While Clear Creek’s system-level conditions contributed significantly to the pilot’s success, Clear Lake itself had also laid important groundwork for implementing an innovative learning model. Within the past seven years, the principal of Clear Lake implemented professional learning focus areas and new cultural practices that allowed for a rapid shift to blended learning and CBE, including development of three key elements:
- A strong community of practice that valued peer collaboration and feedback
- Ongoing data-driven instruction
- Personalized professional growth for teachers
Community of Practice: Moving from Congenial to Collegial
When Clear Lake’s principal joined the school in 2010, teachers had already established a strong, congenial culture. However, as with most traditional teaching environments, instructors were often isolated in classrooms and taught the same way year after year, without sufficient feedback to support practice improvements. After reading an article that encouraged a shift in teacher culture “from congenial to collegial,” the principal initiated a collaborative process called Stoplight Learning that aimed to organically spread best practices, regularly opening teachers’ classrooms for peer observations. You can listen to the principal briefly reflect on this shift in this video. Teachers posted a stoplight poster outside of their rooms, color-coded to indicate to potential visitors whether or not the teacher was “open” to peer observation on a particular day. (Red indicated “please don’t come in today” [often used when testing was being conducted]; yellow indicated “come on in, but we’re trying something new today”; and green indicated “this is what a typical day looks like.”) Visiting teachers then provided feedback on what they noticed.During the first year of implementation, feedback was often relatively surface-level, and comments were primarily compliments about charts, basic practices, etc. To deepen the work, the administrative team built incentive systems (for instance, offering free dress days and shoutouts in staff newsletters) to help teachers provide increasingly productive, direct feedback about instruction. This shift in culture and attention to the specific practices, routines, and mindsets marked a significant step toward building a school community where teachers consider their peers experts and expect professional learning and growth to be ongoing, and it reduced anxiety about frequent observation and feedback.
Even before beginning their journey toward CBE, Clear Lake had already established a data-driven instructional process that used assessment data to inform instructional design. Clear Lake primarily engaged with data through campus-level data cycles, spanning approximately six to eight weeks, which included a full day spent analyzing data and engaging in long- and short-term instructional planning based on the results. After each data cycle, the principal met with each teacher individually to discuss strengths, areas of growth, and how he might support them with their next steps. You can listen to the principal briefly reflect on this shift in this video. This level of comfort with data and the ability to analyze and respond to data at both the campus administrative and classroom teacher levels provided a critical foundation for supporting teachers as they shifted to personalized blended learning and CBE.
Personalized Professional Development
Clear Lake employed several instructional coaches, each of whom held direct responsibility for teacher development through an instructional coaching cycle called the “cycle of continuous growth.” During this cycle, every three weeks, teachers met with an instructional coach and selected a specific area for growth to focus on, setting their goals based on Clear Lake’s teacher development rubric. After these meetings, principals and instructional coaches observed teachers in action, then provided feedback on the targeted growth area and the teacher’s progress toward attaining their goals. This robust approach to instructional coaching provided essential structure for supporting teachers as they began innovating with new teaching and learning practices.The campus-level professional learning focus areas and new cultural practices led to significant improvements in student outcomes across the campus, resulting in turn in more rigorous whole-group instruction and increased timely, differentiated support for students. However, in order to truly personalize for individual learning needs, teachers needed specific guideposts and targets (the district’s “I Can” Statements, or competencies) and a process for putting those into action (the framework provided by Raising Blended Learners). Once the campus had access to those competencies and design support, the team was able to create a student experience that leveraged assessments, data, and class time to increase the potential for mastery of the competencies.