Over the course of three consecutive years of Cotsen Strategic Opportunity Grants, Fountain Valley School District has utilized collaboration as a tool for professional development to transform teaching and learning in the area of mathematics. The catalyst behind this transformation was a Cotsen alumna fellow, who had a big goal – to bring together teachers from across Fountain Valley elementary schools to create a cohesive community of teachers as learners focused on implementing Cognitively Guided Instruction in their classrooms.
When Lara Epling was introduced to CGI during her ART of TEACHING fellowship in 2008, she quickly saw the impact it was having on her students’ mathematical comprehension. Motivated by what she was seeing in her classroom, Lara worked to refine her understanding of and proficiency in CGI throughout her fellowship. As a result, after her fellowship came to a close in 2010, Lara found herself wanting to continue participating in the collaborative CGI professional development experiences that Cotsen provided. At the same time, Lara noticed that Cotsen teachers were scattered throughout Fountain Valley School District and were working independently within their own cohorts at school sites.
“In 2014,” Lara said, “We looked very different as a district. Each of the schools had its own community of learners, but there was little bridging across sites. So, there was this real need to connect.”
After hearing about the Cotsen Strategic Opportunity Grant, Lara approached teachers from several schools in Fountain Valley to see if they would be interested in engaging with colleagues from other sites. Her plan was to create collaborative conversations and opportunities for teachers across schools, who were interested in implementing CGI in their classrooms.
When Lara’s grant proposal was accepted, Fountain Valley received $17,000 to build a foundation for CGI instruction within the district. The four elementary schools that participated in the grant funded activities were Courreges, Newland, Tamura, and Cox. Each school site had Cotsen alumni to support the teachers who wanted to be a part of the initiative with instruction and guidance.
The projected budget provided: site visit training from Nick Johnson, an instructional coach and co-author of Young Children’s Mathematics: Cognitively Guided Instruction in Early Childhood Education; two substitute days for the teachers; the Book/CD Young Children’s Mathematics and the Thinking Mathematically for those that did not have it; and a CGI Strategy Tool-Kit Box for each teacher.
Seeing the great work Lara had started across school sites, the Fountain Valley District administrators decided to allocate additional funds to the initiative so that teachers from all sites could participate. During the spring of 2015, fifteen additional teachers were added to the group of thirty-five for a cohort of fifty.
During that first year, teachers were able to administer baseline CGI problems in their classrooms and utilized their CGI Strategy Tool Kits to teach a variety of problem-solving strategies. A reflective questionnaire completed at the end of the year revealed that CGI incorporation increased to 2-5 times per week. Teachers also reported that there was a positive shift in the way students approached math. One teacher added that her kindergarten student said, “Thank you for being a good math teacher.”
After seeing the success of the district-wide Professional Learning Community initiative, by the 2015-2016 academic year, teachers and the district were on board for another year of CGI professional development. Lara applied for another Cotsen Strategic Opportunity Grant and the district matched funds to incorporate more teachers and deepen learning.
As Lara began to flesh out the details for the next year with administrators at the district level, the discussion centered on maintaining the organic collaborative culture and utilizing district support without over stepping or diminishing teacher involvement.
Steve McLaughlin, assistant superintendent for Fountain Valley School District said, “We went to our schools to give a presentation for CGI and we invited some teachers who were familiar with CGI and Cotsen to share their experience. Effective professional development comes through when we link conversations between site time and district time; so we gave teachers four release days by school site and grade level, and then we brought in Teri Malpass. This is where the grant was able to support us with evening, voluntary and paid professional development. We had virtually 100 percent of our teachers participate in paid voluntary professional development.”
Lara’s plan for the second grant was to include all TK-2nd-grade teachers across the district. The Cotsen grant provided $17,000, and the district added $31,000 to the project to purchase more Children’s Mathematics Books, eight three-hour session with Teri Malpass, and to cover the cost of four release days per teacher, including special education teachers. At this point, however, district administrators decided to widen participation to include upper-grade teachers as well. So an additional $55,000 was injected into the project to include teachers from 3rd through 5th.
During the 2015-2016 school year, the CGI movement in Fountain Valley quickly spread. Virtually all TK-2nd grade elementary teachers received training in organizing effective math lessons and were equipped with differentiated activities to meet the needs of various types of learners.
To further implementation and reach more 3rd-5th grade teachers, a voluntary, paid summer institute was held during the summer for teachers who wanted to learn more about the CGI philosophy. At the summer institute, teachers developed CGI road maps to refine learning and movement into the development of a CGI curriculum for the school year. A road map is a 5-part lesson plan introduced by Teri Malpass which ties in vocabulary, CGI questions in units and chapters, teaching points, and strategies for CGI implementation.
As a result of the professional development, CGI Mathematics became a signature practice in 2016 for Fountain Valley School District. The district set a goal for the 2016-2017 year, to reach all grade levels. Lara Epling and Joanna Burch, also a Cotsen alumna, were subsequently hired by the district as TOSAs for Instructional Support.
Lara applied for a third Cotsen Strategic Opportunity Grant, which was titled, “Collaborative Connections in Fountain Valley – Taking it to the Next Level.” This grant proposed to impact every elementary school with a focus on every 3rd-5th-grade teacher in Fountain Valley. The proposed budget included evening training sessions provided by Teri Malpass, supplemental materials for teachers (hundreds boards, math manipulatives, etc.), and three release days for every individual teacher.
Fall 2016 training sessions centered on tying counting collections to CGI problems for upper grades and questioning strategies. For release days in the first half of the year, teachers were given collaboration time and principals from each site were included in the conversations about CGI problem types, solutions strategies, and student work.
Fountain Valley is planning to rollout more district-wide CGI professional development next year. “We’re excited to have more demonstration days,” Joanna said. “Also, next year is about getting all the kinks out of the training sessions. People will be trained in August and they will have access to make comments on the road maps. We will take the comments, meet as a committee, and decide what needs to be changed before we start the new year.”
The professional development in Fountain Valley continues to grow as new effective instructional practices are implemented at the elementary and the middle school levels. The ongoing collaboration of teachers and administrators to support CGI implementation has resulted in a powerful community of educators dedicated to improving teaching and learning in math within Fountain Valley classrooms.
“Lara Epling and Joanna Burch are really just amazing instructors,” Steve said. “We knew that coming in because, as effective as the CGI professional development has been here, we couldn’t have pulled this off without this amazing teacher leadership.”