Collaborative Learning for Jenison Teachers is a Win!

This year, an exciting new professional development initiative has been introduced to Jenison teachers:  Learning Labs!

(l,r) Kristy Rogalla and coaches Michelle U’ren, Janet Schultz, Eileen Maday, and Lisa Douglass

According to Kristy Rogalla, Curriculum Director at JPS, a Learning Lab is “An opportunity to share effective teaching strategies and learn from our ‘quietly amazing’ colleagues in a non-evaluative, authentic setting.”  The district has trained four classroom teachers as coaches whose “goal is to train department chairs [junior high and high school] and team leaders [elementary] to become learning lab facilitators. We provide resources and support to staff members participating in the process”, adds coach Michelle U’Ren.

While Learning Labs are new to JPS, they are not specific to Jenison. Districts throughout Ottawa and Kent County are using learning labs as a professional development opportunity for teachers to grow and collaborate.  Jenison has worked with other districts around West Michigan to develop this model of professional development which encourages teachers to collaborate in authentic and meaningful ways.

As teachers and coaches work together in this setting, there are four steps to the collaborative process.  

  • Step 1 asks teachers to think about the following questions:
    • What are the learning targets of the lesson?  What do you want students to know and be able to do? How does this lesson support your school improvement goals?  What other teaching and learning prepared students for this lesson?  What instructional strategies will you use in your lesson today?  What activities will you use to engage students?
  • Step 2 is the Pre-Brief stage for discussing the purpose of the lesson.
  • Step 3 is a classroom visit by the coach during the lesson.
  • And Step 4 is the Debrief.

A TK, or Transitional Kindergarten, classroom is pictured above. Coach Janet Schultz hosted TK, K, and specials teachers, with learning around morning meetings.

“Last year, a team of writing teachers worked together over the course of the school year to create a  stronger continuum of writing instruction across grade-levels. Learning Labs were used in our new teacher training process and to build a better understanding of how to effectively use innovative technology in classrooms. As teachers implement Common Core Math, learning labs have been used to model best instructional practices.”

Ms U’Ren and her fellow coaches add that the benefits to teachers working collaboratively in this way are many:

  • It provides the recognition that teachers within our organization are our best resource
  • Learning Labs encourage a culture of collaboration
  • They create an effective continuum of curriculum and instruction throughout grade-levels
  • Best Practices are extended [instructional strategies, technology use, assessment preparation, etc.] within a course, between grade-levels, and across buildings
  • They allow for choice in professional development
  • Learning Labs provide the opportunity to reflect on and discuss the process of teaching and learning

Coach Lisa Douglass hosted teachers across the district with math and science backgrounds. This picture is showing how she uses learning targets and student monitored progress.

Coach Janet Schultz believes in the value of learning together and adds, “Teacher collaboration is important because it allows teachers to have thoughtful and meaningful dialogue about their chosen profession, stay engaged with new learning concepts, and get excited about their own learning and that of their students.

The dialogue, the authentic setting, and the thoughtful process involved in Learning Labs makes it a one of kind collaborative professional development opportunity for teachers in our district. Learning and sharing great strategies within a lesson and classroom environment provides opportunities to teachers that we can’t get from other professional development training.”

We are looking forward to the many ways that Learning Labs will continue to grow, challenge and encourage our teachers, which, in turn benefits our students. Thank you to all of the coaches and teachers for seeing the value in collaboration!

Jenison High School Media Center Gets a Face-Lift!

For many students returning to school this week, the question that has been asked more than any other was, “How was your summer? What did you do?” If the walls of our high school media center could talk, they would smile and answer that question by merely saying, “Take a look around!”

Thanks to monies brought in by our bond proposal, the “library” that hadn’t been touched in decades was re-imagined and brought into the 21st century with the kind of forward-thinking that will help shape student learning for years to come.

Six large, flat-screen television sets are mounted on the walls for computer hook-up, creating alcoves for study and collaboration. Now, rather than four students gathering around one small computer to work on a group project, those same students can connect a single computer to the TV and have their document or presentation displayed for all to easily see. Access to information means that more voices can join the conversation and play an active role in scholarship.

Hailey Wardall and Aubri Roberds (pictured above) love that the handful of new, soft-seating areas have created an environment more similar to a college than a high school. Working in partnerships or in groups is more comfortable and more fun, they both noted, adding, “…we rarely came in here before the renovation — and now that it’s so nice we wish it could’ve happened sooner!”

Both girls echoed sentiments of feeling more respected after the school gave them the responsibility to steward this special area. “The school gave us more responsibility to take care of this place, and knowing they trust us makes me feel respected.  This new media center is a big step up for our high school and a better way to learn. For instance, right now we’re collaborating on the yearbook layout and it will be great to come in here and work on our slideshows and theme presentations together.”

Lexi Petersen, Courtney Talsma, Aubrey Brown, and Breanna Hansen (working above) said they were “Shocked!!” when first seeing the completed space saying, “We didn’t think we’d get all this!”

Breanna summed it up perfectly with her comments. “It will bring more group work into our learning and into our school. Whereas before we might have had to crowd around one computer, now we can all see what we’re working on and we can all add our input.”

Scores of tables and chairs on casters were also added, allowing students to reconfigure their workspace to fit their needs. Floor space can be easily opened up if physical space is demanded, and groups can come together by merely rolling tables and moving chairs. Additionally, desktop computers were situated in an open section of the media center to preserve a traditional “lab” housed within the media center.

“I think our media center more closely resembles many business environments now. More and more we’re seeing offices move away from cubicles to a more collaborative setting, and providing that for our high schoolers is just one more way that we’re preparing them to be team players and contributing group members after they graduate, “ explained Jenison High School principal Brandon Graham.

“I’m just so proud that we can bring a state-of-the-art learning setting to the students of Jenison High School. We hope it will invigorate them and spur discovery, creative thinking, and problem solving.”