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Creating an instructional masterpiece has been a true collaborative effort among the teachers and students in the Talladega County School System. For the last several years, enthusiasm for a new approach to classroom instruction has grown. Teachers have embraced the framework from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills to guide our enthusiastic plan for integrating all content standards with 21st century skills. Administrators, classroom teachers, and members of the community have been working in concert to create 21st century learning environments, heeding the call for more prepared graduates for today’s dynamic world.
Intensive focus on integrating content standards with 21st century skills is seen as the culmination of recent years of instructional improvements. Yet, two particular events have put Talladega County on the fast track toward becoming a leading example of how a 21st century education will look: A teacher-led professional development training and a community supported school redesign.
Starting with a Blank Canvas
The Alabama Best Practices Center began a 21st Century Learners Initiative in 2006. From the beginning, Talladega County has been involved in their exceptional learning adventure. Teachers from Fayetteville School were so effective applying the new instructional strategies to their practice that they were selected as one of twenty schools in the nation to attend Microsoft’s Innovative Teachers Forum in September 2007. Returning to Talladega County with a determination to share, this group of four teachers asked our superintendent to allow them to share what they’ve learned with their colleagues. Without hesitation, permission was granted. These classroom teachers began designing a 21st century learning initiative of their very own.
Meanwhile, school and community leaders in Winterboro were seriously investigating a transformation of Winterboro School from a traditional model of secondary instruction into a project-based learning (PBL) environment. The Buck Institute, an organization supporting schools committed to implementing the PBL model, defines project-based learning as a systematic teaching method that engages students in learning knowledge and skills through an extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks. Intrigued by this concept, school and community leaders made plans to see PBL in action.
Sketching for Success
January 2008 marked the beginning of the training for thirty two middle and high school teachers in Talladega County. To help lead and mentor each participant, the original four teachers brought in teachers from Winterboro School and Watwood Elementary. Participants received two training days, a mentor visit, weekly tips and support in the form of “Friday Five,” and daily conversations using Skype. They applied their learning so quickly that a celebration was held to showcase results in May 2008. The teachers sat back and let their students do the talking. The message was clear. Learning is fun when teachers use technology tools and focus on allowing students to develop other 21st century skills.
The leadership team from the Winterboro School and community investigated various models of high school reform. After visiting schools in California and Indiana, the team determined that the PBL model would be the most effective for Winterboro. To redesign portions of the school to optimize the success of the PBL model, community partnership grants were obtained.
Adding Color and Depth
Here we grow again! In fall 2008, over thirty five elementary teachers joined the initiative. At the start of the 2008 school year, all seventeen schools in the system had at least three participants in this teacher-led professional development. The training regimen from the first year was continued for these teachers. In November, all secondary teachers used the Partnership for 21st Century Skills framework, in the form of a rainbow, for understanding and teaching the all-important skills: Life and Career Skills, Learning and Innovation Skills, Information, Media and Technology Skills, and Core Subjects and 21st Century Themes. Finally, on April 23, 2009, seventy five teachers and 200 students showcased the impact of 21st century technologies in classrooms from kindergarten to grade twelve. Over 175 parents, community members, college professors, and even teachers from other school systems attended the spectacular event. One Samford professor said the event truly opened her eyes to how technology is supporting instruction in today’s modern classroom. One local newspaper said that the event managed to “spread the good news about educational technology.”
Meanwhile, portions of Winterboro School were being transformed into learning suites for the implementation of the new PBL curriculum. Intensive training for project based learning and team teaching was provided in the final months of the school year and summer before the 2009-2010 year begans. The Buck Institute, experienced in supporting small schools making the transition to team teaching and problem based learning, was brought into Winterboro to help make the transition smooth.
Seeking New Dimensions
Talladega County has not overlooked its best resource for professional development. While, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills leans on their affiliate, SchoolKit, for the integration of 21st century skills into all aspects of teaching and learning, Talladega County is calling on their teacher leaders to implement an integration program. During 2009-2010, teacher leaders will be working with every teacher in the system on a protocol for developing lessons that integrate 21st century skills. The lessons, unique in their focus on integrating 21st Century skills with content, will be shared online by fall 2010. Eventually, providing a video link of that lesson will offer other teachers a clear idea for implementing the strategy for themselves.
All eyes are on Winterboro School as they embark on the ambitious shift to a problem-based learning school. Armed with a strong belief in this challenge, the Winterboro staff is an extremely dedicated group of professionals.
Without doubt, creating a masterpiece of any sort takes unmatched talent and perseverance. The seamless collaborative efforts of the stakeholders in the Talladega County Schools are providing students with an instructional masterpiece like none other.
For an inside view of the exciting things happening at WHS, click below to see our video hosted on You Tube:
The New Face of Winterboro
Check back this summer for more about the project based learning work going on at Winterboro. Meanwhile, visit the masterpiece wiki to read about our efforts.