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Chapter 7 Ensuring Adult Learning

Robert Eaker Solution Tree Press ePub

A focus on learning in a professional learning community isn’t just for students. Leaders in professional learning communities recognize that the quality of student learning is greatly affected by the quality of adult learning throughout the district. As a teacher in White River once observed, “If the adults don’t get it, how can we expect the students to get it?” District leaders must realize that if they really mean it when they proclaim ensuring high levels of student learning as the district’s core purpose, they must focus on ensuring deep learning for the adults in the district as well—and that deep learning will most likely occur when the adults learn by doing.

There is a lot of common sense to the notion that we learn best by doing, yet many districts seek to train their way to school improvement. In addressing the question of how organizations can best close the gap between what they know and what they do, Pfeffer and Sutton (2000) offer this prescription: “The answer to the knowing-doing problem is deceptively simple: Embed more of the process of acquiring new knowledge in the actual doing of the task and less in the formal training programs that are frequently ineffective. If you do it, then you will know it” (p. 27). DuFour, DuFour, and Eaker (2008) echo the call for job-embedded adult learning. They write:

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Section 3 Creating PLCs

Richard DuFour Solution Tree Press ePub

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School success depends, more than anything, on the quality of teaching we provide. Unfortunately, much of the instruction we provide is not what it should be. For one thing, the actual, taught curriculum varies widely from teacher to teacher; many students never even have the opportunity to learn essential knowledge and skills (Berliner, 1984; Marzano, Marzano, & Pickering, 2003). Teachers themselves agree that the actual quality of lessons in many areas is poor or inconsistent; they agree that the most fundamental elements of effective lessons, which most teachers know or have learned, are routinely left out. As a result, one representative study found that “in just one academic year, the top third of teachers produced as much as six times the learning growth of the bottom third” (Sparks, 2004, p. 47).

This lack of effectiveness is entirely unnecessary. We have the means to make teaching more effective and consistent than ever before and to create the kinds of schools students deserve. The place to begin is with a set of simple structures and practices that constitute what are now being called “learning communities.” As I will attempt to show, this is not a fad. On the contrary, it may represent the richest, most unprecedented culmination of the best we know about authentic school improvement.

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Chapter 6 Ensuring a Focus on Student Learning

Robert Eaker Solution Tree Press ePub

When young students return home from school, parents often greet them W by asking, “So, what did you learn today?” They don’t ask, “So, what were you taught today?” The fact is, most parents—and educators—know there is a tremendous difference between what students are taught and what they actually learn. A focus on learning is the organizing principle of districts, schools, and teams—and classrooms—that function as true professional learning communities. All of the previous work we have described to this point, both structurally and culturally, was for the purpose of laying the foundation for an intense, passionate, and relentless focus on the learning of every single student within the district.

This cultural shift is often greeted with what appears to be widespread agreement. No one raises a hand to comment, “Well, I just can’t agree with the notion that we should focus on the learning of our students!” The problem is that while many educators agree that student learning is obviously desirable, at a deeper level they either do not believe it strongly enough to do the things necessary to ensure that all students learn at high levels or they do not know how do so. But if a district publically declares ensuring high levels of student learning for all students as its core purpose, and really means it, educators within the district will act in fundamentally different ways. They will engage in a sharp and persistent focus on the critical questions associated with learning, and they will do this work in collaborative teams.

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The Power of Professional Learning Communities

Robert Eaker Solution Tree Press ePub

THOSE WHO HOPE TO LEAD the process of building a PLC will return, with boorish redundancy, to the big ideas that drive the concept. Their message will be simple:

The purpose of our school is to see to it that all our students learn at high levels, and the future of our students depends on our success. We must work collaboratively to achieve that purpose, because it is impossible to accomplish if we work in isolation. And we must continually access our effectiveness in achieving our purpose on the basis of results—tangible evidence that our students are acquiring the knowledge, skills, and dispositions we feel are essential to their future success.

On Common Ground

PROFESSIONAL LEARNING COMMUNITIES set out to restore and increase the passion of teachers by not only reminding them of the moral purpose of their work, but also by creating the conditions that allow them to do that work successfully.

Learning by Doing

WHEN EDUCATORS LEARN to clarify their priorities, to assess the current reality of their situation, to work together, and to build continuous improvement into the very fabric of their collective work, they create conditions for the ongoing learning and self-efficacy essential to solving whatever problems they confront.

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Collaborative Teams

Robert Eaker Solution Tree Press ePub

SCHOOLS THAT FUNCTION as professional learning communities are always characterized by a collaborative culture. Teacher isolation is replaced with collaborative processes that are deeply embedded into the daily life of the school. Members of a PLC are not “invited” to work with colleagues: They are called upon to be contributing members of a collective effort to improve the school’s capacity to help all students learn at high levels.

Getting Started

THE COLLABORATIVE TEAM IS THE ENGINE that drives the PLC effort. Some organizations base their improvement strategies on efforts to enhance the knowledge and skills of individuals. Although individual growth is essential for organizational growth to take place, it does not guarantee organizational growth. Building a school’s capacity to learn is a collective rather than an individual task.

Whatever It Takes

THE CULTURE of a professional learning community is characterized by collaborative teams whose members work interdependently to achieve common goals, for which each member is mutually accountable. Special attention must be paid to the “interdependence” and “common goals” if we are going to have high-quality collaboration and truly effective teams.

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