Summit School District looks to adapt instruction model for 2017-18 |

Summit School District looks to adapt instruction model for 2017-18

Kevin Fixler
Children enrolled in a few of the Summit School District's six elementary schools have already been the recipients of the co-teaching and coach-based instruction models. The district now aims to bring the more contemporary framework online at the rest of its buildings for the 2017-18 academic year.
Courtesy Summit School District |

The Summit School District is in the process of formalizing a significant revamp of its teaching model, stressing staff collaboration with the intention of raising overall student achievement levels.

The new coaching and co-teaching framework emphasizes a professional development track for teachers so that each possesses a litany of approaches to everyday instruction. The plan reallocates the individual time specialists like special education and English language development professionals usually spend with struggling students and has those interventionists team with primary teachers so both are equipped with methods for engaging almost every student they encounter.

“Teaching is complex, there is no question about it,” Cathy Beck, Summit’s assistant superintendent, explained at a school board meeting last week. “It is not easy to do well. We have to have a lot of tools in our tool chest, we have to have a lot of strategies, because there’s no one strategy that’s going to work for a room full of kids. So our goal is to make sure that we give teachers lots of strategies to use so that they have something that will work with every child in a classroom.”

A handful of the district’s nine schools already maintains sections employing the partner technique. Although some educators have initially voiced apprehension to a so-called “coach” coming in to change existing teaching styles, those who have already gone through the academic transformation believe the data-backed process has been worth it.

“I’ve learned so much from peers, from planning and talking with them about their trades,” said Sarah Stuhr, a fifth-grade teacher at Summit Cove Elementary who has been co-teaching for three years. “Their secrets are no longer secrets, and are skills I’m now using every day to become a better teacher. And we now have two sets of eyes on students on a consistent basis to explain things, and two brains are always better than one.”

“I’ve really enjoyed coaching with teachers and loved the cognitive coaching, which grants tools to step in and out of different hats and help teachers be able to navigate and define and refine their practice,” added Ben Lausten, a district curriculum specialist who predominately works within Summit’s six elementaries. “A single person often can’t step outside of themselves or question their own assumptions, and working together with colleagues, you can start to ask yourself questions, just getting at what the thinking and rationale behind what you’re doing is.”

The overarching objective with this paradigm shift is to increase the mastery of skills, from language and literacy to math and science, for the bulk of students. A smaller percentage of pupils will still require minor interventions to fully grasp certain concepts, with a segment of that group needing even more intensive reinforcement. But the idea is, if each class has someone who can adjust lessons accordingly to those demands, fewer kids will have to be pulled out for one-on-one instruction that also tends to keep them behind.

“We know that when you look at best practices and what makes the difference in student achievement, it’s all about the skills of the teacher,” said Beck. “It’s not about bringing in more people. So again, it’s all about empowering the teacher to have the tools to differentiate and instruct whoever is in the class.”

The district is allowing each school principal to choose the coaching structure they prefer. Those decisions will be based on the comfort levels of particular teachers, as well as what makes the most sense for individual building demographics and needs, be it co-teaching, instructor observation or options that include both.

Labeled a district “accredited with distinction” as recently as last year, Summit learned this past December that it missed the highest annual achievement ranking for 2016 by just a few points. With that score, the local school system remains near the upper echelon of the state’s 178 public districts, but striving toward stronger performance and comprehension rates continues to be the highest priority. District administration believes this more modern teaching configuration should result in larger gains.

“I think it’s an awesome direction to be moving in,” said Margaret Carlson, school board president. “I can’t imagine what’s better for kids than having their classroom teacher have all those resources right in that classroom teacher, and possibly another person, too.”

The coaching trainings will begin as early as this summer so teachers can better understand the benefits and intricacies of the peer-based models, with the aim of implementation next fall. From there, the hope is to start seeing the upshot of this academic reinvestment and instruction recalibration over the next few years.

“There’s no mountaintop to teaching, and until we have every child at 100 percent on grade-level, we’ve still got work to do,” said Beck. “We are doing so many things so well, and this is really fine-tuning our teachers’ skills. This is using the expertise in our district, leveraging the talent we have — which we have a lot — and providing this kind of culture of collaboration, which can be so powerful.”

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