School Improvement Days
While it is often obvious the subjects students are studying in their classes each day, less apparent is what their teachers are learning during their own “school days.”
School Improvement Days, dedicated to teacher learning-are held each month throughout the school year. The Iowa model for these days encourages teachers to learn something during the school year as well as learn from each other.
“The days started many years ago,” explained Emmetsburg Community Schools Superintendent John Joynt. “In recent years the State has pushed us into making sure that teachers have ten days of professional development annually.”
Joynt continued, “This year we began holding School Improvement Days on the second Wednesday of each month, dismissing the students two hours early. It’s working out really well.”
On those early dismissal days, the same topic is usually discussed in each of the district’s building, and is tailored to the corresponding age group. Sessions are led by each building’s principal or by guest speakers. Teachers from Emmetsburg Catholic School are often involved in these learning opportunities.
“Each year we highlight a different theme that is discussed by our staff,” Joynt noted. “This year we’ve been working on reading improvement and differentiation.”
Jay Jurrens, 5-12 Principal for Emmetsburg Community Schools, shared that recently teachers have been discussing Accelerated Reading and STAR Reading, an assessment to discover how children are progressing in reading and how to improve.
“At the high school, we’ve been focusing on utilizing technology,” said Jurrens. “Our goal next year is to have laptops for every student in grades 9-12, and we’re trying to make sure our teachers are well-prepared for that. Next semester, we’ll get even more hands on with the technology.”
Jurrens believes the monthly School Improvement Days are of great benefit to the district’s teaching staff.
“The days really provide a time for teachers to learn and put their learning to use,” Jurrens stated. “Meeting more often for less time is key. Spreading out the sessions allows our staff to learn new strategies, put them into practical use during the month, and then come back and talk about what is working for them.”
Joynt added that “teaming” has been an important result of the sessions.
“Teaming is catching on,” said Joynt. “It’s been working very well at the middle school, and the high school is beginning to do more of it now, too. Those teachers meet daily and share their ideas.”
During the next School Improvement Day on January 4, staff will be learning about “Teaching for Learner Differences.” The session will be presented by Shirley Johnson, who is affiliated with the Iowa Area Education Agency (AEA).
In the past, School Improvement Days have covered a wide variety of topics and have been presented in various ways. Two years ago, Emmetsburg teachers traveled to other school districts and visited with their corresponding departments. After their visit, teachers would discuss what they learned.
Other days School Improvement Days have covered such subjects as: Vocabulary “Word of the Day;” Learning Styles; Love and Logic (a discipline plan); Quadrants of Rigor and Relevance (referred to as Quadrant D, and involves connecting school work to every day activities); Iowa Core Curriculum; Affirmative Action; Bloodborne Pathogens; and Mandatory Child Abuse Reporting.