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Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work, Third Edition (A Practical Guide to Action for PLC Teams and Leadership)

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Discover how to close the knowing-doing gap and transform your school or district into a high-performing PLC. The powerful third edition of this comprehensive action guide updates and expands on new and significant PLC topics. Explore fresh strategies, models, and tips for hiring and retaining new staff, creating team-developed common formative assessments, implementing systematic interventions, and more.

Benefits

  • Build a shared knowledge of critical vocabulary and the concepts underlying key PLC terms.
  • Equip yourself with the knowledge and tools necessary to model effective reciprocal accountability.
  • Make honest assessments of your school by examining conventional practices from a fresh, critical perspective.
  • Take immediate and specific steps to close the knowing-doing gap.
  • Move beyond planning, and start doing.

 

Contents

Introduction to the Third Edition

1                 A Guide to Action for Professional Learning Communities at Work™

2                 A Clear and Compelling Purpose

3                 Building the Collaborative Culture of a Professional Learning Community

4                 Creating a Results Orientation in a Professional Learning Community

5                 Creating a Focus on Learning

6                 Creating Team-Developed Common Formative Assessments

7                 Responding When Some Students Don’t Learn

8                 Hiring, Orienting, and Retaining New Staff

9                 Resolving Conflict and Celebrating in a Professional Learning Community

10               Implementing the PLC Process Districtwide

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Chapter 1 A Guide to Action for Professional Learning Communities at Work

ePub

We learn best by doing. We have known this to be true for quite some time. More than 2,500 years ago Confucius observed, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Most educators acknowledge that our deepest insights and understandings come from action, followed by reflection and the search for improvement. After all, most educators have spent four or five years preparing to enter the profession—taking courses on content and pedagogy, observing students and teachers in classrooms, completing student teaching under the tutelage of a veteran teacher, and so on. Yet almost without exception, they admit that they learned more in their first semester of teaching than they did in the four or five years they spent preparing to enter the profession. This is not an indictment of higher education; it is merely evidence of the power of learning that is embedded in the work.

Our profession also attests to the importance and power of learning by doing when it comes to educating our students. We want students to be actively engaged in hands-on authentic exercises that promote experiential learning. How odd, then, that a profession that pays such homage to the importance of learning by doing is so reluctant to apply that principle when it comes to developing its collective capacity to meet students’ needs. Why do institutions created for and devoted to learning not call on the professionals within them to become more proficient in improving the effectiveness of schools by actually doing the work of school improvement? Why have we been so reluctant to learn by doing?

 

Chapter 2 Defining a Clear and Compelling Purpose

ePub

Principal Cynthia Dion left the Professional Learning Communities at Work™ Institute with the zeal and fervor of a recent convert. She was convinced that the PLC process was the best strategy for improving student achievement in her school, and she was eager to introduce the concept to her faculty at the Siegfried and Roy Middle School (mascot: the Tigers).

On the opening day of school, she assembled the entire staff to share both her enthusiasm for PLCs and her plans for bringing the concept to the school. She emphasized that she was committed to transforming the school into a PLC and that the first step in the process was to develop a new mission statement that captured the new focus of the school. She presented the following draft to the staff and invited their reaction:

It is our mission to ensure all our students acquire the knowledge and skills essential to achieving their full potential and becoming productive citizens.

The moment Principal Dion presented the statement a teacher challenged it, arguing that any mission statement should acknowledge that the extent of student learning was dependent on students’ ability and effort. Another teacher disagreed with the reference to “ensuring” all students would learn because it placed too much accountability on teachers and not enough on students. A counselor felt the proposed mission statement placed too much emphasis on academics and not enough on the emotional well-being of students. Soon it became difficult to engage the entire staff in the dialogue as pockets of conversation began to break out throughout the room. Principal Dion decided to adjourn the meeting to give staff members more time to reflect on her mission statement and promised to return to the topic at the after-school faculty meeting scheduled for the next month.

 

Chapter 3 Building the Collaborative Culture of a Professional Learning Community

ePub

Principal Joe McDonald was puzzled. He knew that building a collaborative culture was the key to improving student achievement. He could cite any number of research studies to support his position. He had worked tirelessly to promote collaboration and had taken a number of steps to support teachers working together. He organized each grade level in Nemo Middle School (nickname: the Fish) into an interdisciplinary team composed of individual mathematics, science, social studies, and language arts teachers. He created a schedule that gave teams time to meet together each day. He trained staff in collaborative skills, consensus building, and conflict resolution. He emphasized the importance of collaboration at almost every faculty meeting. He felt he had done all the right things, and for three years, he had waited patiently to reap the reward of higher levels of student learning. But to his dismay and bewilderment, every academic indicator of student achievement that the school monitored had remained essentially the same.

 

Chapter 4 Creating a Results Orientation in a Professional Learning Community

ePub

When Aretha Ross was hired as a new superintendent of the Supreme School District, the board of education made it clear that its strategic plan for school improvement was the pride of the district. Every five years, the board engaged the community and staff in a comprehensive planning process intended to provide a sense of direction for the district and all of its schools and programs. A committee of key stakeholders over-saw the creation of the plan during a six-month development process. Each member was responsible for reporting back periodically to the group he or she represented to ensure accurate representation and ongoing communication. The committee held a series of community focus groups to solicit feedback from hundreds of parents, analyzed quantitative data, and generated qualitative data through a series of surveys to community, staff, and parents. The district mission statement provided the foundation of the document:

It is the mission of our schools to provide a rigorous academic curriculum in a safe, caring, and enjoyable learning environment that enables each and every child to realize his or her potential and become a responsible and productive citizen and lifelong learner fully equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

 

Chapter 5 Establishing a Focus on Learning

ePub

Principal Dan Matthews had worked successfully with a task force of committed teachers to build support for the professional learning community process among the staff of Genghis Khan High School (nickname: the Fighting Horde). The task force drafted and the staff approved a new vision statement, endorsed their collective commitments, and established school improvement goals. The vision statement called for a school in which teachers would deliver a “guaranteed and viable curriculum” in each course that provided all students with access to the same knowledge, concepts, and skills regardless of the teacher to whom they were assigned. Principal Matthews and the task force hoped to use the vision statement as a catalyst for action. He asked department chairs to help teachers work together in their collaborative teams to clarify the most essential learning for students by asking, “What knowledge, skills, and dispositions should each student acquire as a result of this course and each unit of instruction within this course?”

 

Chapter 6 Creating Team-Developed Common Formative Assessments

ePub

Principal Anne Burnette and the leadership team of Boone’s Farm Elementary (nickname: the Moonshiners) were frustrated that their two-year effort to implement the professional learning community process in their K–5 school had no impact on student achievement. They had the sense that their school was stuck, but they were uncertain as to how to improve the situation. So Principal Burnette and her team went to a PLC at Work Institute looking for ideas. They learned that team-developed common formative assessments served two important purposes. The first was to better meet individual student’s needs through timely and targeted intervention or extension. The second was to help teachers improve their individual and collective teaching practice. They came away from the institute with a clear message: team-developed common formative assessments are the lynchpin of the PLC process and, when used properly, the key to improving both student and adult learning.

The institute energized Principal Burnette and her team. They acknowledged that their grade-level teams were not using team-developed common formative assessments, and they were convinced that addressing this oversight in their process would finally lead to improved student achievement. They met with the faculty to present the rationale for common formative assessments, provided examples of how teams could use the results to intervene for students and analyze their instructional practices, and provided websites where teams could access assessment items for each subject of their grade level. Teachers were receptive, and each grade-level team agreed that members would administer a common formative assessment for a unit in reading within the next month.

 

Chapter 7 Responding When Some Students Don’t Learn

ePub

Marty Mathers, principal of Pea-Diddy Middle School (nickname: the Rappers), knew that his eighth-grade algebra teachers were his most challenging team on the faculty. The team was comprised of four teachers: Peter Pilate, Alan “Cubby” Sandler, Charlotte Darwin, and Henrietta Higgins. Each had years of teaching experience, very strong personalities, and markedly different classroom approaches, making it difficult for them to find common ground.

Peter Pilate was the most problematic member on the team from Principal Mathers’s perspective. The failure rate in his classes was three times higher than the other members of the team, and parents routinely demanded that their students be assigned to a different teacher. Although many of the students who failed Mr. Pilate’s class demonstrated proficiency on the state mathematics test, the primary reason students failed his course was because they did not complete their daily homework assignments in a timely manner. He refused to accept late work, stating that doing so would not teach his students responsibility or properly prepare them for the sink-or-swim environment of high school. When Principal Mathers expressed his concerns to Mr. Pilate about his high failure rate, Mr. Pilate’s reply was always the same: “It is my job to teach and a student’s job to learn. Unless students choose to take advantage of this opportunity, and give the effort necessary to succeed, there is nothing I can do. That’s how it is in the real world.”

 

Chapter 8 Hiring, Orienting, and Retaining New Staff

ePub

Principal Larry Geterdone took pride in his reputation for running a well-maintained and efficient school. Discipline issues were dealt with promptly, and district paperwork was completed prior to deadlines. But the fact that he was consistently the first principal in the district to fill the teaching vacancies in his school was particularly gratifying. This achievement was even more remarkable in his mind because the combination of increasing enrollment in his school zone and the state’s early retirement incentive meant he had multiple vacancies to fill each year.

He attacked the issue with zeal every spring. He was the first principal to ask the personnel office to select two strong candidates for each position and forward him their information. During his interviews with the finalists, he stressed that the school was committed to the professional learning community process. He quizzed each candidate on whether he or she would be comfortable working on a collaborative team, presenting students with a guaranteed and viable curriculum for each unit, monitoring student learning through common formative assessments, and using transparent evidence of student learning to inform and improve his or her instructional practice. Virtually every candidate offered assurances that he or she would be happy to contribute to the school’s PLC and the team’s collaborative process.

 

Chapter 9 Addressing Conflict and Celebrating in a Professional Learning Community

ePub

David C. Roth, the principal of Van Halen High School, was annoyed. He knew how hard he had worked to build consensus for moving forward with the professional learning community concept. He provided the entire staff with research and readings on the benefits of PLCs. He sent key teacher leaders to conferences on PLCs and used those staff members as a guiding coalition to promote the concept. He encouraged interested staff to visit schools that had successfully implemented the PLC process. He met with the entire faculty in small groups to listen to their concerns and answer their questions. Finally, at the end of this painstaking effort to build shared knowledge, he used the fist to five technique that revealed the overwhelming majority of the faculty was ready to move forward. He assigned teachers into subject-area teams and asked each team to work collaboratively to establish its norms, clarify the essential outcomes of its courses, and develop common assessments to monitor student proficiency.

 

Chapter 10 Implementing the Professional Learning Community Process Districtwide

ePub

Superintendent Matt Ditka prided himself as a take-charge, action-oriented leader who wanted the very best for all of the schools in the Dunning-Kruger School District. When he identified a powerful concept or program that he felt would improve the district, he was determined to do whatever was necessary to introduce it to educators in every school.

Ditka was particularly enthused about the professional learning community concept after attending an institute on the topic. He was convinced that it offered the most promising strategy for sustained and substantive improvement for the schools in his district, and he resolved to make implementation of the concept a districtwide initiative. He provided the board of education with information about PLCs and persuaded the board to adopt a goal to implement the concept throughout the district. He also was able to win board approval for funding to train the principals and teacher leaders from every school to ensure they had the knowledge, skills, and tools to bring the PLC process to life in their schools. He purchased books on the PLC process for each member of the central office cabinet and every principal, and he encouraged them to visit schools that had been identified as model PLCs.

 



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