable teachers to intervene along the way, before the end of a unit.
Ring Elementary School kindergartners Eliana Greco, Adam Kubera, Katie Kathman and Donte James take home their BEE Books, which Ring Elementary School kindergarten teachers implemented.
The group meets again to access individual, classroom and team data and use it to determine whether students learned the skills. Questions such as, "What do we do if they didn't learn it?" and "What do we do if they did learn it?" are asked. If students did not meet the team's goals, they may re-teach the information and go through the process again. If students did meet the goals, teachers work on enrichment opportunities. It is an individualized process to look at every student.
"We focus on the target skills students need to master," said the Love Elementary School third-grade team of Joe Hall, Christina Spontaneo, Chris Yocum and ESL teacher Victoria Tomb. "Having this focus helps us stay consistent between classrooms on what students are learning. Looking at the data is huge part of our collaborations as it allows us to see where the students might need help in a skill or where they have mastered a skill. By collaborating as a team, we benefit as teachers by having the ability to share our individual expertise to benefit all our students."
The grade-level team meetings at the elementary-school level also look for ways to involve parents in their child's education. At Ring Elementary School, the kindergarten team consisting of Jim Cama, Jennifer Goshgarian, Tessa Johnson, Kim McQueen and Brandi Meacham, implemented the BEE (Bring Everything Everyday) books for each student.
"We wanted parents to know exactly what is going on in their students' education," said the team. "As a team, we created the ultimate guide for parents in the BEE books. Each teacher includes everything that a parent might need to see such as behavior charts, word wall lists, class list, notes from the teacher, anything that we want parents to know about. "
The fourth-grade Fletcher team also involves parents by having a parents' night, which is a separate day from the school's open house. Each team member met with parents to discuss classroom rules, grading procedures, curriculum their students will learn in fourth grade and, most importantly, expectations.
"It has been shown that parental involvement in their child's education is a major factor in a student's academic success," said the Fletcher team. "We wanted parents to have the opportunity in a smaller setting to understand exactly what we expect of the students. It gave parents an opportunity to ask questions and get answers directly from us. We also have take-home folders and agendas supplied by our PTA, which go home daily and has everything in them that a parent might need to know about their child's day at school."
It is so important that mastering the priority and critical skills in all subject areas begins in elementary school. Teams of teachers look at common formative assessments, which are not tests that students can pass or fail, but a way to see if students have mastered the skill. For example, the Ring Elementary School kindergarten team identified that one skill needed was students learning the first four letters of the alphabet, and do they know the sounds? Every kindergartner at Ring School was given the same curriculum and, as a group, the team looked at the results to see if they mastered the skill.
"It keeps us on the same page, which benefits the students," said the Ring team. "But also, we can bounce ideas off of each other if say, one classroom does better than another. What might that teacher be doing that I can benefit from in my classroom. Our team meetings give us a formal time to learn from each other our best instructional practices. That along with the resources provided by the district, it give us the opportunity to really delve into our students and what they need."
The team collaboration allows for new practices to come out of the data the teams collect. Last year, at Love Elementary School, the third-grade team found, after gathering data, that in some cases, students needed math intervention groups for those who did not master the skill the first time. Those students were given 30 additional minutes of math in that particular skill until they mastered it. Teachers worked together to provide the additional time with one teacher introducing a new math skill to students that mastered the old one and other teachers re-teaching the skill to those students who needed additional help.
"The bottom line is we are here to see our students succeed," said the Love School team. "If we can learn and share with each other what is working to benefit the students, we will go above and beyond what is needed to make sure our students have academic success."