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QTL News & Stories

District Builds on QTL Partnership, Takes Next Step
February 2008

In 2003, Botetourt County Schools in Virginia began their QTL partnership. Five years later, they've moved to the next level with the intensive lesson planning of QTLCS.

BOTETOURT COUNTY, VA - Five years ago Botetourt County Schools formed a partnership with The Centers for Quality Teaching and Learning that aimed to make teachers more comfortable with technology and best practices in teaching.

Today that partnership has grown beyond the original vision. Every teacher in the district has been through the basic program (except new hires), and dozens are now engaged in high-level lesson planning and collaboration through Quality Teaching in the Learning Centered School (QTLCS).

botetourt teachersInstructor Trevor Ruble was teaching in the district when QTL first started in a handful of schools. A year later, he was leading the program as it expanded district-wide. By 2005, he was at the forefront of planning an advanced "next level" program called QTLCS.

"QTL laid a foundation of conversation for us, for teachers," Ruble says. "Then teachers asked 'what's next.' And when teachers ask 'what's next' you know that's a good thing."

So began QTLCS, which builds upon principles of Mike Rutherford's Learning Centered Schools program and integrates instructional design. Teachers focus on what makes a good lesson, and the process for designing lessons that meet student needs and improve performance.

The district identified "teacher leaders" as well as Instructional Resource Teachers as initial participants in QTLCS. After completing the program, those leaders returned to their own schools to begin building awareness of the program. They stressed how important principles of learning are to effective lesson design, and talked about how the QTLCS program would help teachers design effective lessons consistently.

Those initial teacher-leaders and IRTs continue to provide support for fellow teachers after they participate in QTLCS. Ruble says the participation of IRTs was critical because they are the "true leaders in the school system who can really encourage teachers, model for them, support them, remind them to look at their instructional design practice and make sure good components (clear learning goals, congruent activities, etc) are embedded in their lessons."

Today, about 50 teachers per year are going through the QTLCS program. The first three days lay a foundation of QTLCS principles, modeling those principles so teachers can see them at work. Participants then use the principles to design a lesson for the class - choosing a lesson that challenges them. It may be an area of content with which they are less comfortable, or one students don't easily grasp - something the teacher struggles with. Through collaboration with team members, participants design the lesson they will teach and have the benefit of a dozen other teachers in their class providing strategies and support for effective practices and applications on how to approach the topic and address the specific needs of students in that class.

The focus on content and strategy, collaboration and feedback, design and practice all lead to better lessons delivered in the classroom.

"By far, teachers are very favorable of QTLCS," Ruble says. "They like the collaborative aspect of lesson design. When they leave that QTLCS class, they have a lesson that's been seen by numerous teachers and gotten feedback. Then they go deliver that lesson and come back and share the successes of that lesson."

Over the years, the partnership with The Centers for Quality Teaching and Learning has helped increase Botetourt County teachers' technical savvy as well as their awareness of research-based teaching strategies. Ruble says teachers still ask about basic computer use sometimes, but are moving to a higher level in their thinking and practice.

"Our teachers in Botetourt are pretty amazing teachers. They have a very high level of professionalism, and they want more. They don't want more on their plate, they want more growth. And there's a big difference. QTLCS lets them see different ways of achieving the goal."

Participants emerge from QTLCS feeling they've had an opportunity to grow. In a structured and professional context, they can share ideas and get a chance to sit down and plan. Teachers crave time to plan, and this is a way to give them that and make sure it's productive and collaborative.

"They feel like they're growing as professionals and are being treated as professionals. They walk away knowing more than they knew before, and they feel more confident than when they came in."

"Both QTL and QTLCS are giving teachers the opportunity to reflect on their teaching practices and options. We are giving teachers creative license to be teaching professionals."

In some counties it's all teaching to the tests, and you can see that in the strategies. "In Botetourt County you are a professional, and it's all about making professional decisions," Ruble says.

Botetourt County isn't alone in implementing QTLCS to advance what teachers learned in QTL. In Charles City Schools, every teacher has had the opportunity to participate in QTL and QTLCS, and the district is implementing Whole Faculty Study Groups® to build on the skills and create a true professional learning community.

Janice Johnson, QTL's Vice President of Programs, says districts that do whole-system implementation get a great return on the investment of time and effort. "In those places we see sharing that you won't see if you just have a few people at a school come."

QTLCS is implemented without a lot of technology available - sometimes none at all. Says QTL Director of Instruction Tamara McCulloch, "The focus is on utilizing principles of learning in instructional design and not necessarily where technology fits. We use the technology and value it as an effective tool for instruction, but that's not our primary focus."

Ruble says much of the success comes down to peer support and collaboration. Teachers don't mind revealing their weak areas to other teachers, and all teachers want to see more success for their students.

"They want feedback from the QTLCS instructor and their peers," he says. "It's a totally different relationship from the principal coming in and watching what they do in the classroom."

Building a climate of continuous improvement and engaging teachers in high quality teaching practices is what QTL and QTLCS are all about. The partnership is what makes it work. The QTL process is a strong partner to school improvement.