TLC program supports student learning

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

A year after receiving a Teacher Leadership Compensation (TLC) Grant from the Iowa Department of Education, implementation of the system at MFL MarMac has been a helpful experience for school staff. MFL MarMac is one of a number of schools across the state participating in the program, which works to attract the best possible teachers, to retain both newly-hired and veteran teachers, to promote extensive collaboration among teachers, to reward professional growth and effective teaching, and to improve overall student achievement. 

Staff have certain roles within the program, either as career teachers, model teachers, mentor teachers, instructional coaches, or administrators, explained Heidi Meyer, one of the district’s four instructional coaches along with Brent Pape, Liz Hammerly and Melissa Haberichter.

“Everyone on staff is part of the grant,” said Meyer, who, along with the other instructional coaches, presented on the TLC program before the school board March 14.

Career teachers plan, prepare and teach lessons; guide and build relationships with students; monitor instruction and assess student work; and take part in meetings, professional development and other opportunities for growth.

Model teachers fulfill those same responsibilities but also maintain an open door policy with their colleagues; reflect, collaborate and share strengths with colleagues; explore and model instructional strategies based on data from assessments; and serve five additional professional development days. MFL MarMac currently has 10 model teachers who teach different grade levels and subjects and have different interests. 

The district currently has three mentor teachers. Fulfilling both the responsibilities of the career and model teachers, mentor teachers also provide mentoring to first- and second-year teachers new to Iowa; document mentor-mentee activities and provide feedback to mentee teachers; complete nine non-evaluative peer reviews during the year; offer time for reflective conversations with mentees; and serve 10 additional professional development days.

The four instructional coaches fulfill the responsibilities of both career and model teachers; facilitate reflection on classroom practice; assist in goal setting, planning, preparing and delivering instruction; assist with alignment to the Common Core curriculum; collaborate with staff to analyze student data and select instructional strategies; plan, assist and deliver professional development; research educational strategies, initiatives and effectiveness in schools; and serve 15 additional hours of professional development.

Administrators monitor the program, meet with participants and discuss and encourage coaching opportunities.

Through it all, said Meyer, “our main focus is to support student learning. It’s not about critiquing teachers, but about student growth.” 

She said, to-date, they’ve done 91 instructional coaching cycles. Some are light, helping teachers for just a couple days, while others are heavy, assisting teachers for weeks.

Pape said coaching involves a lot of reflection and questioning ideas.

“The teachers come up with the strategies,” he said. “We don’t come in as experts. We’re here to help expand thinking.”

“A lot is happening that I don’t think would have happened [without the TLC program],” he added.

As a teacher librarian, Haberichter said she was used to co-teaching at times, offering help with things like research and writing. However, now, she said she has more time to sit down and plan with teachers.

Next year, the instructional coaches said they’re looking for more teachers to fill positions. They also encourage teachers to look at what the model teachers are interested in and work with them. The TLC program has its own website, which can be accessed under the “District” header on the MFL MarMac website. Information about the program and teacher roles is provided.

MFL MarMac will share its TLC experience with Gov. Terry Branstad on Wednesday, April 27, when he makes a visit to the school.

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