Educators recently gathered at Minor High School in Jefferson County- a school where significant changes are taking place. A grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds the “Take One Initiative” and Jefferson County is the only school district in the nation to receive funding for the project. The ultimate goal is to help every child succeed, through better-trained teachers. And the school district is already seeing a positive change after just two short years.
Teachers in Jefferson County have spent the last two years going beyond what their job descriptions call for. They haven’t just been teaching their students in class – they’ve actually been documenting themselves on how to become more efficient teachers. Through the “Take One Initiative” all teachers whose students feed into Minor High School have begun step one of the National Board Certification process.
“It’s a collaborative process about improving in our profession, as an educator,” says Jonathan Allen, a teacher at Minor High School. “It allowed us to look at our practice, to watch videos and then write about it in a reflection piece. It’s a great process to really look at what we’re doing and instead of it being teacher centered and how we perform our job, the focus was actually on the students and how they were learning. So it pushed us to then make sure what we’re doing every day is effective and explicit to our students.”
Over the past two years, teachers’ performances in the classroom have been videotaped and scored by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. They’ve also received feedback on how to improve their teaching methods.
“When we send our box in to National Board, they have a rubric and we receive that rubric back and it’s actually general feedback, but it’s enough feedback that we can go back and we can just look at that lesson, we can change that lesson and do another lesson or we can just tweak the lesson that we had already done and just work harder,” says Jennifer Edwards, a teacher at Hillview Elementary School. “The advice that they gave me, let me try to plug it in and make it work.”
Although some teachers say they were a little reluctant to take on this extra work, they say they have really been able to lean on each other for support. And more importantly, learn from one another as well.
“The great thing is that now, usually, in a school you get to be with your grade level, so like all the first grade teachers meet together and all the second grade teachers meet together and you don’t really have this opportunity to find out…what do fifth grade teachers do in their classroom or kindergarten teachers do in their classroom and so we had the opportunity to collaborate in groups that were various grade levels and across schools in this zone,” says Sylvia Edwards, Teacher and Interventionist at Adamsville Middle School. “So you know, I have friends at West Jefferson or Bottenfield that we email back and forth now because of this process. We ask each other things, say how would you teach this or what would you do in this discipline situation and it really broadens your support group.”
And because this process is starting at the elementary level and feeding all the way up into Minor High School, educators say students will reap the benefit of better-trained teachers throughout their academic career.
“The effects of this program hopefully will be seen for years to come,” says Allen. “We’ve had students that have come to our freshman academy, this 9th grade year, who went through Take One with their 8th grade teachers last year and it will be great to see how the students transition into this program, into our school, year after year, seeing some of the same strategies and the same teaching methods that they’ve experience through Take One at other schools in our feeder pattern.”
And while the district is just finishing up it’s 2nd year with Take One, teachers say they have already seen a difference in their students.
“One of the things that I’ve been doing is taking my Take One video and showing it back to my class,” says Sylvia Edwards. “Letting them see what they’re doing. Letting them see their own habits and it’s really been beneficial for them and also once you become a reflective teacher, you’re teaching your children, your students, to be reflective in their learning as well.”
Once teachers’ finish year 3 of Take One, they will have completed the first step in becoming a National Board Certified Teacher. There are 3 more steps to complete should a teacher decide to go through the full process. And this experience has already led some teachers to take on the challenge.
“I always want to grow in my profession. You can’t just sit still as a teacher,” says Sylvia Edwards. “You have to know what’s going on, you have to know the new trends, you have to know what’s coming. How can we change what we’re doing to make it better because our students are not the same students we had 10 years ago. We have to change with the times, we have to learn technology, we have to do more things for these children.