Collaboration helps teachers hone their craft

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Corporate News

Henna Choudhary is happy to get by with a little help from her friends.

The fact her network of colleagues has grown substantially this school year is not lost on the fifth-year teacher at the Calgary Islamic School (CIS) Akram Jomaa Campus.

Choudhary has been able to hone her craft in the past by working with fellow CIS teachers from the Omar Bin Al-Khattab Campus. Now part of the Palliser Regional Schools family, they were among some 400 teachers who took part in the first Division-Wide Collaboration Day of the school year in Vulcan.

“We used to do professional development between the campuses but this is at a larger scale, which is awesome because you get to collaborate with different people who teach different types of kids with different social-economic situations – which obviously impacts the kids as well – and different cultures,” she says.

Research shows that teachers working collaboratively has a huge impact on student learning.  This day, however, was more than just a free-for-all exchange of ideas and experiences for teachers.

“It’s very purposeful and intentional,” says Pat Rivard, Associate Superintendent  Education Services. “What teachers tell us is they want to come out with some sort of product today that will improve their instruction.”

Although Palliser sets parameters for the collaborative day –  literacy and assessment – it was very much a teacher-driven event. Teachers decided upon the topics to be presented and which they wanted to participate in.  The sessions offered ranged from “Exploring Literacy through Spelling” to “Literacy Connections and Assessment in Physical Education” and “Literacy in Mathematics.”

The chance to bounce ideas off one another was especially welcomed by Choudhary, who is now teaching Grade 9 Social Studies after four years of working with Grade 6 students. She has a great team she works with at Akram Jomaa but her session on “Authentic Assessment and Performance-Based Tasks for Junior High” featured colleagues with a wide variety of experiences.

“It’s good because there are some veteran teachers who have been in Palliser for a long time and have been doing this for a long time as well,” she says. “And then there are one or two new teachers and even a student teacher so you get people asking questions and then people telling you, ‘in Palliser this is what everyone does…’”

The fact the focus of the day was on literacy again was no coincidence, says Rivard.

“One thing I think is so brilliant about (Superintendent) Kevin Gietz’s leadership is he has galvanized us from the fads that are out there in education. We’ve kept the gas pedal to the floor on literacy for a third-straight year,” he says.

While greater emphasis has traditionally been placed on literacy in the elementary grades, Rivard is encouraged Palliser is covering the “literacy lifespan of all our kids.”

The delivery of high school curriculum is imbedded in literacy and the differing reading levels of students must be taken into consideration if all are to succeed.

“You may have a Biology 30 document in front of a student but we know not all kids can read at that level so we equip our teachers with the skills to maybe change that document and provide something that is at each student’s level, and meeting each individual student’s needs,” says Rivard.

The day together at County Central School and Vulcan Prairieview Elementary was all about setting goals, deciding how to measure those goals and sharing resources that will make a difference for all teachers and ultimately, he says, all students.

It was also just the first of four division-wide collaborative days – administrative assistants also met in Vulcan for the first of two gatherings this school year – with those same colleagues continuing their work relationship throughout.

“I think it’s good because you grow with them,” says Choudhary. “It’s not just a one-off type of thing. You take something away from this and go back to it, look at it, edit it and re-evaluate it and take it further.”