Originally published in CenterEd in 2013
Working for the Greater Good
In vast western Wyoming, near the Idaho border, Lincoln County spans more than 4,000 square miles yet contains fewer than 15,000 people. Afton, one of the county’s largest towns, boasts the world’s biggest elk antler arch. When the local shed their antlers each year, residents of Afton gather them for the upkeep of the arch. Thousands of elk antlers grace this landmark year-round, playfully demonstrating the community’s inclination to work together for the greater good.
In Lincoln County School District #2 public schools, which comprise one of the highest-achieving districts in the state, professional development is taken seriously. The efforts of school leaders, including Mark Taylor, Ed.D., assistant superintendent of Lincoln County School District #2, and Justin Pierantoni, principal of nearby Thayne Elementary School, clearly personify that collaborative spirit.
A True Marzano District
“You might say we are truly a ‘Marzano District,’” says Taylor, recounting the events that initially led to his district’s adoption of the Marzano Teacher Evaluation Model.
“Each year, we select a book for an administrative book study. We selected The Art and Science of Teaching at the same time Wyoming was changing the rules for teacher evaluations. Our old evaluation system would not meet the new standards, so it seemed like, by luck, we had selected the right book to lead us to write our evaluation systems based on the 41 strategies. It changed the direction of our district, for sure.”
When it comes to training its staff, the district goes above and beyond compliance. One thing that may be bolstering its success is that everyone gets on board with its training system, based on the Marzano model. At the beginning of each school year, teachers new to the district attend a “boot camp” for three days to learn the strategies.
Throughout the year, Taylor and Pierantoni hold book studies at the administrative, teacher, and paraprofessional levels. The district also encourages instructional rounds, in which teachers of all grade levels throughout the district travel to other schools to observe their colleagues using the Marzano strategies. A group debriefing with district instructional facilitators follows this exercise. To further supplement these professional development activities, they offer a local professional development program called FUSION, which was developed by a teacher who published a book through ASCD on the concept.
The two make sure that no one feels lost, and a big part of that is ensuring that school leaders stay deeply involved in the process. “We wanted the administrators to lead out in the 41 strategies and become leaders in the implementation of the various strategies,” Taylor explains. “We challenged them to be in the classroom observing, performing walk-throughs, or generally meeting with teachers and talking about teaching and learning for a minimum of one hour each day. No matter what happens during the day, one hour must be spent as an instructional leader.”
DQ 1, Element 1
As is common with the rollout of any new system, there have been a few bumps along the way. One of the bumpiest for these schools has been the challenge in implementing Design Question 1, Element 1 of the Marzano Teacher Evaluation Model.
Element 1, which focuses on creating a scale for each learning goal and using that scale to provide feedback to students, often feels new and unfamiliar to teachers and therefore takes extra time and practice to master. The district opts to take a proactive stance by continuing to place a special focus on that element until it becomes a habit for everyone.
“DQ 1, Element 1 is huge,” says Pierantoni, “especially at the elementary level during the current change to different standards. We have had lots of growing pains that have made us better as a district, a school, and as professionals.” However, he has experienced great enthusiasm after observing teachers and meeting with them afterward to provide feedback. “As a principal, I don’t think you could ask for a better outcome to that type of situation.”
Language and Organization Are Key
Not only is Lincoln County School District #2 benefiting, but the two take their expertise on the road to advise other school districts throughout the country. At a recent presentation in Orlando, Taylor and Pierantoni gave attendees an overview of the Marzano model, demonstrating the ways in which it can help facilitate the use of learning goals and scales and stressing the importance of language and organization.
“Scales are written for units and encompass multiple lessons,” Taylor explains. “Each unit has an overall goal. Each lesson has a daily objective.” He also emphasizes the importance of having a common language of instruction, as a common language enables everyone to stay on the same page with understanding important concepts.
Marzano strategies aren’t just for improving instruction in the classroom. They’re also valuable professional development tools. The presentation delivered by Taylor and Pierantoni validates that notion while serving as an example of the Marzano model’s effectiveness. “We teach strategies to administrators and teachers by using the strategy we are teaching,” Taylor says. “We really want the administrative team to practice the strategies and demonstrate mastery.”
It all begins with taking the time to make the book study happen and starting small, according to Pierantoni, describing the way he learned that lesson. “We started with three goals our first year: one at the district level, one at the school level, and one at the teacher level. Too big. Start with what do we want to be about? Whatever the answer is to that question, find the element of the 41 that supports and improves that notion, and go for it.”