Stories from IPI Schools

The IPI Process and the Challenges of Common Core

Highland High School, Highland, Illinois

January 7, 2014

Highland High School’s journey with the IPI Process began in 2010.  I had previously attended several IPI workshops led by University of Missouri Professor Jerry Valentine.  The process intrigued me – it was teacher-led, non-evaluative and provided an easy way for teachers to collaborate to study and improve student-learning experiences in the classroom.  As Dr. Valentine addressed the data behind the process, I learned that he had thoroughly researched the IPI for more than a decade.The process sounded “right” for our faculty at Highland High.  Our school’s vision statement was “Excellence in Education, Every Day.”  Our new principal was popular with the staff, students and community-- took the school’s vision statement seriously.  IPI could help move HHS toward our vision.

 I discussed the IPI with my new principal and he attended a Level I training.  He immediately saw the value in the IPI and, after talking with the superintendent and faculty, moved forward to implement the process at HHS.Our teachers’ union leaders, including a long-time union president, were involved in the discussions and became part of a teacher team of IPI coders.  Those teachers, the “IPI Leadership Team,” led the process.In the fall of 2010 our IPI journey had officially begun.

The IPI “buzz” began at HHS long before the school started collecting student engagement data.  Area schools had dabbled in the process.Some teachers had participated in IPI Workshops to “see what it was all about.”Data from our first IPI data collection documented 19.7% of class time spent in higher-order/deeper forms of engagement and 76.0% spent in lower-order/surface engagement.Those numbers seemed rather respectable, but the teacher-team wanted better.  Faculty meeting time was devoted to looking at the data--talking about what we liked and what we hoped to change.  Whole faculty and department meetings were spent with teachers sharing lesson ideas and discussing ways to raise rigor in the classroom.

 Over the coming months our principal encouraged teachers to go through the IPI workshop, even if they didn’t want to join the IPI coding team.  He believed that would build a deeper understanding of the process, the importance of higher-order, deeper (HO/D) thinking time, and greater capacity for quality faculty collaborative learning.  The deeper understanding and collaborative conversations might then translate into refined lesson design—and perhaps student learning.In a little more than two years, the HO/D data had increased to 32.0% of the class time and LO/S learning was at 63.6%.By 2012, I had moved into the role of Assistant Principal.Since I was no longer a teacher, I couldn’t be a data collector for our school, but I could serve as a strong supporter of the IPI process.  By now, we realized that the IPI’s role to increase HO/D thinking in student-learning experiences was directly connected to the importance of engagement in Common Core State Standards.

By the start of the 2013-14 school year, our principal had moved to the role of Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction and I moved into the principalship.  Like my predecessor, I am a cheerleader for the IPI team.  At the mid-point of the 2013-14 school year, nearly one-third of our HHS teachers are trained in the IPI Process.

 As a school we face many of the same challenges as do other schools across the nation.  Our school’s culture is reeling from recent changes that include a loss of state revenue, elimination of block schedule and the reduction in force of valuable educators.  But we seem to have an edge on other schools, at least it seems that way from conversations our teachers and I have with our peers in other schools.  While other school faculties seem anxious about implementation of the Common Core State Standards, our faculty feels pretty good about the future.  While the IPI looks at student-engagement, it also creates several by-products that are incredibly important in 2014:

-the faculty has learned to collaborate

-the faculty has a “common language” for how engagement looks

-the faculty has learned to “tweak lesson plans” by incorporating an IPI code 5 or code 6 (both HO/D learning experiences)

-the culture of the school has become one where our vision is more than words; it’s the way we think as educators

For us, the IPI has become a school-wide improvement plan that leads right into Common Core State Standards and the Danielson Framework.  And for us, CCSS aren’t “something new;” they are part of the trajectory of the path we started when we became an IPI school.


Dr. Karen Gauen

Music/English Teacher (1974  - 2012)

Assistant Principal (2012-2013)

Principal (2013-Present)

January 7, 2014