Teachers take the initiative in learning program

August 31, 2010

By Laura Geggel

Dr. Duane Baker presents to about 900 Issaquah School District teachers at Skyline High School, telling the teachers about improving instruction through observing other teachers’ classrooms. By Laura Geggel

Teachers are a valuable resource, especially for one another.

The Issaquah School District drilled home that point, telling teachers about the STAR Protocol, a program inviting teachers to observe other teachers in action.

The district introduced the protocol to administrators and teacher leadership teams last year, and a Skyline High School workshop Aug. 25 allowed every teacher to learn about it, giving them tools to learn how to properly assess other teachers.

The STAR Protocol reminds teachers to take four steps when observing their colleagues teach lessons:

-Skills/knowledge: Are students gaining skills and knowledge to develop rigorous conceptual understanding, not just recalling facts?

-Thinking: When teachers ask open-ended questions, are students explaining their thinking process and reflecting on it?

-Application: Are students applying skills, knowledge and thinking during lessons?

-Relationships: Does the teacher promote a positive relationship by creating optimal learning conditions, maintaining high expectations and providing social support and tailored instruction based on student needs?

STAR also stands for something else:

-See classroom instruction,

-Talk about your observations,

-Apply it to your lessons and

-Reflect on your instructional practices.

By using the STAR Protocol, teachers can observe other teachers, incorporate new ideas into their own instruction and increase student learning.

Dr. Duane Baker, who has worked as a teacher, vice principal and assistant superintendent, as well as for the Gates Foundation, led the workshop. His company, the BREC Group, developed the STAR Protocol and consults with school districts across the country.

The protocol allows teachers to make instructional changes they want, when they want.

“This is for personal reflection,” Baker said. “The only time people change is when they want to change.”

He stressed that observations were for instructional purposes only — they would not be used for performance reviews or salary indicators.

During the workshop, he asked teachers to talk in small groups and decide what constituted powerful teaching. He also showed teachers videos and asked them to assess the teacher for each bullet in the protocol.

The teachers needed no more prompting. Challenger Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Susan Kelly said the teacher needed to move more around the room, which would break the traditional model and hold the students’ attention. Beaver Lake Middle School humanities teacher Laura Gawler said the teacher gave good cues to students, helping them with definitions in the math textbook glossary.

A shift to instruction

Washington and the country have focused on several national education movements, including standardized testing and the No Child Left Behind Act. While many movements focus on student assessment and sometimes curriculum, they don’t necessarily change the way material is delivered — classroom instruction.

In 1993, state House Bill 1209 became law, requiring Washington teachers to focus on learning for every child. The previous mindset had expected half of all children to fail, Baker said. Teachers delivered education, and if some students didn’t get it, the teacher might still move forward.

Now, the focus is not just delivering education, it’s student learning for every child, Baker said.

Another change has transformed teaching. Instead of motivating students to learn by giving them treats, teachers are encouraged to become cognitive scientists — understanding how their students’ brains work and how best to teach them.

Studies show that good instruction leads to better student achievement. The students of teachers who use good instructional strategies perform better on standardized testing, regardless of poverty, Baker said.

Observing other teachers through the STAR Protocol is a good way to expose teachers to other instructional ideas, he said.

Maywood Middle School math and culinary arts teacher Camille Wright said if teachers were given time during the school day to observe other teachers, “we can see what works for some teachers and some students and reflect on that.”

She said the program could be especially beneficial for new teachers, who could learn from more experienced instructors.

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