Those of you who’ve been following this blog recently have seen posts by some new bloggers. They are a few of the participants in Burlington & Winooski’s new Partner Teacher program, an innovative model for embedded professional development that supports teachers in the transition to more personalized and proficiency-based teaching and learning.
The premise of the Partner Teacher program is simple: In order to shift their classroom practice, teachers need time, resources, and collaborative support. Participating teachers are released from some of their teaching load (most are teaching one less course) so that they can invest the time it takes to design and implement personalized and proficiency-based practices in their classrooms. Most teachers applied to the program in pairs or teams, and their release time is scheduled concurrently so that they can collaborate closely as they work to figure out the structures and systems that best support student-centered learning. This is one of the big goals of the program, because as interest in this kind of pedagogy grows among other teachers, their biggest questions are around some of the nuts and bolts of how to manage students working more independently , at varied paces, and in more heterogeneous groups. Turns out, these aren’t easy questions to answer! But our thinking is that if the Partner Teachers invest the time and research into developing these structures and systems now, it will be easier to disseminate PPBL practices to other teachers in the future.
The Partner Teacher program was designed by, as well as for, the teachers in Burlington and Winooski. For that reason, and because the program itself is meant to be personalized, it looks a little bit different at each of the two schools. At Winooski Middle High School, the program is designed to help infuse the personalized learning practices being developed in the iLab into the more traditional classrooms throughout the school. For example, the high school science team is reinventing the 9th and 10th grade science curriculum as semester-long courses designed around student interest; each includes an independent, inquiry-based project. Two ELL teachers are redesigning the newcomer course so that it is proficiency-based and focused on authentic community experiences. And the Middle School’s Team Journey is implementing project-based, independent learning time each afternoon for all students. Each Partner Teacher team at WMHS includes at least one traditional classroom teacher and at least one iLab teacher working in collaboration so that the professional learning that’s come from the iLab can benefit other classrooms.
At Burlington High School the program is set up so that teachers can collaborate with each other and, importantly, with students. Four of the five Partner Teacher projects at BHS involves a pair of teachers working together; all five projects also have at least one Student Consultant who has dedicated time during the school day to work on the project, providing student voice and input for the teachers. All of the projects are working in some way towards BHS’s school-wide goal of implementing proficiency-based learning practices. English and social studies teachers in grades 9, 10, and 11 are developing proficiencies focused on student growth in reading, writing, and critical thinking, within the context of an increasingly interdisciplinary humanities curriculum. Other partner teachers are creating brand new, highly personalized courses: a newcomer course for ELL students that is entirely self-paced and proficiency-based, and a science seminar in which students will pursue independent, interest-based science projects. One of the science teachers is also continuing to design and implement a completely proficiency-based chemistry curriculum. These last few projects have great synergy with some of what’s happening in Winooski; one of the hallmarks of this program is cross-district collaboration so that the science and ELL teachers working on similar things can learn from and support each other. (Below: ELL teachers from WMHS and BHS discuss the newcomer courses they are designing.)
As the teacher learning coordinator for the Partnership for Change, I get to tap into the work of these teachers in a couple ways. I meet with individual teams as needed to suggest resources or to offer ideas as they do the hard, muddy work of figuring out how to make all this stuff work in their classrooms. And I organize whole-cohort meetings twice a month, where the partner teachers come together as a group to share dilemmas, successes, and feedback. So far, these sessions have been great – it’s awe-inspiring to hear the expertise that’s being developed as teachers wrestle with figuring out these new ways of teaching and learning, and heartening to feel the collegiality in the room.
(Above: notes from a BHS Partner Teacher workshop on creating culturally inclusive classrooms)
We’re only a month or so into the school year, and already we’re seeing some exciting progress emerging from this program. Teachers are saying how valuable the extra time is (and many of them wish they had even more), and how they are collaborating with colleagues in ways that have never happened before. They are doing research and setting up site visits to learn more about how personalized and proficiency-based practices are evolving at other schools. And they are beginning to be seen by other teachers as resources and as incubators for this new model of teaching and learning.
Stay tuned for more updates about the teachers’ work here on this blog (and, for starters, check out these two posts by BHS teachers Nadya Bech-Conger and Eve Berinati). To see a video of the Partner Teachers and BHS Student Consultants introducing themselves, click here.