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February 13, 2011

Focusing on the “right work”

by Chris Lindholm

Learning By DoingAs planning for 2011-12 progresses, I am more and more fired up about what’s ahead as we unleash the talent in BES schools on real collaboration and a tight focus on improving student achievement.  Routine classroom walkthroughs have revealed pockets of excellent teaching and innovation all across the district yet we currently lack a system or structure to push effective practices into other areas of teaching and learning.  Plans call for routine meetings focused on the 4 PLC questions in purposeful teams aligned both vertically and horizontally.  Those two pieces are the key…  purposeful teams that focus on the right work. 

We cannot stress this next point too emphatically: the fact that teachers collaborate will do nothing to improve a school…  The purpose of collaboration – to help more students achieve at higher levels – can only be accomplished if the professionals engaged in collaboration are focused on the right work. 

What is the “right work” that would occupy the collaborative efforts of a team committed to higher levels of learning for all students?  Once again, we return to the four questions that drive the work of a PLC:

  1.  
    1. What is it we want our students to learn?
    2. How will we know if each student has learned it?
    3. How will we respond when some students do not learn it?
    4. How can we extend and enrich the learning for students who have demonstrated proficiency?

DuFour 2010, pg. 119

The principal meetings over the past three weeks have involved discussions about how to structure meaningful teams in each school and how to hook the work of those teams into district curriculum work.  They are sketching out plans for building leadership teams and wrestling with how to format school improvement plans to best accomplish district strategic goals.  No question, meaningful 
teacher leadership is key to making it all happen, and our schools have a deep pool of outstanding people who will drive improvement tirelessly. 

This week our principals will discuss chapter 9 of Learning By Doing called “Consensus and Conflict in a Professional Learning Community.”  Some of the questions may be:

  • Do we have a definition of consensus in our schools?  At what point do we move forward in the decision-making process?
  • What decisions require consensus?  How do we involve all staff in those decisions?  What decisions are not appropriate for staff discussions?  How do we collect meaningful input for those?
  • Should individual members of our staff be permitted to disregard agreements we have made as a staff?  If they do, what’s an appropriate response?
  • Do we view conflict as something to be avoided? 
  • How are we developing the capacity of staff to hold crucial conversations that are certain to include conflict?
  • Do we have a common understanding of our purpose – learning for all – and of our priorities, our goals, and our expectations of one another that are aligned with that purpose?  Does this understanding allow us to be open with each other?
  • Do we operate with an assumption of the good intentions of our members?

Looking forward to another great week!!

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