By Keith Hamana
Ring!!! Students hurriedly rush to and fro. The fourth-grade students begin to line up to go to their “wheel” classes: P.E., Music, Computer, and Library. Some students clutch their library books, eager to return them and excited to get more. Some are on their way to P.E., carrying their water bottles. When asked, “What do your teachers do when you are at wheel?” the students reply, “They go to meetings and learn things.”
This is true. The teachers are learning as the students are off exploring in their wheel classes. But what exactly goes on during a Professional Learning Community (PLC) or Learning Team Time (LTT)? Simply put, strategies are developed to help students learn more effectively.
In more detail, at Hickam Elementary, a typical LTT agenda includes:
Response to Intervention (RTI),
Professional Development, and
System Concerns (Behavioral, Technology, and Grade Level).
Members of an LTT consist of the grade level general education, special education, and RTI teachers, along with a curriculum coach. The coach facilitates and guides the discussions and offers suggestions on practice. The teams meet every 10 days, or four to five times a quarter.
At the beginning of a typical LTT meeting, the team reviews our RTI program. This is when our grade level teachers communicate with our special education and RTI teachers about shared goals and shared students. At the beginning of the year, every student is evaluated with a universal screener for the subject areas of math and reading. The scores that we receive from these reports, in addition to several other data points, are used to strategically tier students according to their abilities. Teachers keep track of where specific students are and how they are progressing. Dialogue ensues and insights are shared among team members.
Over time, intervention strategies to help students grow are developed, implemented, and monitored. Many students progress in their learning; those who do not are given more intensive intervention (increased one-on-one time with educators, for example) and if desired progress is not achieved, more specialized resources are sought out.
The second component of our LTT is Data Teams. During this time, the team decides on a specific standard or topic to monitor over a set period of time. Students are given a pre-assessment to measure base knowledge of the topic without any instruction. The team analyzes this pre-assessment to see what students know and what gaps exist prior to instruction. Teachers discuss trends in the data and look for mistakes, then the planning begins. Teachers focus on how to best teach all students while considering the pre-assessment data. Research-based instructional strategies are discussed and implemented. Throughout the cycle of meetings, teachers monitor student growth by using formative assessments and by sharing student work with each other. At the end of the cycle, a post-assessment is given and analyzed. Teachers are encouraged to reflect on their practice during this analysis; it helps us to see what teaching methods are effective for a set group of students and to notice our own growth as teachers.
Professional Development is the third facet of LTT. Teachers are given a chance to learn about new state or district-level initiatives. One example of this is Next Generation Science Standards which must be implemented by school year 2019-2020. Teachers are given guidance from coaches and district specialists and, most importantly, they are given time to plan lessons together. We’ve also used this time to learn about AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), which seeks to close the achievement gap by providing students with the skills needed to be successful in college and in life. During LTT, teachers learn about and plan how to use AVID strategies together, providing consistent and effective deployment across the school.
Going over System Concerns is typically how an LTT ends. The team brings up behavioral concerns that they notice in class and, if needed, the student services coordinator (SSC) and/or counselor are asked to advise. Technology concerns are also addressed by our tech team and any problems are diagnosed and remedied. Finally, if there are any grade level concerns, these are brought to the table and discussed. Discussing and responding to all of these system concerns ensures that teachers, and ultimately the students, are supported.
So remember, when your child says that they have a wheel period, teachers and support staff are at Learning Team Time and are hard at work collaborating, analyzing, and discussing what is best for each and every student at Hickam Elementary.
Keith Hamana, a 24-year veteran of the Hawai’i DOE, with 22 years spent at Hickam El, has taught grades 3, 4, and 5 and now serves as Hickam’s Curriculum Coach. Hamana is a proud product of the Hawaii Public School system and firmly believes that education is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy. Here, he provides insight into the school’s Professional Learning Community, where teachers collaborate to ensure students are getting what they need to succeed. This work is paying off for Hickam’s students — the 2017-18 Strive HI System’s school report card shows they have strong achievement results and high levels of growth, literacy and attendance levels.