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GTRA Teacher Leadership Program Earns Praise
March 13, 2018

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GRAETTINGER - Graettinger-Terril/Ruthven-Ayrshire (GTRA) is one of six Iowa school districts selected to participate in a case study as part of the evaluation of the Iowa Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) system. The American Institutes for Research (AIR) is conducting these case studies to more closely examine TLC implementation and its impact on student achievement. The case study will also focus on strategies that districts, schools, and teacher leaders have used to successfully implement and leverage TLC to support teacher professional growth and instruction. AIR analyzed relative changes in mean student achievement following TLC implementation across Iowa districts, as well as district-level results of the 2017 AIR-administered statewide survey of teachers and administrators about TLC. Graettinger-Terril/Ruthven-Ayrshire was identified as a case study site by AIR based on favorable data from these sources as well as from information gathered in interviews with key district staff in fall 2017.

There is no compensation for the interview, but participants will have the benefit of being able to provide feedback and general lessons learned around their district's and school experience with the implementation of TLC. The successes and lessons learned from your district and that of the other sites will be used to inform the DE, AEAs, and other districts statewide about the different strategies and approaches that should be considered as they work to implement and support TLC programs.

The Teacher Leadership approach at GTRA relies on a model from the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET). One of the services offered by NIET is the TAP System, a professional growth and support system for teachers. This model relies on the TAP rubric which is a set of clearly defined standards that promote best teaching practices and apply to all content areas. The model uses master and mentor teachers, and the district's TLC Team.

Becky Masters and Marc Benedict are both master teachers at GTRA. Masters taught second grade in the district before moving into this position, and Benedict taught high school science. Their role as a master teacher is to observe, support, and assist their colleagues through activities including lesson demonstrations, modeling, team-teaching, and reflective feedback.

Chris Olesen is in his second year teaching 9-12 social studies at GTRA, and he is also a graduate of the district. Olesen is a mentored teacher supported by Benedict. The duo has made plans to team teach a unit that combines geography and physical science.

"Marc pops in at least once a week to get a feel for what's happening so I think he has a good understanding of what's going on in the classroom," Olesen said. "It's nice to have that ongoing feedback and support on an ongoing basis."

Another level of coordination is the GTRA TLC team, which includes district administrators and teachers from all grade levels and content areas. This team meets monthly to identify, plan, study, review, and support teachers in their quest to support teaching and learning within the classroom.

Mentor teachers Stef Kirk, Amy Sikora, Diane Benjamin, and Nicole Jungers continue to teach full-time, while also mentoring staff and helping with professional development.

"Our implementation has been unique with the sharing agreement between our two districts," said Andy Woiwood, superintendent. "It's nice to have the same goals across all of the buildings, and this has opened communication at a leadership level across the district."

Team members agreed that the focus is on building relationships and a culture of learning and improvement; a culture that allows teachers to ask questions and seek help. Individual growth plans are tied to the TAP rubric by answering two questions: how will this help students learn, and how will it help me improve?

Built into the school calendar is professional learning time on Wednesdays which brings an opportunity for collaboration and insight across the curriculum. Typically, a teacher brings a lesson or unit that they would like to make more engaging and interactive, as well as digging deeper into the content. This offers input and ideas from different perspectives, such as PE, math, music, and technology integration, that strengthen the student learning experience.

Students are also noticing a difference. They understand and appreciate the common "teacher language" and are able to see the changes in instruction.

"Students see us as learners," Benedict said. "I'm a 33-year veteran teacher and I'm still growing, improving, and learning"

The emphasis on collaboration and connections has hit the high notes for music teacher Anne Sexe. Sexe would be considered a career teacher in the TAP system.

Seeking to jazz up a unit on American composer and pianist George Gershwin, her fellow teachers pitched the idea of encouraging each student to choose how and what to share about Gershwin and the results were a show-stopper.

"This is helping me be a better teacher," Sexe said. "This has given me a shot in the arm after 21 years of teaching. I'm no longer isolated in my room all day so seeing other teachers and being able to be part of the group has been great."

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