Professional Learning

Shifting Focus to Rigor and Relevance: A District's Path to Change

6 Min Read

Photo: Educators from Seguin ISD participate in a Professional Learning Community (PLC) with ICLE Coach Denise White.

Cultivate, inspire, and empower students to grow and learn. Our mission statement in Seguin ISD expresses the transformation we aspire to see in our students. We knew we had dedicated teachers and staff who were committed to the challenge of rapidly transforming district and school culture; what we lacked was a plan that would get us to our destination.

The Model Schools Conference Experience

In July 2017, Dr. Matthew Gutierrez was hired as the new Superintendent for Seguin ISD. Having worked with ICLE and the Rigor/Relevance Framework® in other districts, Dr. Gutierrez wanted to bring the framework to Seguin ISD to move the district forward. He worked to provide an opportunity for 18 district staff members to attend the 2018 Model Schools Conference (MSC) to hear directly from other districts about the framework in action. For all 18 staff members—made up of central office administrators, campus administrators, and teachers—this was their first MSC experience and first exposure to the work of ICLE.

The conference was a great opportunity to hear from districts all over the country who were problem solving similar challenges as we face in Seguin ISD. The conference experience built a sense of family for those of us who attended and confirmed that we are doing the right work together. Hearing the Model Schools and Innovative Districts present their work inspired us to set a goal to one day showcase the changes we hoped would come as a result of implementing the Rigor/Relevance Framework.

Seguin Model Schools
A Roadmap for Change

After attending MSC, it became clear that the Rigor/Relevance Framework would be a key component to ensuring that our district mission and vision statements come to life for all students. Relevant and rigorous instruction are a key part of driving this change, and the Rigor/Relevance Framework provides the common language and tools needed to support instruction in the classroom. The roadmap we developed as a result of our conference experience included the following components:

  • A focus on our three secondary campuses during the 2018–2019 school year
  • Support from Denise White in implementing the Collaborative Instructional Review (CIR) process
  • Ongoing professional learning
  • Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)
  • Modeling a coaching culture

Ongoing Professional Learning

One key takeaway from MSC was that Central Office staff should create the conditions for change to occur. Based on this advice, we outlined a yearlong plan for professional learning that included four day-long visits with Denise and four district-wide professional development days for all secondary teachers.

The districtwide professional development days reinforced the use of the Rigor/Relevance Framework and rubrics through various formats and activities. By developing a year-long plan for professional learning, we ensured that teachers and campus administrators would have the ongoing support they needed to implement rigorous and relevant instruction in their classrooms. The ongoing professional learning has reignited a “passion for the profession” in many teachers because they are looking at instruction through a whole new lens, and it has made teaching exciting. Teachers expressed that the Rigor/Relevance Framework trainings have been the best they experienced in a long time.

Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)

A common theme among the Model Schools that presented at the conference was the use of PLCs to drive their work. Seguin ISD had already begun working on implementing PLCs, but MSC reinforced the importance of their work and showed how they could be a vehicle for driving change in campus culture.

As a result, our district plan included scheduling time for ICLE Coach Denise White to meet with PLCs and model how to use the Rigor/Relevance Framework rubrics as tools for planning. During these PLC times, Coach Denise would review upcoming lesson plans through the lens of the rigor and relevance rubrics. Teachers then had an opportunity to dialogue with each other (and Denise) about strategies and activities that could be used to promote student learning at the “Developed” level of each rubric.

Teachers realized that small changes in their lessons could result in a much more rigorous learning experience for students. As one teacher reflected, “My biggest takeaway while planning was to recognize that tweaking how a question is framed can have a large impact on student thinking and conversation.”

Modeling a Coaching Culture

Another common theme throughout MSC was an emphasis on developing a culture of coaching rather than evaluation. The Collaborative Instructional Review process allows administrators to shift from evaluator to coach and empowers teachers to become reflective practitioners. With the help of Mrs. White, campus administrators conducted the three phases of the CIR process for each teacher observed:

  • Pre-conference (completed prior to the visit)
  • Classroom observation
  • Professional dialogue

A fishbowl protocol was used during the professional dialogue where a team of individuals, including Mrs. White, campus administrators, and district staff, observed the dialogue and provided a critique to the individual leading the conversation. This fishbowl process gave administrators feedback on coaching strategies and modeled the non-evaluative, reflective practices to emphasize growth and learning. As a result of this process, the secondary administrators have begun conducting their own CIR observations at their campuses on a regular basis. Barnes Middle School even took the step of replacing its weekly walk-through schedule with weekly CIR observations because they acknowledged the positive teacher response to the coaching model.

Where We Are and Next Steps

We are excited to say that we are staying focused on our plan to implement the Rigor/Relevance Framework in Seguin ISD. Districtwide professional development held in January gave teachers an opportunity to select two strategies that would “enhance their rigor toolkit.” Two more campus visits with Mrs. White are remaining for the school year and will continue to focus on visiting PLCs and supporting campus administrators in the Collaborative Instructional Review process.

Dr. Gutierrez has identified a second group of district administrators and teachers who will attend MSC in June 2019 to continue growing a guiding coalition of district staff who will lead the change in district and campus cultures. We have begun discussing plans for next school year, including expanding the Collaborative Instructional Review Process to all of our elementary campuses using the roadmap that was developed this school year with our secondary campuses. We are living our vision and truly on our way to transforming “exceptional students to exceptional citizens,” as our mission statement notes.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


Join us for the 31st Annual Model Schools Conference in Orlando, Florida, from June 25–28, 2023. Now a hybrid event, MSC is extending and enhancing beyond convention center ballrooms and across the world.

Related Reading

Teacher and student working together hero WF1972889

Jennifer Corujo
Shaped Editor

WF1953215 Shaped 2024 Blog Post Benefits of Small Group Instruction2

Richard Blankman

Shaped Executive Editor

Superintendent of the Year Joe Gothard

Dr. Joe Gothard, the 2024 National Superintendent of the Year, speaks at a press conference in April introducing him as the new schools chief for the Madison Metropolitan School District in Wisconsin.

Brenda Iasevoli
Shaped Executive Editor