LAND O' LAKES - As part of an effort to improve student learning, the Pasco County school district is grooming teacher leaders with the hope they will help guide their schools to new heights.
Each school selected a cadre of educators to undergo two days of training this summer. These teachers will serve as facilitators for their school's teaching teams, which will meet regularly to discuss effective instruction, plan teaching strategies and reflect on how those strategies are working.
"These really are teacher leaders," said Sarah Trowell, an instructional trainer coach for the district. "They are passionate about learning. They don't have to be here."
The training is part of the school district's effort to shift schools into an approach to education called "professional learning communities," which place a greater emphasis on collaborative efforts to make sure all students are progressing.
The move comes as Florida schools are phasing in the Common Core State Standards that 45 states have agreed to adopt and phasing out Florida's own Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.
Being able to deal with change is key in education, Trowell said.
"If we have strong, high-functioning learning communities, no matter what we have come our way we will be able to deal with it," she said.
Elementary school teachers, joined by principals and assistant principals, took the two-day leadership training this week. Middle and high school teachers participated previously.
Trowell, along with fellow instructional trainer Mary Reynolds, led groups of educators from four elementary schools: Chasco, Northwest, Calusa and Mary Giella.
In the training, the teachers prepared to help their schools tackle what are considered the guiding questions of a professiona l learning community: What exactly do we expect all students to learn? How will we know if and when they've learned it? How are we going to teach it? How will we respond when some learners do not learn? How will we respond when some learners have already learned?
Trowell said one goal is to avoid a top-down approach. Instead of having everything dictated by the district, the hope is that ideas will percolate among the school staff, the people who best know the students, she said.
"People have ownership and empowerment when it comes from their own ideas," she said.
Ultimately the district wants to ratchet up student achievement, and when given flexibility, teachers at each school will be able to brainstorm ideas for doing that, Trowell said. If what they try doesn't work, they can adapt and switch to techniques that do work.
Laura Miller and Diane Rodelli, two of the Chasco Elementary teachers, said they expect teachers at their school will handle it all well. The school already uses professional learning community concepts, but now each teaching team will be a professional learning community.
"Our school is very good at collaborating and working as a team," said Miller, an intervention teacher who works with struggling readers.
Rodelli, a kindergarten teacher, said Chasco teachers will like that the district isn't mandating a one-size-fits-all approach.
"They are trusting us more to know what to do," she said.
The training had its light moments. The educators watched an old "Saturday Night Live" clip in which guest host Jerry Seinfeld taught history to a classroom of underachieving teenagers. They also viewed a pep talk from Kid President, a 10-year-old boy with a disease that causes his bones to break easily. His YouTube videos have become something of an Internet sensation. In his pep talk, he challenges viewers to create something to help make the world awesome.
The teachers and principals spent most of their time, though, discussing topics such as how to inspire their staffs, how to develop a communications plan and the importance of collaboration.
"Your schools are going to truly, truly benefit from the conversations you are having now," Reynolds said.