Shared Agreements: Creating a Framework for Efficacious Instruction
“The criteria used to define good teaching must both be grounded in research and reflect the professional wisdom of educators who will use the system. The conversations among educators to establish those criteria can make a substantial contribution to the professional culture of the school.” (Danielson, 2007, p. 177)
Rowland Unified School District, a K-12 district in Southern California, has three essential priorities for teaching and learning. One of these is to implement district-wide agreements about efficacious instruction and support for teaching and learning. In February 2011, the district formed a work group of educators (20 teachers and 3 administrators) to create a framework of best first teaching practices as part of a district focus on an RTI2 [Response to Instruction and Intervention] model of instruction. Over the next six months, the group volunteered to meet after school and during school hours to develop a first draft of the framework that would be shared throughout the district at the start of the 2011-2012 school year.
According to JoAnn Lawrence, Director of Curriculum, Staff Development and Assessment, and the lead facilitator of this work group, “The framework is research-based and serves as a tool for every educator in the district to reflect upon and guide teaching practices. It also provides the core foundation for Tier I of an RTI2 model.”
While the work group was charged with a specific task to complete, JoAnn intentionally facilitated their work as a learning process. The district has a norm that “how we do our work is as important as what we do.” Members of the group generally had not worked with one another before, so they also had to build relationships and develop skills in collaborative inquiry. Members read current research in the field of instruction, and through conversation, made meaning of this research. At the same time, they examined their own beliefs and assumptions about instruction and how students learn. They worked collaboratively to describe the teacher and student actions that exemplified what practices support learning, according to the research.
The members of the work group created the framework through immersive, complex learning experiences. As a result, they realized how important it is to provide these kinds of complex learning experiences for all adult and student learners. Sarah Smith, an elementary teacher who served on this work group, describes the way this learning experience impacted her classroom practice in this video clip.
The foundation for this work was laid when the district adopted its current strategic plan in 2008. One of the plan’s eight results statements is the following: “We will transform teaching and learning to ensure the actualization of each student’s unique potential.” Under this statement, the plan called for developing shared understanding of teaching and learning principles and implementing instruction that reflected those principles.
During the 2009-2010 school year, at district-wide professional learning days for all school instructional leadership teams, participants collaborated on the first set of agreements about efficacious instruction. They called out four elements of efficacious instruction that would lead to in-depth understanding and student achievement (Figure 1). JoAnn Lawrence says that the word “efficacious” was a deliberate choice: “The term ‘efficacious’ indicates an instructional practice that contributes best to teaching for learning. In other words, an efficacious practice makes a difference.”
Figure 1: Essential Elements of Efficacious Instruction, 2010
The conversations in the work group built on the essential elements from 2010. The framework this group created over their six months of work was further inspired by South Australia’s Teaching for Effective Learning Framework (Government of South Australia, 2010) and grounded in principles for natural learning (Caine & Caine, 2011). The group identified five domains for the new Rowland Unified School District Framework for Efficacious Instruction (Figure 2) and presented the framework to the district at the start of the 2011-2012 as a flexible document, a work in progress.
The group wrote a short statement describing the big idea of each domain (Table 1) as well as descriptions of teacher actions, student actions, common misconceptions about the domain, alerts about cultural proficiency or English learners, and additional resources.
This year, the district has been holding collaborative conversations that help teachers unpack the language and descriptors of teacher and student action. JoAnn Lawrence said, “We hope that the framework opens up conversation about teaching in such a way that a shift in perspective occurs and that our practices move to a transformation that enhances all our capacity.”
For example, all staff members participated in two district-wide Articulation Days, early release days for professional learning after the school day. In the first, staff members from clusters of schools met to introduce themselves to the framework. They looked at the framework holistically, examined its component parts, and learned about how it was developed. In the second, schools conducted learning for their own staffs. They focused on the feedback domain, and created examples of masterful and novice level applications of a teacher action within that domain. On both occasions, a design team of stakeholders planned, designed, and delivered a learning design and all materials to leadership teams at each site.
The district also organized learning walks at two different schools, opportunities for teams from every school to visit classrooms in order to build a common understanding of quality instruction based on agreements articulated in the framework and to support the host school's professional development. In each case, one domain from the framework was used as a lens for the learning walk "walkers" to gather classroom data, craft wondering questions, and guide conversation about instruction.
At the first school, walkers used the teacher clarity domain and at the second, walkers used the invested cognition domain. JoAnn Lawrence observed, “Participants in both learning walks noticed how much having the framework increased the rigor of the conversations around instruction.”
In the coming months, I will be continuing this look at the RUSD Framework for Efficacious Instruction in a series of additional posts. You will have the opportunity to hear more from JoAnn Lawrence and other educators in the district. They will share both the successes and challenges they are facing as they work toward shared understanding of efficacious instruction across the district. We will also take a closer look at parts of the framework: individual domains as well as teacher and student actions that exemplify those domains.
Stay tuned for more. . . .
Update: The next post in this series, "From Shared Agreements to Changes in Practice" is here.
Caine, R. N., & Caine, G. (2011). Natural learning for a connected world. New York: Teachers College.
Danielson, C. (2007). Enhancing professional practice: A framework for teaching (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Government of South Australia. (2010). Department of Education and Children’s Services, Curriculum Services: South Australian Teaching for Effective Learning Framework Guide. South Australia: Lane.