A week into distance learning this spring, Brien McMahon High School’s Assistant Principal, Jackie Aarons, knew that getting teams of teachers re-connected to support students through the transition would be critical. As partners in the RISE Network, McMahon started the school year with two on-track data teams in Grade 9, which met two to three times per week. Each of these teams had a teacher leader and ranged in membership from five to 10 educators. By thinking creatively and responding strategically to the transition to distance learning, McMahon’s Grade 9 on-track data teams were flexible and effective in supporting students remotely during a challenging time! As schools think about the transition back to the in-person format next fall, the lessons from this year’s experiments in remote collaboration may continue to play an important role in ensuring that no matter the format, teachers are still able to work together in support of their students.
When the school moved to distance learning, McMahon made targeted adjustments to better facilitate collaboration in a virtual environment. The first decision focused on the frequency of meetings. Ms. Aarons and her two team leads, Tanika Vellucci and Alex Meli, recognized that teachers needed more time to focus on transitioning their teaching and learning online. To address this concern, they decided that teachers would meet once per week. Educators could then spend additional time focused on communication with students who had not yet navigated the transition successfully. The team leads also introduced new roles to their meetings: lead facilitator and behind-the-scenes facilitator. One lead worked the agenda, while the other moderated the chat and displayed the agenda. These additional roles added much efficiency to their virtual meetings.
Next, McMahon considered team composition. In the third quarter, McMahon consolidated their two-team structure down to one larger team, which helped to establish a uniform approach for students who were almost on-track. This larger team focused solely on a list of students who were one or two credits away from becoming tenth graders. Invitations were sent only to teachers whose students were being discussed in a given meeting. Given the flexibility that this new virtual environment afforded, educators that had been previously unavailable in the traditional schedule could now join in these weekly meetings. These Quarter 3 meetings continued while drawing on resources from RISE’s library of On-Track Data Team Distance Learning Protocols. This larger team shared best practices, worked through challenges in consultancy protocols, and continued to work steadfastly alongside their on-track coordinators to support students.
The final structural change that McMahon implemented was in the fourth quarter. After curating a library of best practices and norming on the needs of this list of students, Jackie began facilitating weekly small-group departmentalized Grade 9 on-track data team meetings. This enabled pairs or trios of educators to focus on instructional strategies relevant to each of their content areas that would benefit each of these individual students. Together, teachers and administrators made lists of key assignments and grade weights for Quarter 4, navigated new grade policies, and committed to adjustments to classroom practices and assignments to finish the year. As one teacher reflected on her science instruction, “I have to carefully consider each and every question I pose to students. What sort of answers do I need to hear from this question? How exactly can I phrase this question?” As a result of their hard work this spring, 18 of the 27 students on their targeted list ended the year on-track to be 10th graders, and the remaining nine students are part of a two week school-year extension remedial tutoring program.
After the end of school, McMahon educators participated in a “Debrief Day” where they celebrated their success together and reflected on key changes for next year. If we’ve learned anything from the McMahon team this spring, it is that high-quality collaboration doesn’t have to stop when you can’t physically be in the same room together!