Two Heads are Better than One

Traditionally, elementary school teachers have been isolated from other teachers spending the majority of their day alone with students. This egg crate model of teaching has been the way it’s done in elementary education since we were in school. Teachers who work in the same building and share a wall between classrooms might not ever step foot into each other’s classrooms except to borrow a piece of chalk. Finally, we are seeing this industrial model change.

In public schools teachers have professional learning communities within districts and networked communities online. Research made clear that the efforts of individual teachers were important, but the collective value of teachers working together led to student achievement gains, and such communities were born.

At WCDS we have longed offered teachers the imperative resources of time and space within the school day to meet with colleagues, reflect on student needs and discuss best practices. In recent visits to other independent schools we observed the opportunity to take this a step further and allow lead teachers to work together in a single classroom. We began to grow the idea that our faculty needed to collaborate more for us all to fully take responsibility for the education of ALL students at WCDS. We started with Learning Walks – team visits to each other’s classrooms to learn about the curriculum vertically and how skill spiral among our classes. These instructional rounds are modeled after medical rounds and provide a learning experience for the observers and an evaluation for the classroom teacher we visit. They are one of the greatest professional growth days of each year for all of us.

Last year we began team teaching also. In our early childhood classes, all students benefit from the collaborative teaching of two lead teachers. This allows for large group projects, but more importantly for much more small group time and individual enrichment or support.

Rather than have one teacher with a specific set of skills and strengths alone with the students, we draw on the collective capacity of the school’s entire teaching community. It is common for a teacher to co-lead an activity with another colleague or to regularly co-teach a specific subject. For example, I lead the advanced literature group with 5th grade students and teach Mapping the US with Mrs. Howells in 3rd grade. Alyson Taylor joins Bridget Rutherford for 5th grade math where they have found they can offer far deeper differentiation of learning to meet students’ needs. They report, “You learn and draw from one another’s strengths making the class much more dynamic.” They find there is less class wait-time when a teacher offers attention to an individual student as well. Examples abound throughout the campus of teachers learning from one another to further engage our students. Our Flat Stanley project grew out of the partnership between Mrs. Mead and Mrs. Rutherford in 2nd grade Writing Workshop last year.

A snapshot of any given moment of your child’s school day may actually be very different than your mind’s eye of one teacher standing in front of rows of desks of the children on his/her class roster. I hope we can offer a glimpse into that when you join us on Class Night, September 19.

I am so proud to be part of a school where teaching and learning are not individual acts, but are a collective and connected activity. Our students are immersed in an engaging curriculum led by educators who have exceptional skills and knowledge, but who also role model resourcefulness, collaboration, creativity, and learning.