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February 7, 2011

PLC process districtwide in 191

by Chris Lindholm

Principal meetings this week will be focused on chapters 7 and 8 in Learning By Doing pushing forward our conversation about Learning By Doingimplementing the PLC process across the district.  Chapter 7, titled “Using Relevant Information to Improve Results,” challenges leaders to create a results oriented culture that facilitates real dialogue about student achievement.  Chapter 8, called “Implementing the PLC Process Districtwide,” calls for strong leadership in the central office, a challenge to increase the leadership capacity of principals, and a clear call for district leaders to be both tight and loose in the expectations for schools.  We will discuss both chapters during our meeting and work to develop common understandings of DuFour’s work and how to implement it successfully BES schools.  Sincere thoughts that will add to our conversation are welcomed here!!

Here are the prepared discussion questions:

Ch. 7

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    • This chapter gives focus to the power of locally developed common assessments. The authors make the case that common assessments developed by collaborative teacher teams are the best ways to provide powerful feedback to teachers and turn data into useful information. How can a school culture shift from being “data rich but information poor” to one in which teachers have timely access to powerful and authentic information that can impact professional practice in ways that enhance student learning?
    • In the case study, a number of teachers raised concerns about the development and use of common assessments. Have (or would) teachers in your school raise similar concerns? What would some of the concerns be at your school? How would you respond to concerns about the development and use of common assessments?
    • The authors contend that a PLC should create systems to ensure that each teacher receives frequent and timely feedback on the performance of his or her students on a valid common assessment in meeting an agreed-upon proficiency standard established by the collaborative team in comparison to other students in the school attempting to meet the same standard. They go on to advocate that every teacher should have a collaborative team to turn to and learn from as he or she explores ways to improve learning for students. To what extent does your school reflect these practices?
    • Pg 185 – “School and district leaders can and should support teams in thie process in two very important ways – logistically and culturally.”  How do we do this currently?  How should we?
    • This chapter contains a sports analogy in which team mottos communicate the culture of the individual collaborative teams. In such a scenario, what would be an appropriate motto that reflects how things work in your school?
    • Common assessments developed locally by collaborative teams of teachers provide the vehicle for creating a culture of continuous improvement. As the authors note, “Members of PLCs recognize their challenge is not to get it right and keep it going, but to get it right and make it better and better.” Does this statement reflect the culture of your school? If someone were to ask how common assessments drive a culture of continuous improvement, how would you respond?  Is change recognized as the norm?  How do we create that understanding?
    • Schools or districts that hope to become professional learning communities will create the structures and cultures to ensure data are easily accessible and openly shared among teachers who are working together interdependently toward the same SMART goal. Respond to Michael Fullan’s belief that “successful schools are places where teams of teachers meet regularly to focus on student work through assessment and change their instructional practices accordingly to get better results.”
    • The authors say that teacher dialogue moves from sharing opinions to building shared knowledge of best practice through the collective examination of results—tangible evidence of student learning. How often does your team review samples of student work? Does your team adjust instruction based on the examination of student work or the results of common assessments?
    • What is the difference between formative and summative assessment? Look at the last four tests that were given to a class or grade level. How many were formative, and how many were summative?
    • Pg. 192 – “Leaders of these organizations are ‘fanatically driven, infected with an incurable desire to produce results,’ because results are what leadership is all about.”  Is this you?  If not, can your school be a Great one? 
    • How do you/can you use results as a motivator? 
    • Do we have mechanisms and culture in place to create the positive peer pressure that exists in all effective and successful teams? 

Ch. 8

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    • It is unrealistic to think that every teacher will be enthusiastic about the various practices found in schools that function as professional learning communities. There are bound to be those who resist certain practices and initiatives. This fact often creates a dilemma for leaders: They recognize the need to move forward, yet they would like to have everyone “on board.” So, how does a school that functions as a PLC deal with consensus and conflict?
    • In the case study, Principal Roth attempted to change Fred’s attitude. Have you had much success in changing the attitude of others? After reflecting on this chapter, what should Principal Roth have focused on? What approach do the authors recommend for impacting someone’s attitude?
    • Principal Roth wanted to build consensus, yet developed no clear definition of “consensus.” This chapter contains a continuum of various definitions of consensus. Which definition fits the operational definition of consensus in your school? What do you think an appropriate definition of consensus should be? Why?
    • How do we know if educators throughout the district understand what must be “tight” in our district and in each school?
    • How do we know if staff are organized into collaborative teams (not merely groups) whose members are working interdependently on the “right work?”
    • The authors offer the following definition of consensus: “We have arrived at consensus when (1) all points of view have been heard and (2) the will of the group is evident even to those who most oppose it.” What are your thoughts on this definition? How does this definition support efforts to move forward with particular proposals and initiatives?
    • If “getting everyone on board” is the criterion for reaching consensus in your school, how many faculty members would it require to block a new initiative from being undertaken? What would be the advantage of reaching a working definition of consensus prior to engaging faculty in discussions about possible changes or new initiatives?
    • Think of a professional decision that you recently were involved in making. Did the decision-making process create winners and losers? If consensus was reached, how?
    • One of the most important ways a school’s core values are reinforced is by thoughtful, professional confrontation. We must be prepared to confront those who act in ways that are contrary to the priorities of the school and the collective commitments of the staff. What behaviors are confronted in your school? What would it take for someone to point out to a staff member that his or her behavior was incongruent with the shared values of the school?
    • Garmston and Wellman (1999, p. 183) encouraged teachers to embrace the importance of conflict on collaborative teams when they suggested that “successful groups know how to fight gracefully—they embrace the positive aspects of conflict and actively minimize the negative aspects. Successful teams recognize conflict as an important resource for forging better practices.” How is conflict resolved on your team? At your school?
    • Do we confront the brutal facts willingly?  What might hold us back?
    • Members of a PLC understand that the most powerful learning occurs in a context of taking action. What specific actions have been undertaken in your school to improve learning? How has your school dealt with those who resist any meaningful change?
    • Consider the following statement: “If leaders are unwilling to deal with resisters, they are left to improve their school one retirement at a time.” Do you agree or disagree? Why?
    • Andy Hargreaves wrote, “Professional learning communities bring teachers together to talk about how they can improve the learning of all students as they challenge and question each other’s practice in spirited but optimistic ways.” Would you describe the professional dialogue in your school as spirited and optimistic? If not, how would you describe the dialogue in your school?
    • Pg. 224 – Are we measuring/monitoring the right things?  Do we have a sense of coherence and avoid sending mixed messages? Specifically, how do we do this the right way – districtwide? 
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