The Benefits of District 211 Late Start Days

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English teachers from Hoffman Estates High School work with their Professional Learning Team during the Dec. 4 Late Start Day.

Throughout the school year, there are several days where students get to sleep a little bit later before coming to school. While students are not in classes, their teachers take advantage of Late Start Days, which provide valuable time for collectively planning, assessing, and setting goals with their colleagues.

Late Start Days take place 10 times throughout the academic year. The purpose is to allow teachers structured time within the school day to work together on curriculum practices and student assessments. The most recent Late Start Day took place on Dec. 4.

“Teachers can share practices and things they are doing in the classroom,” said Russell Cumings, assistant principal at Hoffman Estates High School. “Like Institute Days, Late Start Days create a common curriculum across the District, and all District 211 students are expected to learn the same thing.”

Each Late Start Day work session is 90 minutes in length. Teachers are broken into groups called Professional Learning Teams (PLTs) by department. Looking at the District’s Critical Learning Standards, the groups set curricular goals for students. From there, they use formative assessments, such as daily quizzes and assignments, and summative assessments, larger tests and finals, to evaluate their students’ progress. Late Start Days allow teachers to go through those assessments and figure out what is working for students and what is not.

“The opportunity to thoroughly discuss practice, and I have been doing this a long time, is so rare,” said Heidi Davey, English teacher at Hoffman Estates High School. “During the first three quarters of my teaching career, we didn’t have the time to sit and talk about what we are doing in the classroom, and that dialogue has been so incredibly beneficial. Discussion helps us think about our practices in a different way, and I think that just having the time for those discussions is critical in becoming better at what we do.”

Heidi Davey (left) works with English colleagues during Late Start Day. Davey said the benefits of discussion help them think about teaching practices in a different way, and improve their teaching overall.

Davey said several groups are looking at testing results of their students. They have data from software called Mastery Manager that shows which test questions were most frequently missed, what students chose for answers, and what questions students had the most success with. Based on testing data, those assessments help teachers rework portions of tests and assignments, and look at what areas need to be taught again or taught in a different way.

“We take a look at the test questions and decide one of three things — if the question was written poorly, if our teaching style didn’t teach our students effectively, or what things need focus in the classroom,” said Jackie Dickens, social studies teacher at Hoffman Estates High School. “Sometimes I might struggle with something and another teacher might have a suggestion. That collaboration has been very beneficial, especially because this is my first year as a teacher.”

Elective departments that don’t fall into core curriculum, such as art, also have PLTs that function in different ways. Hoffman Estates High School Art Teacher Juan Medina said each art teacher is responsible for a different class. Their PLTs focus more on crafting formative and summative assessments while tying in context from other courses. He said they currently work closely with the English department.

“We are bringing a lot of reading, writing, and English into our classrooms,” Medina said. “We bring English context into art context by using it as a means to plan artwork. Students complete writing assignments where they need to make a claim, use evidence to support it, and have commentary to cap their art project after they have completed it. We are working very hard to make sure that what we’re doing is supporting other departments as well.”

Overall, teachers find Late Start Days as a benefit for students, as well as for their ability to effectively teach the curriculum, and most teachers consider that time invaluable.

“I can speak for Hoffman Estates High School and say we have a family of teachers here. It’s nice to see your family outside of 30 second conferences in the hallway while traveling from class A to class B, and it gets you to reconnect with your resources,” Medina said. “The day-to-day routine can trap you, and these brief pauses in the routine jostle us just enough to reevaluate and get a fresh perspective. It’s a good thing.”