While it seems there is a common call for more time to collaborate in all school districts, those who dig into the meaningful work of true collaboration discover it is far easier to continue working in isolation. The majority of us learned our trade figuring it out as we went through the enduring pains of trial and error. Being isolated in our classrooms was simply the norm, and the true collaborative work described in PLC literature was unheard of. Today we have clear evidence showing the need for real collaboration, yet the work of doing collaboration is much different from the work we have been good at in the past. Digging into showing our results, aligning our instruction with clearly articulated outcomes and common assessments, and engaging in robust action research can feel like an invasion of one’s craft. The truth we all know deep inside however, is that collaborating in this way is the real work of excellent teaching. Read more
A week ago I had the privilege of leading a work session with our District Leadership Team to reflect on our growth over the past 6 months, to assess our progress on district and school improvement goals, and to update our action plans for the next 3 months. It’s year one in our district for implementing the Marzano Art and Science of Teaching Framework and embracing the work of a true Professional Learning Community. It was a productive day for our teams, and I was once again reminded about how challenging it can be to serve as a teacher leader among peers and friends. Read more
Today was an exciting and challenging day full of great learning work in #ISD186. Six of our teacher leaders opened their classroom doors to a team of colleagues and administrators so we could take a deep dive into the Marzano Instructional Framework. Using just 1 of the 61 elements in the framework, our learning was focused on what to look for, how to ask good coaching questions, and how to facilitate peer observations in a safe and trust-building manner. The learning discussions were rich and the willingness of the team to take risks and dive into learning together was admirable. Read more
As a junior high principal 5 years ago I worked with some great teachers who took it upon themselves to make sure their students understood Bloom’s Taxonomy and how it applies to the activities each day in the classroom. Students were asked to hold the teacher accountable for making sure that homework and assessment activities applied to the top 3 layers of the taxonomy. Action phrases and verbs for each layer created a huge wall display of the taxonomy in classrooms, and conversations about why each activity in the classroom was planned for took place in the regular ebb and flow of routine. Did you hear that?!! I can honestly say that students understood the why!! You know… the “why are we doing this???” question that frustrates many-a-teacher? A commitment to being able to answer that question for every pedagogical decision we make – a true commitment to being disciplined in thought and action – is an authentic commitment to being a true professional… A real Professional Learning Community.
Moving from a district of 10,000 students to one of 1,600 students this past year has made me reflect quite a bit on how to structure collaborative teams to do the meaningful work of a Professional Learning Community when there are fewer teachers to team up. The research on effective schools is clear that collaborative teams of teachers focused on common formative assessments and implementation of interventions/enrichments to ensure all students learn at high levels is essential, but how to structure those teams for success is always a challenging leadership question. As often happens, my Twitter feed offered some “just in time professional development” this past week as I ran across an excellent presentation by author and 6th grade teacher Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) focused on this very topic. The ideas and options he shares are relevant to a school or district of any size.
The February 2014 Educational Leadership publication is focused on building school morale and offers several articles reflecting on how to cultivate positive spirits in a school staff. The timing is superb… I note on my calendar at the beginning of February every year to brace for the mid-year slump. While I’m convinced it has a good deal to do with the lack of daylight and cold weather here in northern MN, I also agree Megan and Bob Tschannen-Moran that “bolstering school morale is a primary school improvement strategy” (pg. 38). School leadership teams need to assess, plan for, implement action plans to address, and progress monitor the emotional pulse of the larger school team just as an effective coach of an athletic team or the director of musical must do. An emotionally flat team simply cannot perform well while one wrapped up in the positive synergy of real, results oriented school improvement can knock it out of the park.
Last Thursday I had the pleasure of helping to facilitate our third quarter District Leadership Team retreat. The largest part of the day was spent in a three group rotation sharing our 2013-14 focus for district-wide work in curriculum, assessment, and professional development so Building Leadership Teams can begin planning for the year ahead. The first two hours however, was my opportunity to engage all principals, two teachers from each school, and all district level directors, coordinators, and leaders (80+ people!!) in a celebration of our progress over the past couple of years and a look forward to the work ahead aligning all aspects of the district with our strategic plan. We began in small groups discussing chapter 8 of Learning By Doing and reflecting on our progress implementing a district-wide professional learning community. My journey with this group of leaders began two and a half years ago with a study of this book to begin grounding us in some common language, and it was refreshing to come back to it to check-in and see how far we’d come.
12 years after leaving the classroom to serve in school and district leadership roles, the awful feelings tied to being unable to reach every one of my students still haunt me. I remember long nights in my early teaching years spent developing plans for small groups, large groups, and individual activities designed to address a wide spectrum of ability levels and interests. I passionately searched for resources and lesson ideas that might engage reluctant learners, and I worked hard to forge a positive relationships with each child. While I believe I reached more students than the average teacher, I did not reach them all and I believed there had to be a better way to “do school.” There simply had to be a way to structure our work that would increase the engagement and learning of each student. But how??? Read more
This Ted Talk video strikes close to home for a guy serving the public as a leader in public education. How many of our students fall victim to this kind of bias in our schools and our economy? How might we intentionally value the strengths that introverted students, staff, and community members bring to our work each day?
Thanks to Susan Cain for sharing her wisdom in her newest release: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
Establishing structures and processes for meaningful collaboration focused on delivering better results is a research supported component of nearly every kind of effective organization. Published in the research describing the correlates of effective schools in the 1970s and 80s, we educators have largely struggled to close the “knowing doing gap” to implement focused, meaningful collaboration due to the assembly line structure of our system and an unwillingness to embrace change as a necessary positive. Our more recent focus on implementing Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) has moved collaboration efforts forward considerably, yet the literature and constant conversations about being a PLC continues to make clear just how much we struggle to change our system to facilitate this kind of work. At the end of the day, real collaboration requires protected routine time for teachers to focus on the student achievement results created in their classrooms. The time needs to be led by effective teacher leaders, and a disciplined culture that doesn’t tolerate the all too common tangent or distraction must be cultivated. 15 – 20 hours each week focused on collaborative analysis of specific lessons, student work, and common assessment results is taking place in other advanced countries and the results are beginning to show. Read more