The collaborative work done by three elementary school teachers has earned them the most prestigious award given by the Bartow County School System.
Emerson Elementary first-grade teachers Suzanne Bennett, Chelsey Edgar and Shelley Harger were honored with the district’s first-ever A-Team Award at Monday night’s school board meeting.
The award is presented to teaching teams that exemplify the three main ideas of the system’s professional learning communities culture: a focus on learning, collaboration and results.
These teams ensure a guaranteed and viable curriculum for all their students, use common formative assessments to monitor student learning, use common assessment data to improve teaching and learning practices and support the response-to-intervention process by providing systematic interventions and enrichments for all students.
“This is not just an award we’re giving because we want to get this going,” Deputy Superintendent Dr. David Chiprany said. “They really earned this prestigious award. They’re the first ones to get it so it’s really a big deal.”
Superintendent Dr. Phillip Page presented the three team members – who received a standing ovation from board members and department heads – with framed certificates that said they were “highly esteemed” by the school system and that their focus on learning, collaboration and results “transcends expectation and exceeds excellence.”
“This is a very prestigious award that we now have in our school system,” he said. “I don’t believe there’s a higher award that we will ever give in our school system. We’re proud to honor and recognize you.”
Page also presented a recognition certificate for the school to Principal Tracy Mulkey.
Chiprany said the award was inspired by a 1-5-10 team-evaluation video by Mike Mattos and will “celebrate collaboration teams within our school system who are doing the right work and getting the results.”
In the video, Mattos illustrates key behaviors for a 1 team – the lowest-performing team – and a 10 team – the highest-performing team.
“For example, a 1 team is not a team,” Chiprany said. “They work in isolation. They don’t share information about student performance. They don’t work together on strategies. Their only focus is the students inside the room. That’s a 1 team.”
A 10 team “cannot function without each other,” the deputy superintendent said.
“They work together, and that’s how they work through their teaching practice,” he said. “Their instructional plan is collectively created with an intentional plan working through a guaranteed and viable curriculum of essential standards that they identified. They consistently reflect together on student performance through common assessments and work together to provide interventions to ensure all students’ MAP [Measure of Academic Progress] of that essential standard.”
The school system’s guiding coalition subcommittee created a rubric that is a “pretty intensive review of all the different criteria that [teams] actually go through and monitor themselves on,” according to Chiprany.
The journey to become an A-Team begins with teams looking at their own practices, “and when they feel like they’ve gotten to a certain level, they submit artifacts and evidence to their school leadership team, the guiding coalition,” he said.
Once their leadership team observes them, examines the evidence and “feels like they’re a 10 team, then it comes to my department,” Chiprany said.
“Once it comes to my department, my team – Dr. [Sharon] Collum [executive director of professional learning] and the curriculum folks – we go out to the school,” he said. “We actually watch their collaboration meeting, and we then follow up with an interview. We ask pretty intense questions to see where they are in the process.”
But after all that scrutiny, “it’s not over,” Chiprany said.
“The superintendent comes out there, and he asks more questions because this is serious,” he said. “We’re not just going to give this out to anybody. He asks some very intense questions. We want to separate the really good teams up to the best teams.”
Chiprany called the Emerson trio “an amazing group.”
“They blew us away with their intelligence, their love for their students, their collaboration, their intentional strategies,” he said. “Everything they did was amazing.”
Mulkey said Emerson’s teachers are “committed to a collaborative culture focused on learning and focused on their student results.”
“Ms. Harger, Ms. Bennett and Ms. Edgar’s first-grade collaborative team utilizes the PLC process daily, and we are very excited to have them recognized as the very first A-Team,” she said.
Harger thanked the board for recognizing the work their team is doing.
“I’ve taught for over 32 years in Bartow County, and as a veteran teacher, I’ve seen many different programs, many different initiatives throughout the years, but they did not have the components that were needed to be successful,” she said. “So I feel like this process is a game-changer in education. The PLC process offers the teaching and assessing cycle that is critical for all students to succeed at higher levels.”
She also said the process has “many different safety nets in place to catch those children that need it” as well as many opportunities for students as they reach their learning targets.
“As a collaborative team, we are seeing amazing results from our students,” she said.
Bennett said she and her teammates are “thrilled to share with you the success of our students.”
“Through the PLC process, we have been able to get a clear picture of which students need to be challenged further and which students need more additional time to learn the standard,” she said.
The PLC process has helped the teachers “focus on learning and targeted instruction so all students learn at high levels,” Bennett said.
“The collaborative-team approach helps us do the right work because we work better together,” she said.
Working as a team has helped Edgar, a second-year teacher, “find my footing as an educator” and has enabled her to become familiar with the essential standards and content.
“This is a step that we revisit every time we start a new essential unit,” she said. “We always start by digging into our standard, deciding what it is exactly that we want our students to learn and mapping out how we’re going to get them there.”
The process “helps take the guesswork out of teaching and instruction,” Edgar said.
“We have clear expectations as to what we want our students to learn, how we’re going to assess what they know, how we will respond if they don’t learn it and what we will do if they already know it,” she said.
The support that comes from collaborative planning has been “invaluable for me as a new teacher,” Edgar said.
“I feel confident in the fact that we’re doing the right work as we meet each of our students where they are,” she said.
As the first A-Team members, Bennett, Edgar and Harger will serve as role models for future A-Teams and will present at the district’s system leadership meeting in January and the 2021-22 New Teacher Institute next summer.