Grayslake school launches collaborative teaching strategy

 
 
Updated 3/14/2016 6:37 PM
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  • Jodi Cinq-Mars, assistant principal of Frederick School in Grayslake, discusses professional learning communities with the Grayslake Elementary District 46 board.

      Jodi Cinq-Mars, assistant principal of Frederick School in Grayslake, discusses professional learning communities with the Grayslake Elementary District 46 board. Bob Susnjara | Staff Photographer

Grayslake Elementary District 46 leaders are optimistic about a strategy in which Frederick School students benefit from the expertise of all teachers, not just those assigned to their classrooms.

Frederick has shifted to what's called a professional learning community method promoted by education consultant Richard DuFour, ex-superintendent of Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, and his wife, Rebecca, a former elementary school principal. Frederick is a fifth- and sixth-grade building in Grayslake.

Craig Keer, assistant superintendent of teaching, learning and assessment for District 46, said the collaborative concept is worthy of expanding across the school system.

"We have these experts in our schools," Keer said as part of a presentation to the District 46 board. "Sometimes, we don't have one exact expert in one school, but we need to be able to have them go to other schools and to collaborate as best we can."

An example of the greater collaboration would be a teacher who finds a valuable education resource and shares it with colleagues to help everyone in the classroom. The system also calls for instructors to work in teams to analyze their teaching practices and learn together.

Frederick Principal Eric Detweiler said a desire to improve student math scores, in part, led to the pursuit of the professional learning community model.

Under the model, teachers typically are organized by grade level or specific courses. Richard DuFour wrote they should work together to achieve common goals, hold each other accountable and place a premium on student proficiency instead of content coverage.

District 46 instructional coach Laura Golden said the concept, in use since October at Frederick, means no more closed doors or isolation for teachers. She also said parents requesting a certain classroom for their children should become a thing of the past because of teachers sharing their knowledge across the school.

"All of us are going to be excellent," Golden said. "And we're going to share our excellence with each other."

Frederick School Assistant Principal Jodi Cinq-Mars told the District 46 board in a presentation this month that she began researching the professional learning community last summer. She said a Frederick team viewed the professional learning community in action in September at Kildeer-Countryside Elementary District 96, which is considered the mentor for educators because of its many years of experience with the strategy.

Cinq-Mars said she believes there was skepticism before the Frederick teachers became enthusiastic about the cultural change. She said it's exciting to see the instructors evolve in the 2015-16 academic year.

"They thought, 'Oh my gosh, what is she doing? She's crazy. This is something that's going to go away in a year. This is another new initiative. Oh boy, let's just nod our head and hope she goes away,'" she said.

Cinq-Mars said the different approach already has led to an English Language Learner instructor and a social worker providing input for the math curriculum.

Schools at Gurnee Elementary District 56 and Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54 are among other school systems using the strategy.

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