Bitter cold weather Thursday morning was no cause for concern in terms of delaying or even cancelling classes – for students. Today and tomorrow are designated professional development days for teachers and they reported as scheduled for a wide range of activities designed to improve instruction and learning.

We sat in on a sampling.

At Greenwood Elementary, the staff gathered in the school library to continue on a theme common to all of the PD days there this year: transition to the Schools for Rigor curriculum model.

Principal Andrea Safina feels like it’s going smoothly, in part because of the district’s switch this year in how to embed meaningful time for PD into the school calendar. Gone are the regular early-out Wednesdays that set aside time for teachers to collaborate and learn together weekly, but briefly, replaced by whole days sprinkled throughout the year that allow for more in-depth sessions.

“I think this approach is better for all concerned; teachers, students and families,” Safina said. “Occasional changes in everyone’s routines are easier to plan for and arrange than the regular ones were. We have more continuity in our PD this year.”

Greenwood Instructional Coach Sarah Aldag and Cheryl Risen from the Heartland AEA have coordinated the PD sessions in 2019-20. Thursday’s was geared specifically at math within a broader context of “Equitable Access/Equitable Outcomes.” The SfR model is built around team-centered classrooms where students learn from each other through a process called productive struggle. Their teachers do the same when they collaborate in professional learning communities organized by grade level that facilitate the application of PD insights to classroom instruction.

Whereas the Greenwood session on Thursday was strictly an in-house agenda for Woodchuck staff, more than 200 members of the districtwide special education team gathered at the repurposed Franklin Junior High community site for the first of a two-day workshop centered on another tier of DMPS curriculum, the EL model we reported on recently.

SfR and EL are NOT mutually exclusive. In fact, they fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Maybe a better metaphor is a health food restaurant. Think of SfR as a classroom organization concept with teams of students like diners at the same table. EL is a menu of rigorous, nutritious content, all of which is served with a “side” of SEL, another increased district emphasis this year.

“SPED teachers will be able to differentiate and scaffold materials to maintain rigor and increase equity of access and opportunity for students with disabilities,” said Alyson Finley, DMPS Director of Student Services. “Special education teachers will be leaders helping build the capacity of district implementation.”

SfR, EL, SEL – they’re all layers of the same onion.

Onions, as everybody knows, don’t make good breath mints and can be tear-jerking. But they’re loaded with nutrients and a key ingredient at all of the best schools.

Photos from PD Sessions at DMPS

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