11 Chapters
Medium 9781935543244

Chapter 2: Less Is More

Anne E. Conzemius Solution Tree Press ePub

What you focus on expands.

—CORA WHITTINGTON

In our search for the originator of the quotation “what you focus on expands,” it became apparent that the message crosses many different realms and genres. From the spiritual realm to the business world to personal psychology, the idea that focus spawns growth and meaning is ubiquitous. But how does this idea work in the life of a busy teacher, school principal, or central office leader?

The concept is pretty simple. What you give your time, energy, and attention to will grow. Put another way, energy flows where attention goes. The underlying challenge for educators is finding the right thing to focus on amidst an endless stream of worthy options. For too many, the trap of busyness creates a barrier to thoughtful focus, resulting in a continuous cycle of work for the sake of getting things done. People can usually remember all the things they did during a day or week, but they can’t always articulate what they accomplished. Peter Drucker, writer and management consultant, once said, “Taking action without thinking is the cause of every failure” (as cited in Shrawder, 2006, p. 4). Even if an action doesn’t result in a failure, all those things that were completed may have precluded opportunities to do the few things that would have allowed the doer to pursue a better direction.

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Medium 9781935543244

Chapter 4: Professional Learning by Design

Anne E. Conzemius Solution Tree Press ePub

If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.

—W. EDWARDS DEMING

Learning Forward published its “Definition of Professional Development” in 2009: “The term ‘professional development’ means a comprehensive, sustained, and intensive approach to improving teachers’ and principals’ effectiveness in raising student achievement” (Learning Forward, 2010). If we consider PLC work through the lens of the definition of professional development, the connection is clear. Professional development is learning through reflection on collaborative practice.

In the busy world of schools, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the daily practice of teaching and learning holds the most potential for professional learning. The promise of such collaborative work toward the shared responsibility of student learning cannot be overstated. Oversimplification of the complexity of teachers’ work leads to the misconception that learning from their practice is something teachers do in addition to their real work or that they need others to tell them what to learn and when. School-based professional learning needs to be systematically designed into collaborative structures and processes while being articulated specifically over time until “professional development that fosters collective responsibility for improved student performance” is the new norm (Learning Forward, 2010). In this context, plans for professional learning should be:

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Medium 9781936764785

Part One: Building Effective Teams

Anne E. Conzemius Solution Tree Press ePub

Productive collaboration does not come easily. Most of us have belonged to a team in which everyone got along, but nothing got done. Sooner or later, busy people lose patience with teams that do not seem to accomplish much of anything. Productive collaboration takes both purpose and skill to be effective; teams need to be clear about why they exist (purpose) and have the ability to create and implement a plan for getting it done (skill). We can’t create productive collaboration just by telling people to work together. Teams that have skill and purpose save time and develop effective solutions that they can implement smoothly. Without skill and purpose, collaboration is a waste of time—yet, ironically, time is one of the most frequently cited reasons for why people do not collaborate (Kanold, 2011; Loehr & Schwartz, 2003).

This chapter discusses the components needed to add purpose and skill to collaboration and ways that you can set the stage for productive collaboration.

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Part Two: Using Tools and Processes for Effective Teamwork

Anne E. Conzemius Solution Tree Press ePub

Meetings represent a significant investment of time and energy for any organization. Hundreds of thousands of hours are spent in meetings each year. That investment can be magnified many times in schools with a team-based structure as the predominant model for collaboration, professional learning, instructional improvement, and decision making. Because time is such a precious resource for educators, wasting it in ill-planned or poorly run meetings is simply not an option. Meeting solely to impart information from one source to another diminishes the inherent value of bringing people together and wastes an opportunity for collaboration. There are endless ways to share information without convening a meeting to do so.

Meetings are important venues for collaboration. In fact, most of a team’s collaborative work time will be spent in face-to-face meetings. The value of collaborative meetings emerges from the synergy created when people come together to pursue a common goal or address a common concern. Collaboration builds understanding, heightens commitment, and generates new ideas and knowledge.

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Chapter 5: Impact and Implementation

Anne E. Conzemius Solution Tree Press ePub

If gold represents the vision, then platinum represents the implementation.

—DOUGLAS B. REEVES

While helping schools and districts master the SMART goals process, we discovered that we needed to provide assistance way beyond training and coaching. Districts need support to help them situate SMART-goal writing and its use within the larger context of their work. Goals themselves don’t drive improvement; they must be aligned to the school improvement process, curriculum, instruction, assessment practices, mandates, and professional development. In order for goals to gain enough traction to have an impact, there must be a system that keeps us continuously focused on them. Indeed, unless we’re seeing short-term gains and increasing clarity regarding how we can work smarter, we soon become discouraged and move off course. It takes discipline at the beginning of new learning to stick to the methodology to gain momentum. This not only produces results but also increases our energy and excitement to see just how successful we can be.

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