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Teachers take time out to learn

Last Friday afternoon, while Rosemount's elementary and middle school students were enjoying a day off of school, teachers were huddled over desks or at computers looking for ways to help them learn.

For the teachers, Friday was the first of three data analysis days all district teachers will get over the course of the year to talk about what they're doing, what's working and how they can do better. High school teachers had a similar analysis day earlier this year.

Teachers spent the first part of their day Friday working with their peers around the district. In the afternoon, they gathered with others from their own school. They went over the results of a test they gave to their students earlier this year. If there was an area where one teacher's students excelled while another's struggled, they talked about what that teacher did that worked so well. If there were areas where all students are struggling, they look for ways to fix the problem.

Teachers worked together to write the assessments their students took. They had to make sure the tests were aligned with state education standards.

The new approach increases uniformity in the way lessons are taught from one class to another to ensure students are all getting the same information, but teachers said there is still flexibility to put their own touches.

For the teachers, the data analysis days part of a new focus on using data to guide instruction. The District 196 School Board set aside time the data analysis days earlier this year, cutting regular teaching days out of the schedule to fit them in.

RMS principal Mary Thompson is glad they did. She is a big fan of giving teachers more time to work together.

"It's one of the most exciting things I've seen as far as really having that embedded professional development," Thompson said.

Teachers already did some of that work, but they had to squeeze in meetings during their lunchtime, or before school while early-arriving students waited to get into their classrooms.

Teacher seem happy to have a calmer time to do their work.

In a science classroom at RMS, seventh grade science teachers Heidi Hilliard, Tim Hoernke and Jeremy Abbott met Monday to go over their assessment question by question. They talked about whether specific handouts might help get a point across. In addition to identifying teaching methods that work, the tests can help teachers identify individual students who might need additional help. They can offer that help during class time, or perhaps pull students out during their Irish Time, a period set aside for remediation or activities.

Thompson knows the data analysis days might create challenges for parents who have to take a day off of work or find someone to watch their children during the day. But she believes giving teachers time to work together will ultimately improve student learning.

"I'm pretty passionate about it," Thompson said. "Our teachers have done a marvelous job of making sure they have aligned the curriculum. They're teaching to the Minnesota standards, but also drilling down and saying, 'This is what your kids are going to learn.'"