District: Fairfax County Public Schools
Source: Knowles Science Teaching Foundation
Charley Sabatier, Katey Shirey, Jen Weidman, and Heather Moore formed a collaborative learning team to support each other and improve their practice teaching IB physics.
At a 2011 Knowles Science Teaching Foundation (KSTF) Summer Meeting, Charley Sabatier was sitting with three other Fellows from the DC area – Katey Shirey and Jen Weidman from Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, and Heather Moore from Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, VA. As a few of the Fellows at the table began sharing their stories, they quickly realized that they were all living in the DC area, teaching International Baccalaureate (IB) Physics at the standard level and all had 90-minute blocks that met every other day. Charley had been trained as a Collaborative Learning Team (CLT) leader but had been frustrated by the fact that he didn’t have that kind of support for his IB teaching since he was the only IB teacher at his school. He drew upon that training to form an IB CLT with the other Fellows.
This group of teachers, led by Charley, focused on improving their IB Physics teaching and addressing their need to be part of a thriving and intellectually engaging professional community. Now in its third year, the IB Physics Professional Learning Community (PLC) meets on a weekly and monthly basis to design, discuss, and reflect on their IB Physics courses, their teaching challenges and successes, and the collaboration itself. The membership of the group has expanded to include other district teachers and even one teacher outside of the DC area.
All members, current and past, report that they have been able to cover more material and engage students in the content in a more substantive way. Furthermore, they have found that participating in this group provides professional support that allows them to challenge their thinking, revise their lessons and units, and reflect on ways to improve their instruction, giving them a chance to challenge themselves and each other in a setting where they feel trusted and safe. They have developed units and assessments that they share with other teachers in their buildings, as well as strategies for engaging students that other teachers can learn about.
There have been multiple indirect effects of Charley’s leadership of this ongoing collaboration. A few of the teachers have done presentations at the KSTF Summer Meeting and at NSTA to describe their efforts, in hopes that others will be able to learn from it and perhaps replicate some version of it. Heather Moore has replicated the process with a group of teachers in several schools who are teaching Active Physics.
A key component to the success of this group of teachers is that they are connected by a common and immediate need: to improve their IB Physics curriculum. Without this common problem to solve, and the leadership and vision of Charley to get it going, their work together would have likely looked quite different, if it would have existed at all. This focus provided the raison d’etre for their collaboration. Charley’s encouragement and leadership enabled the teachers to recognize the power in working together, how to best work as a team, and how to incorporate new members into the group.