38 Chapters
Medium 9781936763009

Chapter 3 Working Together for a Common Purpose

Cassandra Erkens Solution Tree Press ePub

3

Working Together for a Common Purpose

Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.

Helen Keller

In the simplest view, common assessments can mean the exact same test. Many assessments fit that definition: national tests, state or provincial assessments, college entrance exams, interim or benchmark assessments, curricular resource assessments, and grade-level or departmental final exams. Assessments of this nature provide a common set of data related to a specific set of standards or body of information and offer information about how well students are achieving. Not all common assessments must be exactly the same, however.

In most schools, there probably will be very small teams of teachers or teachers who work as singletons (there is no one else who shares their content or grade level, so they have no one with whom to collaborate regarding their specific content or instruction). Small teams and singleton teachers can participate in the work of collaborative common assessments, but it requires a high degree of creativity, focus, and purposeful participation. Teachers should never participate in the work of common assessments simply for the sake of participating. At its core, the goal of all assessment activity involves monitoring student learning against a given set of content-specific standards. Fortunately, new emerging state and national standards are perfect for creating and using common assessments because of the emphasis on processes and the clear spiraling of learning sequences:

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Medium 9781943874705

3 | Questioning

Erkens, Cassandra; Schimmer, Tom; Vagle, Nicole Dimich Solution Tree Press ePub

CHAPTER 3

QUESTIONING

Questions wake people up. They prompt new ideas. They show people new places, new ways of doing things.

—Michael Marquardt

Questions generate curiosity, promote engagement, provide insight into how students make sense of things, and lead to interesting new ideas and potentially innovative solutions to persisting problems. In his book A More Beautiful Question, Warren Berger (2014) makes a compelling case for the role questioning plays in providing meaningful solutions to pressing dilemmas.

Among many examples across disciplines and situations, he describes the plight of Van Phillips, a bright and athletic college student who lost his left foot in a boating accident in 1976. Upon waking up and realizing his new reality, he heard from many people that he would just have to get used to it. The doctors fit him with a wooden foot and assured him if he walked through the pain, his leg would toughen up and become more comfortable. Phillips, however, was not satisfied with that reality. He wondered, “If they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they make a decent foot?” (Berger, 2014, p. 11).

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Medium 9781935542292

Chapter Four Facilitating Shared Responsibility

Cassandra Erkens Solution Tree Press ePub

A nation is formed by the willingness of each of us to share in the responsibility for upholding the common good.

—Barbara Jordan

It never ceases to amaze us how many insightful leadership lessons come from the most unlikely sources. Consider the following excerpt from the classic children’s book Stuart Little:

Just as the sun was coming up, Stuart saw a man seated in thought by the side of the road. Stuart steered his car alongside, stopped, and put his head out.

“You’re worried about something aren’t you?” asked Stuart.

“Yes, I am,” said the man, who was tall and mild.

“Can I help you in any way?” asked Stuart in a friendly voice.

The man shook his head. “It’s an impossible situation, I guess.” he replied. “You see, I’m the Superintendent of Schools in this town.”

“That’s not an impossible situation,” said Stuart. “It’s bad, but it’s not impossible.”

“Well,” continued the man, “I’ve always got problems that I can’t solve. Today, for instance, one of my teachers is sick—Miss Gunderson her name is. She teachers Number Seven school. I’ve got to find a substitute for her, a teacher who will take her place,”

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Medium 9781934009369

4 Focusing on the Right Work

Cassandra Erkens Solution Tree Press ePub

If you have worked with staff to establish a common mission, shared vision, collective commitments, and mutual goals, you have laid the foundation of a PLC. If you and the staff have established the structures that support a collaborative culture, you have addressed an essential prerequisite for an effective PLC. If at that point, however, the educators in your building do not focus their collaborative efforts on the right work, there will be no gains in student achievement. One of the most important responsibilities of a principal in leading the PLC process is to ensure all staff members understand the nature of the work to be done and demonstrate the discipline to focus their collective efforts on that work. As DuFour and Marzano (2011) explain:

Collaboration is morally neutral. It will benefit neither students nor practitioners unless educators demonstrate the discipline to co-labor on the right work. The important question every district, school, and team must address is not, “Do we collaborate,” but rather, “What do we collaborate about?” To paraphrase W. Edwards Deming, it is not enough to work hard; you must clarify the right work, and then work hard. Effective leaders at all levels will ensure there is agreement on the right work. (p. 83)

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Medium 9781934009376

Part Three: Leading for PLC at the District Level

Austin Buffum Solution Tree Press ePub

 

[Great organizations] simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything.

—Jim Collins

Fortunately, schools across North America have begun to make a seismic shift in assumptions; they are reshaping structures and cultures to focus on learning rather than teaching as the fundamental purpose and guiding principle of their work. Schools working as professional learning communities are spending considerable time and effort to ensure that learning serves as the “organizing idea” for curriculum, instruction, and assessment. As a result, the way that central office and district-level staff make decisions is also changing. The board of education and central office now play a unique and important role in showing how learning must serve as the “guiding principle” for all decisions being made within the district. This chapter will explore how collective bargaining can be re-envisioned so that learning serves as the guiding principle in contract negotiations in the professional learning community school.

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