Eight years ago Brainerd Public Schools applied to join Q-Comp, a new program with the Department of Education. Q-Comp was designed to improve classroom instruction and student achievement by investing in professional learning communities, peer coaching and goal-setting centered on improving student learning. While I have been a participant since our plan (A-Comp) was accepted by the state, last year I also accepted the role of A-Comp program coordinator, and have developed a new level of respect for the work our teachers put into improving themselves and our schools.
Over the last few months I have had several opportunities to watch one of the key components of the A-Comp program -- coaching and mentoring -- at several levels throughout the district. In October I shadowed one of our literacy coaches at Riverside Elementary. I entered a kindergarten classroom for the first time since I was a student. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the size of the tiny chairs. The kindergarten I remember was all crafts, snacks and naptime. This time I witnessed a literacy coach modeling a reading lesson for another teacher working with leveled reading groups that had been established by data gathered in preschool screening. After the lesson the two teachers conferenced to reflect on the teaching strategies and student responses before setting goals for future lessons. A-Comp supports coaching models like this one at all district levels. Teachers focus on expanding instructional skills to increase learning, while their coaches collect data to measure growth.
Another important type of coaching supported by A-Comp is our new teacher mentorship program. This year we hired over 30 new teachers. Not all of the teachers were first-year teachers, but all were new to Brainerd. This fall I observed many veteran teachers step up to share knowledge, offer support and set goals with new teachers. These mentors observe new teachers to add a second set of eyes to their classrooms and collect data to offer feedback about lesson effectiveness. They also help new teachers identify strength areas and target areas for improvement. Staff training is often a costly part of any profession, and new teachers often feel isolated. Our mentorship programs help improve teacher retention and effectiveness.
Another major component of the A-Comp program is professional learning communities. These are larger cohort groups that set a common goal to improve student achievement on a broader scale. Even while maintaining my role as A-Comp coordinator I am a member of a PLC consisting of fifth-through-eighth grade math teachers at Forestview. This PLC is just one example of the many that are offered to teachers throughout the district. In PLCs we have time to use data from standardized tests and common assessments to establish our annual goal. At each meeting we check our progress toward that goal, share instructional strategies and opportunities that new technology can offer, as well as identify and evaluate gaps in the curriculum that must be addressed to meet state standards. PLCs vary greatly across a district as large as Brainerd. Goals for elementary PLCs are very different from those at the high school, and this program tries to respect and support those goals during inservice and early out days.
It can be difficult to single out the impact of any one program or intervention in a district of this size, but our program is serving as a model for other districts throughout Minnesota interested in establishing a similar one. If imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery, we can be proud of our efforts to improve teacher effectiveness and student achievement in ISD 181.
Eric Jobe is the Q-comp Coordinator for Brainerd School District 181 and teaches mathematics at Forestview Middle School.