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Wyoming Connections Academy

A distance education program offered by Big Horn County School District #1

Minimum qualifications

To teach for Big Horn County School District #1's Wyoming Connections Academy, teachers will be expected to possess: 

  • An appropriate Wyoming teaching credential. 
  • A Bachelor’s degree at minimum. 
  • Certification that they are highly qualified for the assigned grades/subject matter. 
  • Skills in teaching a standards-based curriculum and incorporating innovative approaches to instruction. 
  • Good communication skills. 
  • Technology literacy.

Experience teaching in a virtual environment will be considered a plus, as will coursework/credentialing in distance education or online learning. However, the Wyoming Connections Academy will also provide intensive and ongoing professional development for staff as described in the next item.

At least one teacher on staff will have certification in special education, to work in concert with any special education students’ resident districts to ensure fulfillment of the students’ IEPs. Ideally, one teacher will also have certification as an English Language Learner (ELL) teacher.

To teach electives and hard-to-fill positions, Big Horn district will contract with out-of-state teachers for their students. Teachers will be certified teachers, have a bachelor's degree (minimum), certification as a highly qualified teacher, skills in teaching standards-based curriculum and innovative approaches to instruction, good communication skills, technology literacy, and experience in teaching online. This option will be available via the MOU process for other districts in Wyoming. The MOU, DLP, and all Data Reports will identify two distinct providers.

Professional development

Wyoming Connections Academy will provide its teachers with a comprehensive teacher training and professional development program to equip them with the following: 

  • A working knowledge of the Wyoming Connections Academy curriculum 
  • Strategies and best practices for virtual learning and instruction 
  • How to utilize and navigate the tools of the Learning Management System 
  • How to develop personalized distance learning plans 
  • Forms of assessment and how to utilize test results to guide instruction 
  • Knowledge of program processes and policies 
  • How to foster a virtual school community

Specifically, Wyoming Connections Academy teachers participate in the following professional development activities designed to hone their understanding of the curriculum and accountability measures: 

  • Initial Teacher Orientation Course: All new online teachers to Wyoming Connections Academy will complete a self-guided training course developed specifically for Wyoming Connections Academy. This course is delivered through the LMS, and contains actual lessons, assessments, and links to online tutorials. The focus of this course is to prepare teachers for the first few weeks of school, and it covers “the basics” including curriculum, assessment, personalizing instruction, school year events, grading and report cards, communication, and essential LMS tools. Upon successful completion of this course and assessments, teachers are ready to begin instruction. Teachers are expected to earn a grade of 90% or better.
  • Pre-Service Face-to-Face Training: In addition to the self-guided course, representatives from Wyoming Connections Academy staff will engage in face-to-face training and orientation with Big Horn County School District #1. The focus of this training will be the Wyoming Switchboard Network, working with Resident District Liaisons, communicating with parents, and interaction with other programs.
  • Supplemental Teacher Training Course Segments: Additional online training is presented on an ongoing basis for all new and returning teachers. These segments are differentiated based upon experience and needs and contain information about more complex features and functions of the LMS, instructional processes, and processes that teachers need to implement in an online environment. 
  • Connections Academy Professional Development Sessions: Connections Academy will provide Wyoming Connections Academy teachers with ongoing professional development activities throughout the year. Presenters with various backgrounds and areas of content expertise conduct live tutorial sessions on a rotating basis throughout the school year. Teachers are required to virtually attend monthly sessions throughout the year including such topics as: implementing specific instructional strategies, current curriculum-specific topics and trends, effective teaching strategies and communication skills for a virtual environment, utilizing the state standards to guide instruction, educational technology, using data to guide instruction, educational trends, etc.
  • Connections Academy Graduate Course in Online Learning: Connections Academy has collaborated with Boise State University to create a series of graduate level courses in teaching in an online environment. Wyoming Connections Academy teachers will be encouraged to take these courses as well as to pursue additional relevant post-graduate coursework. 
  • Professional Learning Community: Each Wyoming Connections Academy teacher will have access to a robust online Professional Learning Community portal in the LMS, which lists multiple professional development opportunities as well as message boards, recorded LiveLessons, shared resources, and more. Teachers describe this area as “a community created and dedicated to shared values and vision, working and learning collaboratively, shared decision making, collective creativity, and supportive and shared leadership. As a collegial group, we are united in our commitment to student learning through collaboration in our community.”
  • Weekly Teacher Updates: The Connections Academy School Support Staff compiles and sends out to all teachers a weekly electronic newsletter that highlights improvements to the curriculum and LMS, new procedures, shared tips, and community building activities. In addition, each Friday "Congratulations, Thanks, and Kudos for the Week" are disseminated to all teachers. This issue compiles best practices, comments from parents and students, and other positive ideas to replicate throughout the program.

Wyoming Connections Academy teachers will be surveyed regularly regarding their satisfaction with professional development experiences to help guide continuous improvement in this area. In addition, the accountability metrics described in the next item help program leaders quantify impact of professional development activities and areas in need of additional work. The Connections Academy curriculum, instruction, and school support areas also conduct ongoing evaluations of professional development activities.

Performance expectations

The following performance expectations are featured in the “Standards for Connections Academy Teachers, 2010-11”

Communicate Frequently

  • Student Contacts: Ongoing contact between you and your students allows you to assess your students’ learning, builds rapport, and offers structured and tailored teaching and learning opportunities. Interact with each of your students on a daily or at least a weekly basis using WebMail messages, LiveLesson® sessions, feedback when grading, Message Board postings, Newsletter contributions, phone conversations, and/or face-to-face interactions. 
  • Response Time: Respond to all student and Learning Coach inquiries (whether by WebMail message, phone, or Message Board post, as appropriate) within 24 hours if possible but no more than two (2) working days.

Documents & Pre-Plans All Interactions: Discusses key responsibilities, attendance, assessment results, overdue lessons, etc. with family. Document all contacts with students and Learning Coaches in the User Logs. Be clear, detailed, complete, and timely. Save all academically-relevant WebMail messages to the log. Regularly review students’ logs to gain historical perspective on their progress and stay informed of their interactions with other Connections Academy staff.

Monitor Student Performance and Participation: Students must adequately participate (i.e., meet attendance requirements, complete lessons and assessments, and communicate regularly) to remain enrolled in our program. Be familiar with the escalation criteria, monitor your students’ statuses on a regular basis, and work with Learning Coaches to keep students “On Track.”

Create an Online Learning Community: To enhance your students’ learning, set up opportunities for group interactions through small group collaborative assignments, online discussions, and team activities using LiveLesson® sessions. Use a variety of presentation medium to promote participation from all students. Draw students into discussions that allow them to actively reflect, deepen their understanding, and solve problems. Provide challenging student-learning opportunities.

Personalize Students’ Programs: Use Connections Academy’s tools (the Personalized Learning Plan, the Scheduler, SkillsTutor activities, Study Island, LiveLesson®, etc.) to personalize your students’ programs so each of them can achieve maximum success. Such program personalization can be achieved by modifying lesson pacing, lesson content, or organizational routines, and should be done through regular conversations with the Learning Coach. Create custom lessons to meet diverse learning styles.

Use Student Data: Regularly review and use student data to facilitate each student’s learning. For students in grades K to 8, use their pre- and post-LEAP assessments to develop their PLPs; for students in grades 9 to 12, review their PLPs to understand their academic, postsecondary, and personal/social goals. Review your school’s state testing results and work with your principal to plan and implement needed changes.

Provide Timely Feedback: Review, score, and provide feedback on student work in a timely manner so that students (and Learning Coaches) have an accurate and up-to-date reflection of their learning and progress. Grade and return quizzes and tests within two working days; portfolios within five working days. Recognize outstanding student achievement and work.

Reflects on Teaching: Accurately explains a lesson’s effectiveness or ineffectiveness by giving specific examples. Develops options for improving lessons in the future by suggesting alternative approaches. 

Demonstrates Ongoing Professionalism – Consistently models the values of respect, responsibility, honesty, citizenship, and integrity.

Method(s) of evaluation

The Connections Academy LMS equips the Wyoming Connections Academy Principal to ensure with detailed certainty that the performance standards and objectives are integrated into the instructional practices of all teachers. The LMS keeps careful track of all contacts among students, teachers and Learning Coaches; records response and turnaround time; allows for ready review of all log entries; records any lesson modifications made by teachers; and gives the Principal extensive data about of how each teacher’s students are performing day by day, lesson by lesson. This wealth of data allows the Wyoming Connections Academy Principal to monitor each teacher’s practice and performance more readily than Principals in traditional school settings. This data is used for ongoing monitoring for quality as well as regularly scheduled performance reviews of teachers by the Principal.