Flexible Learning Year school staff attend workshop

MARSHALL -- More than 150 educators and administrators from all 25 school districts that are part of the Flexible Learning Year Initiative gathered in Marshall Aug. 18 for the first of three large group trainings on the topic of Professional Lear...

MARSHALL -- More than 150 educators and administrators from all 25 school districts that are part of the Flexible Learning Year Initiative gathered in Marshall Aug. 18 for the first of three large group trainings on the topic of Professional Learning Communities. This same group will meet again for further training in January and March of 2011.

Canby Superintendent Loren Hacker felt "this is one of the first steps in a strong collaboration of 25 school districts that will shape the future of southwest Minnesota. The focus on embedding effective research based staff development into each teacher's daily schedule will impact student achievement. This united commitment of our area schools is just the beginning of the exciting possibilities yet to come."

Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) is one piece of the professional development plan outlined in the Flexible Learning Year application that was approved by the Minnesota Department of Education for the 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years.

The Aug. 18 training was given by Geri Parscale, a trainer from Solution Tree -- a leading provider of educational strategies and tools that improve staff and student performance.

Each of the 25 school districts sent their administrators (including superintendents and principals) and educators who will become PLC trainers in each district. It is the intent for these trainers to take the information back to their individual district and work toward implementation of PLCs.


"Learning about the three big ideas of Professional Learning Communities (focusing on learning rather than teaching, using a collaborative staff culture to learn from and with each other, and using data to govern results) was very intriguing," said Tammy Timko, coordinator of teaching and learning for Worthington District 518. "It was even more powerful to see over 150 teachers and administrators from 25 southwest Minnesota districts coming together to learn how to train their full staffs on this model back in their home districts."

A few of the 25 school districts already have PLCs implemented in their district, but this training will enable all schools to use the same language and work with the same methods. Year two and three of the flexible learning year initiative allows for crossdistrict PLCs, which involves interaction in PLCs between school districts.

Jeff Kuehn, elementary principal at Springfield Public Schools, felt it was "a great day of learning and planning time for our district. We left with concrete ideas as to how we can immediately integrate meaningful staff development activities -- activities that are directly tied to high student achievement."

Pooling professional development dollars together allows these 25 districts to have access to high quality speakers and resources -- far greater than they would be able to afford if going this effort alone.

"The workshop reinforced the idea that teachers and schools need to collaborate to ensure we are all doing 'whatever it takes' to help students achieve to their highest potential," said Chad Anderson, high school principal at Tracy Area Schools.

Klint Willert, superintendent of Marshall Public Schools, agreed.

"The joint effort on staff development was very exciting," Willert said. "It demonstrated, once again, how school districts, when given the opportunity, can coordinate and collaborate to share resources, time and talent around a common goal. Our goals are clear -- improved student achievement and support for improved teacher quality and effectiveness. If August 18th's workshop is any indication of what is possible, I believe that we are just scratching the surface on the potential that can be realized through 25 districts collaborating around a common goal."

In addition to the workshop on Aug. 18, each district had one educator attend training on Aug. 2-3 in Marshall related to teacher induction and mentoring.


Through the efforts of the flexible learning year initiative, all 25 districts will have a teacher induction coordinator trained to work with new staff in each district.

Having a structured teacher induction program in place helps mentor and nurture new teaching staff, as well as build long-term relationships between the educator and the district and students.

Rick Ellingworth, Superintendent of Redwood Area Schools, thinks "the consortium schools are off to a great start with the professional development piece. It really is amazing that all 25 schools are working together in this voluntary manner and it is great to know the 'teacher induction' and 'PLC framework' pieces are moving forward."

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