The staff at Spencer Community Schools is second to none, and as a district that is constantly evaluating and looking for areas of improvement to stay current and provide the best possible learning environment from which all students can benefit, the Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) System is proving beneficial.
Spencer Schools applied for and received a planning grant to support the local development of the TLC plan designed specifically to fit the needs of the district. The plan was approved, and the system was implemented in Spencer Schools, beginning with the 2015-16 school year. Teachers at all grade levels applied for the various positions available through the state-funded system, and once hired, the work began with the goal of improving student achievement through strengthened instruction.
Now in its second year of implementation at Spencer Schools, teacher leaders have been empowered with tools and training to lead the effort. They are taking on extra responsibilities, including helping colleagues analyze data and fine tune instructional strategies as well as coaching and co-teaching. Twice each year at the high school, Instructional Mentor Coaches (IMCs), Will Dible, Michele Dirkx and Ayn Thoreson, visit every class and collect data utilizing the Classroom Implementation Profile (CIP). After spending 3-5 minutes observing the classroom where they are looking for instructional and learning elements such as higher or lower order thinking, evidence of essential questions, an understanding of the concepts being taught and substantive conversation, the IMCs fill out the CIP.
“District goals drive our focus in professional development and our building goals,” said Dirkx. This year, one high school goal is adding value beyond school. The IMCs are looking for examples in that area specifically as they observe. The coaches prefer to go as a team to help justify the data collected. Information gathered through the CIP, coupled with district goals, serves as a tool to help guide and determine future professional development goals and needs.
When asked if the IMCs enjoy their position, Dirkx stated, “I like building relationships with the kids. I get to talk to students I have never had in class, and when we show an interest in the students and what they are doing, that makes them beam. After having conversations with the students through the observations, they see me and say, ‘Hi’”! Thoreson added that it is exciting to see what is happening in other classrooms.
“Our role is to help develop teachers and their practices, and in doing so, to increase achievement with students,” said Dible. “We are teachers in the trenches ourselves, and we are here when our peers need anything so that they feel supported. We have great teachers already, but everyone can grow.”