Skip Navigation

The Importance of Early Release and Professional Development Days for Teachers

By Tracy Onze | Sunday, March 3, 2024


One of the hallmarks of a Trinity education is creating lifelong learners, not only for our students, but also for our staculty. We have a robust professional development program, funded by generous donors to the Trinity Fund, that encourages our adults to continue their education in content knowledge and pedagogy, social/emotional learning, diversity and belonging, and other areas through various methods, such as conferences, workshops, webinars, and degree work. Some of these opportunities also provide our staculty members with much needed respite, rejuvenation, and networking with other educators, which can be just as valuable as the learning they receive from keynote speakers and workshop presenters.


I was recently reading an op-ed piece from an SAIS (Southern Association of Independent Schools) trustee about the changing landscape of professional development during the pandemic with the shift toward more in-house professional development for schools. This is not a novel idea for Trinity, as we have always recognized that we have numerous expert educators within our own walls who are more than willing to share their expertise with each other. Similar to external professional development experiences, in-house experiences also manifest in many different ways, such as one individual teaching a brand new skill to others, a group of people leading the rest of the community in necessary training, or departments working together to take a deep dive into an educational concept, curricula materials, or student work. This meaningful work provides invaluable opportunities for educators to refine their skills, explore innovative teaching techniques, and stay updated on the latest educational trends and research, while also ensuring they are equipped with the knowledge and tools necessary to engage students effectively and adapt to evolving educational landscapes.


All of this requires time, something we all need more of, which is why early release and professional development days are such a critical part of planning for educators. During our last two early release days and our professional development day, teachers were provided in-house training in GoGuardian (our software monitoring system) by our Digital Learning Catalyst, FACTS (our reporting system) by the Academic Deans, how to implement brain breaks in the classroom by several classroom teachers, and updates to our Safety and Security procedures by Mr. Huber. In our middle school division meetings during these days, we reviewed our procedures for Focus Period and MS Exams, reviewed the data from the Authentic Connections Survey that was completed by students in the fall and brainstormed ways we are already responding to their feedback and new ideas we might implement going forward. We also compared the research on the benefits of homework to the current Trinity homework policy to begin the revision process of this policy for the 2024-2025 school year. Several hours of these days were also dedicated to grading and report card writing to provide meaningful feedback on mastery of standards and individual student progress to families. Time was also spent building community among our staculty through breaking bread, worshiping, sharing and playing together, as being “known and loved” is a value that extends to all members of our school community.


We are also intentional about building in unstructured time for faculty on these days. When teachers were asked how they use this time, their answers were all directly related to the classroom, and included such tasks as planning differentiated instruction; collaborating with colleagues from other schools; watching pre-recorded webinars; researching new technology; preparing materials for future lessons; organizing the classroom; and meeting with with colleagues and mentors. In the words of one of our dedicated teachers, "These days give me time mid-year to reflect on what teaching practices are working well and what needs to be pruned in the following year, when the experiences are still fresh in my mind. Time for reflection is imperative for my growth as an educator." This sentiment beautifully encapsulates the essence of Early Release and Professional Development Days. They provide our teachers with the invaluable opportunity to pause, reflect, and refine their teaching practices, ensuring continuous growth and improvement. As we invest in our teachers' professional development, we are not only nurturing their growth but also fostering an environment where excellence in education thrives, ultimately benefiting every student in our school community.


A History of Standards-Based Grading at TES
By Tracy Onze | Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024


At Trinity, we consistently reflect on and refine our curriculum and educational initiatives, always mindful of what will best serve the needs and growth of our students. This means staying abreast of educational research on current and upcoming practices. 


Prior to the pandemic, one such educational practice being discussed in education circles was the idea of more equitable, ethical, and meaningful grading practices. Articles, such as this one by ASCD, were so connected to Trinity’s mission and vision, that we decided to embark on a deep dive of this cutting-edge research.


During the 2017-2018 school year, Trinity contracted with Dr. Hilary Dack, Associate Professor in the Department of Middle, Secondary, and K-12 Education at The University of North Carolina Charlotte, to work with grade-level teams in the lower school and department teams in the middle school to help teachers redesign units of study using Understanding by Design principles. Over the following school year, Dr. Dack worked extensively with the middle school to add standards-based indicators to the curriculum along with the alignment of assessments to those standards, thus embarking on the move from a traditional grading scale model to a standards-based grading model.


Our move to standards-based grading began with the question, “What is the purpose of a grade?” The late Grant Wiggins, co-author of Understanding by Design and renowned expert on curriculum and assessment, says that “Rigor is established by our expectations: how we evaluate and score student work,” (Wiggins, 2014). 


We understand that numbers like 7/10 or 70% do not communicate much to students or parents. However, researchers have determined that feedback on specific learning targets that point out both strengths and areas for improvement in work will cause the most improvement for students (Ames, 1992; Butler, 1988; Hattie & Teimperley, 2007; Shepard, 2001, Chappuis et. al, 2012). As we strived to instill the importance of self-perception, self-regulation, motivation, and academic determination in our students, we examined how we could best provide this level of feedback in classrooms. Thus, we collectively decided that the purpose of a grade is to communicate to students and parents what the student knows or does not know about the learning targets (standards) taught at that moment in time, and that grades must be accompanied by feedback for students and parents to understand their meaning.


We remain committed to the efforts we undertook with Dr. Dack, and we have since incorporated the work of standards-based grading researchers like Joe Feldman and Rick Wormeli, two renowned experts on grading and assessment in the field of education. That spring, I, along with two of my colleagues, traveled to Florida to spend several days learning about standards-based grading and assessments from Rick Wormeli, who then came to Trinity to train the middle school faculty. 


Last year, two middle school teachers attended the annual conference for the Association for Middle Level Education, where they learned more from Wormeli about standards-based grading and assessment. In the summer months, we sent three middle school teachers to the NAIS Equity Design Lab: Grading for Equity to refine our practice around standards-based grading. At the end of this month, four more middle school teachers will attend similar training via NCAIS (North Carolina Association for Independent Schools). 


As standards-based grading remains a topic of discussion in our department meetings and retreats, we read and discuss articles such as "The End of Points" to ensure the streamlined implementation of this practice in classrooms and grade-levels. This education is crucial to our continued belief that traditional grading systems and scales do not serve children well. Moreover, professional learning like this underscores the work we began years ago to move to more equitable and informative grading and assessment practices.


Over the last few years, I have had countless conversations in-person and online with administrators and educators from schools across the country who are interested in making the change to standards-based grading and seeking advice on how to do so, which I’ve been delighted to provide. Once again, Trinity is ahead of many other schools regarding the implementation of student-centered practices. However, we are not alone. There are a number of high schools who are members of the Mastery Transcript Consortium, an organization that has redesigned the traditional high school transcript in pursuit of better serving students. 


These cutting-edge practices are the wave of the future, and we are proud to have been at the forefront of this work in our region as we make every effort to create scholars who engage in lifelong learning.