There are more ways to shake up the status quo of a school district than just technology. At Maine Township High School District 207, located just north of Chicago, with 6,400 culturally diverse students and three high schools, Superintendent Ken Wallace has seen to it that his campuses are at the forefront of the 1:1 technology movement. The district has conducted teacher training with Roger and David Johnson, from the University of Minnesota, widely recognized for their work in a research-based strategy that involves grouping students and having them learn and create together.
For Wallace, one particular component from the Johnson model resonated, a program that trains teachers to train each other. “We’ve really put a lot of emphasis on that,” says Wallace. “Frankly, it has informed our thinking on a lot of things, and the Johnsons will tell you that District 7 has more Johnson and Johnson cooperative learning trainers than any organization in the world, and these guys have done training all over the world.”
There are several factors that make teacher leadership such an important concept in education, and, according to Wallace, much of it comes down to basic learning. “If you empower learners to lead their learning,” he explains, “that’s the best learning condition you can create. The research is really clear on this, so our vision here is to empower as many teachers as possible.”
Maine Township now has staff development embedded in a variety of areas, and all of those fields are led by the district’s teacher practitioners. “We grow teachers to lead those staff development areas,” says Wallace, “and we’re extremely proud of that. Our vision is to try to get every teacher multiple opportunities to lead in multiple ways in a given year and certainly multiple times throughout their career. Our instructional coaching model is all teacher led. We’ve honored the sanctity of the relationship between coaches and teachers.” When coaching is incorporated into the training, Wallace says that research shows that implementation rates go up exponentially.
When Wallace describes the district’s instructional coaching model as being “teacher led,” he means it quite literally. Every teacher trainer/coach is a district teacher. They’re all union members. The district regards the relationship between the teachers and their coaches with the highest sanctity.
“I think that is incredibly important, and so empowering for teachers to be in charge of this training instead of the administration. That’s really how you improve, and how striving to improve becomes your culture. That’s the thing I’m most proud of: this really is our culture now,” says Wallace.
The program discourages spending time on things that don’t work. But the district has an ongoing action research project, through which the staff studies their own problems of practice, developing an independent variable and a dependent variable, and then reporting out. The cohort goes through it, then coaxes the next cohort through. “So that’s gotten a little bit better every year,” says Wallace.
“Our teachers are stretching in ways and they’re motivated to stretch in new ways, because we give teachers the space here that they need to know that they really have a voice in leading, not only their own learning, but really leading, helping lead systemically in their department or in their building or in their district,” says Wallace. “Frankly, we have teacher leaders that are impacting the state and the nation.”
Last year, the district launched the Chicago Coaching Center. Founded by Wallace, the coaching center partners with the Illinois Council of Instructional Coaching and several area districts to develop curriculum for its instructional coaching certification programs. In addition, the center provides a wide range of summer workshops on best practices in teaching and learning. The Chicago Coaching Center prides itself in providing engaging adult learning experiences that are designed to allow participants to learn and grow through their interaction with one another.
“We launched the coaching center to help build this coaching capacity not only for District 207,” explains Wallace, “but actually for the Chicago area and beyond. We have people coming from around the country this year to train with us this summer. So, we are really very proud of not only what we’re doing here but we’re trying to really connect with the larger world as well.”