Durango High School supports a collaborative learning environment for staff, with strong teacher leadership focused on job-embedded professional development. The school uses a Small Learning Communities (SLC) structure and a unique instructional approach within each SLC. Interdisciplinary teams of teachers meet on alternating weeks to discuss how to engage all students in the learning outcomes their departments have agreed upon. Engagement strategies include practices from Expeditionary Learning (EL), the International Baccalaureate (IB), and STEAM (STEM plus arts). The school’s SLCs work closely with instructional coaches from EL and IB and then develop Critical Friends groups to analyze each other’s lessons and instructional strategies. In two of the SLCs, teachers are developing peer coaching models to allow teacher teams to observe each other’s classrooms and provide feedback on their practice.
Across the school, staff members meet every Monday for 90 minutes to collaborate on curriculum, instruction, and assessment practice. The schedule balances time between department collaboration and SLC professional learning communities. It is in this structure that school staff members receive job-embedded professional development related to both their content and their instructional practices to support the needs of individual students.
Each of the professional learning communities (PLCs) has a teacher leader and is supported by an administrator. Each department and SLC has a designated leader who also serves on district and building leadership teams. Staff members have ownership in setting the agenda for each meeting and facilitating conversations focused on student achievement. As an example, the school’s PLCs are currently engaged in work around common formative assessment. They create common assessments for student learning and understanding. Following the assessment, teachers then come back together to review results and develop an action plan to address the gaps in student learning.