Faculty in small isolated districts often wear several hats: they teach, head departments, evaluate curricula and oversee professional development. Chances for broader collaboration are often rare, but creative Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) help remedy and improve student learning.
My school, Asotin Junior-Senior High School, is geographically isolated, on the border between Washington and Idaho. I’ve been fortunate to be part of a creative PLC project called—it’s a mouthful—Southeast Washington Open Educational Resources Consortium. It includes several small districts in the region—Asotin, College Place, Prescott, and Waitsburg. Representatives from each district periodically come together to review, evaluate, plan, teach and reflect on curricula. We’ve created a pool of open educational resources for instruction, shareable online. These resources (OER), for both teaching and learning, reside in the public domain under an open house license. They can be accessed free of charge, distributed without restriction and modified without permission.
Our group has met monthly since September 2015. We’ve evaluated resources available in OER Commons, a resource that lets you search for lessons by content area, grade level, and standard. It includes Next Generation Science Standards, Common Core State Standards, Math, and Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts.
As of the present, of the five resources evaluated, our group has created one of our own: Literary Analysis Tool: Character and Theme. As a part of each source selection or creation, we follow a process (see diagram). To help teachers, districts, and states determine the degree of alignment of Open Educational Resources (OER) to college-and-career-ready standards, the organizers of Achieve.org created an OER rubric. We have used this rubric to vet each source.
Meet the team
- Team member Ambra Bryant (College Place High School) had this to say about our experience: “This has been an incredibly enlightening experience. As a member of a small school finding collaboration opportunities can be difficult. That is one of the most successful elements of this experience for me. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with this team and learning from one another. Additionally, as the person writing the curriculum for our ELA team at the high school this has been very helpful. I have adapted numerous sources from OER to incorporate into our daily curriculum.”
- Bob Young (Prescott High School) shares: “Our OER Consortium group has been an extremely beneficial experience. The collaborative time has been very effective in helping me become a better prepared classroom teacher. I have nothing but gratitude for my colleagues. I would recommend other ELA teachers in small districts to reach out and to create their own.”
This learning community would not be possible without a grant from OSPI. The rationale behind the OSPI OER grants is that as more districts are implementing open resources or developing their own openly licensed core instructional materials, the need to create OER Users’ Groups to share ideas, define best practices, and champion effective distribution and implementation of resources is critical. The Southeast Washington OER Consortium is an excellent model for how small school districts can collaborate effectively on materials selection, vetting, and implementation strategies.
The grant pays for travel, reimburses the school districts for substitutes, and provides lunch for all participants. I’ve learned much from my colleagues, my teaching has improved, and I no longer feel quite so out of the loop. I have comrades in arms.