This year DPS launched a pilot program that identifies exceptional teachers within a school and moves them into the role of school-wide leaders. They teach classes for part of the day and spend the rest of their time in a leadership role observing teachers and providing feedback in areas the teachers want to improve. And the team leaders, themselves, get evaluated, so they understand what it is like from the teachers’ perspective.
Westerly Creek teachers applied to be in the pilot program and the school was chosen to participate.
Fifth grade math teacher Alicia FaJohn, who was selected to be a team leader, says Westerly Creek has benefitted from participating in this program, which DPS calls “Differentiated Roles.” Westerly Creek’s goals for the program were developed by a core group of the staff and successfully implemented by teachers throughout the school.
FaJohn works with 2nd and 4th grade teachers on skills the teachers want to develop. She helps others develop their own expertise, saying she sees the teachers, not herself, as the experts.
FaJohn cites the 2nd grade teachers as an example of how the program works. They wanted to help their students develop their own “voice”—to learn to listen critically, express their own ideas effectively, and to disagree respectfully. Once the teachers identified their goal, FaJohn asked them to work together to identify strategies to help students achieve that goal.
As teachers used their strategies with the students, FaJohn observed how the students were responding. When she was in the classroom and heard comments like, “I respectfully disagree that the ugly duckling was the ugliest duckling,” FaJohn could see the students were developing “their voice” and communicating with each other on a more advanced level.
FaJohn shared the work and the progress of the 2nd graders with the 4th grade team—and they decided to adapt similar strategies to develop core math skills for the 4th graders. Fajohn says she saw the same success in the 4th grade classrooms, with students asking higher level questions that showed they were listening and thinking more critically.
Other Westerly Creek teachers chosen to be team leaders in the pilot program are Marie Gruber, 5th grade math and science; America Bateman, literacy intervention; and Yaisa Banek, the site assessment leader. An additional benefit for the team leaders in this program is it offers an opportunity for them to determine if they might want to go on to become administrators.
“Differentiated Roles,” is a two-year program that started this past fall in 14 DPS schools. Hallett, in Park Hill, also participated in the program. The district is expanding the program next year to include 27 more schools, including Ashley, Bill Roberts, HTEC Elementary and Swigert.
Teachers in DPS are asked three times a year to evaluate what is happening in their schools. In the Differentiated Roles pilot schools, 88% of teachers agreed that principals distribute leadership effectively. In schools without the pilot, 75% of teachers made that statement.
FaJohn points out that principals do not have the time team leaders have to observe classes and meet with teachers. She observes the teachers on her teams approximately 20 times during the year. Her goal is to meet with teachers the week following each observation to discuss progress toward their educational goals.
The Differentiated Roles program at Westerly Creek, as with all schools in the program, was built by and for the teachers at their own school. FaJohn believes the program has increased the effectiveness of teachers at Westerly Creek and that teachers have learned “to use each other as resources more than ever before.” By working together, they are improving their skills and at the same time helping students take ownership of their learning and to improve their skills.
Linda Katchen is a retired teacher who worked in both Jefferson County and Denver Public Schools.