Principal Vanessa Fisher and teacher Brianne Dilley are working together at Sunnyside Elementary School in Durango to define their roles and responsibilities to improve teaching and student learning in Colorado’s new educator effectiveness evaluation system.
“Already, with Vanessa coming in and observing, I’ve gotten some great feedback and new lessons I’ve tried because of her feedback,” said Dilley, a first grade teacher and Durango Education Association member in one of the evaluation system’s pilot districts, Durango 9-R.
“That’s making me a better teacher,” added Dilley. “That is the goal, to improve our practice and our lessons to make them better and more engaging for those kids.”
The team from Sunnyside Elementary joined close to 400 hundred educators from Durango and regional communities at Fort Lewis College in January for a district training conference on teaching strategies called “Theory into Practice”, led by the Colorado Education Association. Teachers and administrators spent the day together in professional development examining instruction, standards, assessments, and evaluations that will be used to measure student learning and teaching effectiveness.
“Today is about putting all the pieces together to help our staff really connect and understand all of the initiatives and all of the state requirements that are going on right now,” said Fisher. “We have to have a shared vision so we can move forward together.”
“We’re changing the culture of our work,” said Linda Barker, CEA’s director of teaching and learning, in her opening remarks at the conference. “All of us are blurring the lines of what our roles are and how we work together. To me, that’s exciting.”
As one of the state’s leading trainers on Colorado’s educator effectiveness law, Barker told the audience the day was ‘monumental’ for an entire district to come together and talk about the teaching practices that make a difference for students.
“When you go back to your classroom, you’ll have new questions, new thoughts, new assessments, and a new push to think about your practice,” Barker concluded.
Kyle Schumacher, superintendent of Telluride School District R-1, attended with a team of his educators to hear more about what teaching needs to look like and should look like moving forward in this century.
“21st century skills are not just about technology. It’s about learning strategies, learning styles, entrepreneurialism and creative thinking. All of those things I’m excited to hear about” at the conference, said Schumacher.
Telluride performs well on state tests, but Schumacher recognizes the opportunities to grow beyond test scores and prepare students for the global economy. Schumacher said the new evaluation system gives teachers a great opportunity to be on the ground floor of this change and help guide how public education will look in the future.
“It’s about ongoing professional development,” Schumacher said of educator evaluations. “My role is to help educators see this isn’t about ‘got’cha’, this isn’t about ‘you’re doing something wrong.’ It’s about taking what we’re doing and changing that to better align with the outcomes that we need our students to have.”
Jeff Schell, the president of the Durango School Board, also attended the training and agreed with Schumacher that his board is focused on a belief that “we have a great staff and we can make them even better.”
Schell added he was excited to take part in a training experience with CEA and his local, Durango Education Association.
“What we did today here wouldn’t have happened ten years ago,” Schell observed. “A lot of the adversarial relationships that were there in the past seem to be dissipating as we all recognize that we need to look at student achievement as part of an evaluation process.”
Diana Hill-Wright, a math and science teacher of 23 years and DEA member, also enjoyed the spirit of collaboration at the conference and seeing her Association move student learning forward with the leaders of Durango 9-R.
“I was thrilled to see the alignment of our teachers’ association supporting teachers for the good of children. To see my association take that on and help us through a new law and new mandates is amazing,” said Hill-Wright. “Being part of this association is huge for our learning curve and growing as a profession.”