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Speaking the Same Language in Rural Schools

By working with one rural North Carolina school district, researchers developed a new professional development model that helps create teacher leaders, according to a new study.

"A Common Language for Learning" by Marjorie Ringler and Debra O'Neal of East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., began in Tyrrell County Public Schools in Columbia, N.C. The article was published in the April 2012 issue of the Journal of Staff Development, a product of Learning Forward (formerly the National Staff Development Council).

Some students in the small, rural district were doing twice as much work than their peers because they spoke non-standard English dialects.

Researchers were doing a year-long series of workshops to help improve students' academic language proficiency. Initially, their target student group was English-language learners, but classroom teachers said native English speakers could benefit, too.

Researchers decided to work on academic language proficiency for all learners, and they've since brought those workshops to seven counties.

In doing so, they found successful districts had three common characteristics: involved principals, involved district-level administrators, and a follow-up plan for training.

They used those to develop a professional development program that has these core beliefs:
• high-quality professional development begins with the principal;
• the principal must be part of the process, not just a facilitator;
• peer coaching is essential;
• teacher leadership is key to the program's success; and
• participants need to see the value in the content and be willing to take risks.

The article goes more in-depth to explain the three phases of implementing their model of professional development (teacher buy-in, coaching teachers, and building capacity) and how those worked in Tyrrell County schools.

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