Thursday, February 28, 2002

Cape teachers become students

Published in the Current

Cape Elizabeth students had an extra two days off this past week, and though the teachers had to work, they had a luxury too: professional development time.

The district has set aside five days from this school year for teacher development work. Two were in November, before Thanksgiving vacation, two were last week, extending February vacation, and one will follow spring break in April.

In the two-day sessions, the first day is filled with district-related work, primarily curriculum mapping and organization.

The second day is a “building day,” when teachers in the separate schools can work in small groups or independently on their own, on projects relating to professional development.

The district work this year is called “curriculum mapping,” drawing up a detailed picture of what material teachers cover, and when they do it. The idea is to get a full report of what students are learning, and when. It lays the groundwork for future plans, including curriculum changes\ and new standardized tests or other assessment methods.

This sort of planning is something many districts are without, but Cape Superintendent Tom Forcella sees it as a necessity. The schools did get some e-mail and telephone complaints from parents about the extra time off, though school officials said there were not many.

“This work needs to be done,” Forcella said. Making sure the teachers talk to each other about teaching, principles and educational continuity is basic, he said.

“That’s the foundation of the work that we do,” Forcella said. And the district is committed to not only asking teachers to take the time, but also to give teachers the time they need to do it.

“It’s a lot of work,” Forcella said.

This year, in particular, is a lot of detail work for the teachers, who have to enter all of the units they teach into a centralized database.

“We want to be able to see the scope and sequence K through 12,” said Sarah Simmonds, the district’s professional development coordinator. The position is a new one this year, and is part of the district’s efforts to help teachers grow and learn, as well as streamlining the schools’curricula.

The inventory teachers are building will help as the district goes through a state-mandated process of developing a “valid, reliable” local assessment method by the 2006-2007 school year.

As teachers enter the information into the database, they also are asked to select specific areas of the Maine Learning Results standards addressed by each unit. Next year’s project will be the next step, examining how well the teaching meets the state standards.

“We’re saying, ‘Here’s what we do. Here’s what the learning results say,’” Simmonds said.

It is a custom-designed database, in which teachers can see all the information pertaining to the grade levels they work with, though they can only change or update information relating to classes they teach.

They also can search on keywords, so a teacher could, for example, see what other teachers talk about Egypt or Native American tribes in their classes. This could be an excellent resource for new teachers as they are hired, Simmonds said.

In the process, teachers are having good conversations about their work, and about ideas affecting education.

“You see lots of light bulbs going off” in teachers’heads, Simmonds said.

In many districts, Simmonds said, a real curriculum analysis doesn’t happen until assessment is the topic at hand. Removing assessment from the inventory process, she said, makes things easier for the teachers and streamlines the process of developing assessment as well.

“You’re not learning two things at the same time,” Simmonds said. “Every time you take a step, you learn something new.”

On Tuesday, the “building day,” teachers did more work individually or in small groups.

Pond Cove teachers focused on reading and writing, lesson study, new organizational techniques for material to be taught, and also discussed the educational principles that might influence the addition to the building.

Middle school teachers worked on their individual professional development plans, reviewing and refining their teaching. Some designed new units to teach, and others worked with technology, improving their familiarity with digital video, PowerPoint or web site design.

Teachers at the high school continued their work from Monday, and did some work in their departments and in their own classrooms.