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Chapter 2: Incorporating Singletons and Noninstructional Staff

Ferriter, William M. Solution Tree Press ePub

Ask teachers who have been a part of high-functioning learning teams about the most meaningful growth experiences in their careers, and they are likely to describe moments when they made progress around practice together. The sense of empowerment that comes from collectively identifying instructional practices that work and the sense of satisfaction that comes from watching students succeed are simply energizing. To see concrete evidence of the impact of one’s actions is an unparalleled professional reward.

For school leaders, however, creating high-functioning learning teams—which typically pair colleagues working at the same grade level and in the same content area—for all faculty members can be an unparalleled professional challenge. Principals in small schools simply do not have enough teachers at each grade level and in each content area to create collaborative teams that share similar students and subjects, and principals in every school must find partners for the singletons (such as art teachers, music teachers, foreign language teachers, and media specialists) in their buildings.

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Chapter 1: Getting the Right People in the Right Places

Ferriter, William M. Solution Tree Press ePub

In his chapter in On Common Ground (2005), change expert Mike Schmoker argues unequivocally on behalf of the power of PLCs when he writes:

Other professions understand that collective efforts to improve, sharpen, and refine one’s professional practices have a profound and palpable impact on quality and improvement. In science, industry, medicine, and technology, professional effort and advancement are continuously nourished and accelerated by learning from and working with one’s colleagues; collective work and effort are the engine for improvement and a vital source of professional and psychological satisfaction. (p. 140)

Ask the teachers in struggling learning communities, however, and they are likely to tell you that collective work is rarely nourishing. Instead, they are far more likely to describe collective work as frustrating and exhausting. “Our team is constantly bickering,” they will tell you. “We never accomplish anything meaningful.” The reasons for their complaints are simple: collective work alone isn’t professionally and psychologically satisfying. What is professionally and psychologically satisfying is doing collective work in trusting environments with likeminded peers who are committed to making progress on meaningful tasks.

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Chapter 3: Aligning a Master Schedule With PLC Priorities

Ferriter, William M. Solution Tree Press ePub

There is one remarkably simple and straightforward factor that makes progress possible in PLCs: time. If teams of teachers are going to accomplish anything of substance, they need regularly scheduled opportunities during the school day to collaborate. In addition, if a school truly wants to provide differentiated learning experiences for students—meeting students where they are to maximize academic growth—then teachers need regularly scheduled opportunities during the school day to provide targeted interventions. All of this work depends directly on the single most important structure in any school: the master schedule.

In many buildings, master schedules are nothing more than forgotten details that haven’t been tinkered with in the better part of a decade. No one—administration included—can tell you the rationale behind the ways teachers and students spend their time. Worse yet, learning—for teachers or students—rarely drives the master schedule. Instead, we have fifty-five-minute class periods because we are required to by law. We have planning time scattered across the day because that’s when the specialists are free to take students. We have three lunch periods because the cafeteria just runs better that way.

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Chapter 5: Improving Collaborative Capacity

Ferriter, William M. Solution Tree Press ePub

Working in a collaborative environment isn’t easy. It stretches people and pushes them out of their comfort zones. No longer can teachers return to their individual classrooms, make isolated decisions, and ignore the efforts of their colleagues. No longer can administrators sit in their offices, processing paperwork and budgets, removed from the teaching and learning in their buildings. Instead, teachers and school leaders must work interdependently, allowing collective decision making and inquiry to drive evidence-based practices.

However, that is all easier said than done. Maybe the greatest barrier educators face working in a PLC is the range of skills needed to collaborate successfully. In the words of DuFour and Marzano (2011):

The PLC process will require all educators to develop new knowledge, apply new skills, and engage in new practices. Those who lead the process at the district, school, or team level must therefore accept responsibility for providing educators with the clarity, structures, resources, and ongoing support essential to their success. (p. 70)

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Chapter 4: Building an Intervention System

Ferriter, William M. Solution Tree Press ePub

There is an apocryphal story about a veteran teacher, a business executive, and blueberries that makes the rounds as a chain email every couple of years. According to the story, both the veteran teacher and the business executive are at a dinner party. In a moment of blunt assertiveness, the business executive asks the teacher, “Why aren’t schools improving? If teachers would start following business principles and practice the kind of tough discipline that we utilize in the private sector, you all would do a much better job with your students.”

The veteran teacher then responds with her own question: “If you ran an agricultural business that sold blueberries, what would you do if a crate full of blueberries arrived from one of your suppliers and half were bruised, or weren’t yet ripe, or had been sitting out in the sun too long?”

“We would throw them out!” responds the business executive. “We would never accept a product that didn’t meet our high-quality standards.”

“And that,” retorts the teacher, “is the reason that schools are different from businesses. We keep all the blueberries. We don’t throw some out because they fail to meet our initial expectations or because they don’t come to us in a pristine condition. We teach every child, no matter what his or her individual challenges are.”

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