Thanks to fellow administrator and blogger / high school director Dave Meister, I ran across this RSA Animate presentation called "Changing Education Paradigms." It happens to line up beautifully with a meeting I had recently in which I was told that several teachers in ISD 191 did not like what I had to say in a recent post called "Our Future Experts of Standing in Line." In response to that feedback, I'd like to offer this intriguing animate video and a couple of thoughts:
First… I believe every one of us in education heads to work each day seeking to do what is right for kids. Put simply - we are all on the same team. We all believe in the importance of education and we all work extremely hard to deliver on that calling. This isn't about who is right and who is wrong – it's about getting real about how to best deliver on our mission. That is something we should all be able to rally for collaboratively.
Second – delivering on our mission with excellence requires creating a "Culture of Greatness" in ISD 191. This means creating an environment in which rigorous debate about what is right is valued and cultivated, an environment in which disciplined people practice disciplined thought and action, and an environment in which the brand of our organization is palpable in every classroom of every building. If raising a few questions about the realities of 2010 is not ok, then we certainly don't have an environment that welcomes good debate. So… rather than take shots, please jump in and join the discussions! I certainly don't have all of the answers about how to best deliver on our mission – but I believe the staff in 191 has them if we put our heads together!! Handling some shots is part of this job, but I am more interested in what you all think about how to move forward. Your wisdom is needed and valued so please jump in!
This educator is committed to improving public education. That does NOT assume those in public education have done something wrong or are bad people. In fact, I have chosen this career largely because of the wonderful people in public education. Most are heros to particular individual students… If others can have rigorous debate about how to make money, politics, how to sell more product, etc… we can certainly have thick enough skin to debate about how to best deliver on the important job of educating children. We simply cannot afford to avoid this debate – it's kids at stake here…
Please watch this animate and offer your thoughts as a comment to this post. Times have changed and we need to respond… yes WE. We are public education… Teachers, EAs, clerical staff, administrators, bus drivers, cooks, custodians, etc… Together we will - we must – come up with the best answers. What are your thoughts? How should we be changing what we do to best deliver on the mission of preparing students for the 21st century??
In this Ted Talks presentation, Scott McLeod shares his thoughts on education in the 21st century with the American School of Bombay. He facilitates meaningful conversations on many fronts including his popular blog Dangerously Irrelevant. The background information and arguments put on the table in this presentation line up with some of my c0mments about Alvin Toffler's work in a post several months ago. His presentation drives home a couple of key questions:
- What is our moral imperative to create school environments that prepare students for the next 50 years rather than the last 50 years?
- How brave do we need to be to make this happen (not tweaking the status quo, but inventing the new paradigm)?
Now in a new position in a different school district, I am appreciating the points in the post below from a different lens. Moving a school – or a district – down the change continuum to embrace the core elements of PLCs is indeed a journey that requires savvy, strategic decisions that are executed with discipline. As we did in ISD 720, we have a ways to go in ISD 191…
I recently ran across and article posted on the AllThingsPLC blog written by Thomas W. Many, an administrator clearly more experienced in leading PLCs that I am. The article, called "A Rose by Any Other Name: Professional Learning Communities" eloquently argues that calling a team or group of staff that meets for the purpose of improving what we do should not be called a "PLC." To call it a PLC is to miss the point. He argues that teachers and staff need to meet in all kinds of teams to address the different focuses of a school and that all of these teams need to embrace the core concepts of being a PLC. "The truth is that teachers are members of all kinds of teams: grade-level teams, departmental teams, job-alike teams, child study teams, problem-solving teams, and a myriad of other teams. Simply adding “PLC” to the team name does nothing to improve a school. All it does is create another team!" He goes on to say that naming a team a PLC actually hinders the process of moving a staff towards functioning as PLCs should.
The SJH leadership team launched an initiative just this fall organized in what we have referred to as "PLC groups." This decision came after a couple of years of work on establishing true teacher leadership roles and debate about how to best support teachers to improve our success meeting school improvement and staff development goals. Reading Thomas Many's article questions our decisions and raises points worth our attention. Indeed, it is not what we call the group that matters – it is the results that matter. Department meetings, vertical team meetings, child study meetings, and meetings of that… well… PLC thing… all need to embrace the core elements of a successful PLC to get the results we are looking for. Fortunately, Mr. Many doesn't leave us high and dry on how to do that.
What is clear is that meaningful changes in practice—not labels—are the reason teams in a PLC are more successful. DuFour observed, “The pertinent question is not ‘Are teachers collaborating?’ but rather ‘What are teachers collaborating about?’ ” (DuFour et al., Learning By Doing, p. 91) We know effective teams focus on improving student learning, so why not simply utilize existing team structures and focus on what effective teams do to help all kids learn?
If the fundamental purpose of a team is learning, the research is clear: effective teacher teams—whether labeled as PLC teams or otherwise—focus on clarifying essential outcomes by class, course or grade level. They spend time developing common formative assessments and establishing targets and benchmarks for their students. They come together to analyze assessment results and use the data to plan appropriate interventions and instructional improvement strategies.
We know students benefit when teachers work collaboratively toward the common goal of high levels of learning for all. Specifically, students benefit when teams of teachers focus on clarifying what kids should know and be able to do, create common formative assessments, design systematic pyramids of intervention, and provide more time and support to those students who don’t learn in the course of initial instruction. Finding answers to these critical questions is the work of an effective teacher team.
Students and teachers benefit when principals devote their energies to designating protected time for teams to meet during the school day, supporting the creation of smart goals targeted at improving student learning, and designing strategies for monitoring the work of teams in order to articulate, protect, and promote what is important.
So what's our next step? Clearly our BLT members need a better understanding of what successful PLCs do and strategies for making it happen. We need to better articulate what student work our teams are looking at and how to use this process to help get improved results. We need to work together with a tenacious focus on our goals and demonstrate effective leadership to get every staff member making a significant contribution. Thank you Mr. Many for raising a few points that we needed to hear. It's up to us to make it happen – and we will!