Partnership Benefits Teachers, Changes Students’ Attitudes

The idea that if you strengthen a teacher’s teaching skills you benefit the entire classroom is proving to be spot-on at SAISD’s Brewer Elementary.
A 3-year partnership between the Department of Education at Trinity University and the San Antonio Independent School District puts clinical math and science educators from the University directly in the schools, with the teachers, for sustained professional development. The partnership provides job-embedded, on-site, sustained professional development in mathematics and science to teachers in grades 3-5.

During the first year, the pilot year, the University educators worked in two elementary schools – Hawthorne Academy and Brewer Elementary.  In the second year they focused exclusively on Brewer Elementary.

Campus demographics
94% of the student population at Brewer Elementary is Hispanic; 5% is African-American.
99.7% are economically disadvantaged and the school reports a 30% mobility rate.
The faculty is relatively young and the good news is that state test scores are slowly improving.

First year lessons learned
The teachers reported, overall, that they valued their participation in the partnership; they felt that the experience deepened their math and science content knowledge.
The most positive reports came from their lessons learned: new ways to facilitate experiments and discussions in their classrooms and new ways to assess students’ learning.
There were some concerns having to do mostly with the tension between time spent in professional development and time that it took them away from their classrooms.
But in terms of efficacy the teachers strongly and significantly increased their feeling of confidence about their science and math teaching. And this in turn resulted in a slight increase in student performance.

The biggest change was in student attitude
At the end of the pilot year the students showed a strong and positive change in their attitude toward science.  Attitudes toward math remained largely unchanged.
We think this difference may have to do with instruction.  Specifically, science had not been taught consistently before the partnership.  Because the students had many more opportunities to do and learn science than in years past, this may have changed their attitude.  In contrast, math has always been taught for 90 minutes at Brewer.

The proof is in the scores
The students’ Math TAKS scores were positively linked with their attitudes towards math and science.
The science TAKS scores were linked with their science attitude but not their math attitude.
There was also a very strong link between math TAKS scores and science TAKS scores.

The partnership operates under these core beliefs:
• In order to make schools strong places for students to learn, they must become stronger places for teachers to learn;
•  Improving student achievement in math and science requires strengthening teachers’ instruction, including building their content knowledge (e.g. what to teach) and pedagogical knowledge (e.g. how to teach content);
• Teacher development is more effective when embedded in local school sites – that is, staff developers and their programs come to the schools and work with individual, small and/or large groups of teachers over extended time rather than teachers leaving the classroom for a half day to learn from an expert without any sustained follow up. We believe in Richard Elmore’s second principle, namely that the impact of professional development is inversely related to its distance from the classroom. And finally;
• Providing this kind of job-embedded professional development means that we need to transform the culture that typically defines schools: norms of politeness, non-interference, and isolation.  In other words, teachers do what they want in their classrooms and won’t ask questions or talk in substantive ways about our practice as colleagues. This project requires that we establish new norms where teachers learn how to make their practice public and talk to each other in new ways – asking questions, surfacing underlying assumptions, exploring rather than avoiding disagreement.

The goals of the partnership are to
•  improve student learning, including problem-solving, inquiry skills, critical thinking, ability to solve non-routine problems, design and carry out investigations, improve their attitudes toward science and mathematics, and improve state test scores (TAKS);
• strengthen teacher practice, including classroom instruction and assessment practices, strengthen their capacity to reflect upon and improve their practice;
• strengthen the school-wide professional learning community, ongoing reflective dialogue, norms of making their practice public, collective examination of student work.

How the project works
• grade level support for planning: both the math and science educators meet bi-weekly with grade level teams to unpack the district curriculum guides and plan for instruction;
• individualized coaching in classrooms: both the math and science edudators teach demonstration lessons, co-teach with participating teachers, observe and debrief teachers’ practice, and analyze student work with teachers.

How do we know it’s working?
• attitudinal surveys in math and science developed by our project’s external evaluator;
• teacher efficacy surveys – MTEBI (Mathematics Teacher Efficacy Beliefs Instrument) and the STEBI (Science Teacher Efficacy Beliefs Instrument);
• artifacts from our collaborative work with teachers (e.g. journals, reflections, and interview data);
• teacher participant surveys and focus group interviews that are administered at 3 points throughout the year (fall, winter, spring).  These surveys and interviews provide the math and science educators with feedback on how the participants are experiencing their work together;
• student-level achievement data, including FMAs (“Formative Mini Assessments”, administered by the San Antonio Independent School District) and TAKS data (“Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills”, administered by the Texas Education Agency) for students in grades 3-5 at Brewer Elementary.