McMinnville staff learn from each other and learn constantly
Matthew Jager, (left) a senior in Dan Willis’ (right) ceramics class, says he transferred to McMinnville High School because they would push him harder and offer him more opportunities. “They connect it to life,” he said. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
Dan Willis, an arts and ceramics teacher at McMinnville High School, never went into a math class at his previous district. He wouldn’t even see many of the teachers of his students’ core subjects.
At McMinnville, he regularly observes other classes with a group of fellow teachers across disciplines. They take notes and discuss what they see, creating a cohesive language of learning at the school.
“What is something I can take and put into my classroom so I can carry that over?” he said.
Supportive staff training is a draw for teachers to come to McMinnville, a high-poverty community that wasn’t always an attractive destination for teachers. Now McMinnville has an 87 percent graduation rate, among the best of Oregon’s large districts. McMinnville is being held up nationally as an example of a district doing good things.
Embedded staff development is central to McMinnville’s success, administrators say.
Embedded staff development
McMinnville’s education approach starts with what are referred to as “high-leverage” teaching strategies. Staff review education literature and research, and they select teaching methods that are proven to get the best results with available resources. McMinnville administrators and teachers master the concepts and then become the trainers for the rest of the district. All teaching staff and administrators are trained on the same methods.
“We learn together,” said McMinnville High School Principal Tony Vicknair. “What we learn at the high school is no different than they are learning at the elementary.”
Everyone talks the same education language in all McMinnville schools, according to administrators. If teachers are talking about immediate feedback, growth mindset or common formative assessment, administrators and even support personnel understand the lingo.
At the elementary and middle schools, staff meetings are used to talk about teaching techniques, not the nuts and bolts of daily school operations.
At the high school, every staff member receives 45 minutes of staff development every other week during their prep time. Topics are approached in three sessions. In the first session, a group of about 15 talk about the strategy. The second session is spent observing peers in classrooms and in learning labs. The third session is for collaborative planning.
Strategies are usually taught by one administrator and one teacher across grade levels and content types.
“We really get to see and calibrate, ‘What are you doing in your area to make this work for our students?’” said McMinnville High School Assistant Principal Veronica Chase. “It comes to life in a really powerful way.”
The district holds additional night classes for training. Teachers don’t get paid for that time, but they can earn professional development units and college credits.
Educators learn how to look at data, write a good assessment and then pick a strategy to help the student. Everyone learns the language, even school board members.
“At our work sessions we are educated every month on teaching practices,” said School Board Member Janis Braich. “We understand what the teachers are doing.”
Micah Houston teaches physical education, and he incorporates what he learns from teachers in sciences, arts and languages.
“It’s more about: ‘This is how you teach students,’” he said. “The focus is learning.”
Jory Shene, a math teacher, says the goal is to make the education day seamless for all students. He says the training shows him how to improve his instruction, even in a hard sciences class.
“The answer doesn’t change,” he said. “The way we get to the answer might be different.”
- Jake Arnold, OSBA
Monday: McMinnville overcomes graduation obstacles with steady approach
Wednesday: Graduation success starts with preparation for kindergarten
McMinnville staff want all parents to be able to access the system and fully understand its requirements and rewards.
Career and technical education is a big part of McMinnville’s strategy for helping students graduate.
In 2016, 87 percent of McMinnville students graduated, significantly above the state average of 75 percent.
All McMinnville teaching staff and administrators are trained on the same methods and then become the trainers for the rest of the district.
The McMinnville School District offers pre-kindergarten and a program designed for parents of children from birth to age 5.