Students look forward to them - those days when they leave school early and the afternoon seems endless and perfect for playdates or ice cream. For teachers and staff, early release days are truly a gift of time; time to plan and collaborate with colleagues as well as assess student progress.
With a total of 10 early release days planned for the current academic year, Comal ISD schedules these days for several different reasons. Six of those days are set aside for Quality Instructional Learning Time, QILT, or teacher collaboration; two are for parent conferences; and two are for end-of-semester early release for students, teachers and staff.
Three early release days remain in the school year, March 27, April 24 and May 30. The first two are earmarked for QILT while the final one marks the last day of the school year.
“During QILT, our teacher teams work together on data analysis, lesson design and collaborative planning,” explains Kerry Gain, CISD assistant superintendent of curriculum and academics. “This time is incredibly valuable for them because it allows them targeted and thoughtful design and planning time that greatly benefits students. For the past two years, teacher teams have been reporting their success to the Comal ISD Board of Trustees during its school board meetings, and every team emphasizes how this time contributes directly to improved student academic performance.”
At February’s school board meeting, for example, the fourth-grade team from Timberwood Park Elementary presented its success thanks to QILT. This team includes Pauline Mobley, Tiffani Zimmerhanzel, Caroline Bundy, Heather Jimenez and Michelle Newell.
With 62 years combined experience, this team is a good example of how teacher teams across the district use early release days.
“We are able to all sit at the table and put our heads together,” says Zimmerhanzel, who serves as the team lead teacher and has been teaching for 12 years with three of those in CISD. “We bounce ideas off each other and with vertical planning, we get the opportunity to see what teachers in other grade levels are doing too.”
In fact, the vertical planning during QILT which involves kinder through fifth grade teachers per subject in elementary, gives teachers a better idea of what their students are learning before they arrive in their classroom or vice versa, what they need to learn before they move to the next grade level. While grade level teachers are fully versed in their own Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), they may not know what another grade level TEKS involves. These collaboration times give them the opportunity to really learn from one another.
Before early release days were offered, teachers still needed to carve out time in their days for this planning and collaboration, the TPES team explained, but it was much more difficult to find that time.
“It (an early release day) is a gift of time for us,” says Mobley, who has been teaching for 27 years and with CISD for 12, “and we’ve seen a tremendous shift especially in writing this year because of the work we have done at every grade level.”
Photo: Timberwood Park Elementary fourth grade teachers from left are Pauline Mobley, Tiffani Zimmerhanzel, Caroline Bundy, Heather Jimenez and Michelle Newell.