I took a walk through the Success in the Middle Act of 2007 this afternoon and noticed a connection to the PLC discussion. The House bill proposes at least 20 million dollars in a grant to the states (as long as they provide a percentage of matching non-Federal funds). Among the details (103.g.7) is a provision to fund the development of professional learning communities. Competitive grants up to $50,000 can be awarded based on a number of criteria including a school improvement plan.
This show takes a look at the next two building blocks of a good PLC – Values & Goals.
Third Building Block:
One method, create a representative task force and challenge its members to:
- Carefully review the school’s vision statement
- Identify attitudes, behaviors and committments that must be demonstrated by the group in order to move the school closer to the vision.
- Develop a draft of a statement of these attitudes, behaviors and committments (limited to no more than 10 statements)
- Arrange small-group meetings with collegues to present task force findings, solicit feedback and answer questions.
- Revise initial draft
- Small group meetings until there is strong consensus for the statements.
- Present findings to the entire staff to obtain endorsement of the final product.
One of the big keys is to remember to involve Parents, Support Staff and Community members.
Mature vs. Immature PLCs-development of values/vision and implementation.
- Keep them few in number
- Link the statements directly to the vision statement
- Be direct
- Focus on behavior, not beliefs
- Focus on self, not others
Fourth Building Block:
Which steps will we take first, and when?
Need to create some small victories. Thus, some short-term wins are necessary. In order to accomplish that, design some goals that are:
- Visible – large numbers of people can see for themselves whether the result is real or just hype.
- Unambiguous – There can be little argument over the results.
- Clearly related to the change effort.
Things to avoid:
- Taking on too many initiatives at once. (Some schools have started 10 different task force intitiatives)
- Identifying goals that are too general. Goals must be specific and measurable if they are to be effective. Effective goals will specify:
- Exactly what is to be accomplished.
- Specific steps that will be taken
- Individual or group responsible for intiating/sustaining each step toward achieving the goal
- timeline for each phase
- Criteria in evaluating progress.
The big NMSA national convention is coming up soon. Held in Houston, TX on November 7-9, this is one terrific conference. We are getting “geeked” up. Literally. We’re hoping to record some podcast segments while at the conference. Learning and soaking up information will come first, but we do plan on getting some “work” in as well.
Are you going to the conference?
If you are, drop us a note.
If not, what would you like to hear about?
Podcast #8 continues our conversation about Professional Learning Communities. Specifically, we address two of the foundations of PLC’s- Mission and Vision. PLC’s are currently the happening movement in education. One of the best parts of PLC’s is that they are based around the classroom. They also call for all teachers to be involved and part of the process.
The first topic of discussion is the Mission.
Mission is the first building block: Basically, this asks the important question:
Why do we exist?
All schools currently have mission states. All of them sound very similar, this is OK. Next we take on the All kids can learn conumdrum.
This is based upon everyone agreeing that All kids can learn. However, we may have different definitions of what that means. DuFour points out four different possibilities:
All kids can learn
…..based upon their ability. Learning is fixed and educators have little effect. Educators create multiple tracks (pathways) to address the differences in learning. Future is predetemined.
…….if they take advantage of the opportunities. Educators must present things in clear and engaging ways. In the end, it is up to the students though.
…….and we will accept responsibility for ensuring their growth. Educators are responsible to help students grow but the extent of that growth is determined by the student.
……..we will establish high standards of learning that we expect all students to achieve. We create work that results in high level of achievement. We are prepared to work collaboratively with colleagues, students and parents to achieve this shared educational purpose.
The second Building Block: Vision
What do we hope to become?
Vision should present a realistic, credible, attractive future for the organization.
5 scenarios of implementing a vision:
Although not the most efficent way, co-creating is the most likely to result in a shared vision.
Which level? District needs to be guiding the schools.
All stakeholders should be engaged.
How long? Some say once it’s done, it’s done. Some say that it should be done annually. These authors suggest a 5-7 year cycle.
Motivates & Energizes people
Gives direction to people within the organization
Establishes specific standards of excellence
Sets a clear agenda for action
Everyone must be ready to wrestle with 2 important questions:
What is it that we expect all students to learn?
How will we respond when they do not learn?
What are your thoughts?
One of those things we practice and hope we never have to use, a District Disaster Plan. Today we had put ours into action and the kids pulled through nicely. We had a chemical spill upwind from us today and had to evacuate to another location. We were fortunate in that the rain in the forecast today held off and kept the situation from being worse than a precautionary evacuation. The kids followed the plan like we practiced and although excited by the evacuation, kept their cool, followed directions and showed the news that middle schoolers can pull together. Huge thanks to Baker College for hosting the evacuation site!
Show #7 A Little PLC
One of our most serious shows, we start the discussion of Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s). Specifically, we use DuFour and Eaker’s Book (Professional Learning Communities at Work – Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement) as a starting point. Here’s an overview of what we talk about:
Previous School Reform:
- 1983 -National Commission of Excellence Movement – Consistent direction- schools just needed to do more!
- Goals 2000
- All Children will start school ready to learn
- HS graduation rate will increase to at least 90%
- American students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated compentecy in challenging subject matter (including English, math, science, history, and geography)
- US students will be first in the world in math & science
- Every adult American will be literate
- Every school in America will be free of drugs & violence and will offer a disciplined environment that is conducive to learning
- Restructuring Movement
- site-based management
- bottom up change
- too vague
- According to a recent report, most teachers believe that schools are doing as well as possible given societal problems and parental involvement. This would mean that school improvement must be made outside of school. This argument assumes that what happens in school is largely irrelevant.
Why has school reform failed:
- The complexity of the task
- Misplaced focus
- Lack of clarity of intended results
- Lack of perserverance
- Failure to appreciate and attend to the change process
Next we discuss the characteristics of a PLC:
- Shared mission, vision, values
- Collective inquiry
- Collaborative teams
- Action Orientation & experimentation
- Continuous improvement
- Results orientation
Change is difficult:
- Allowing too much complacency
- Failing to create sufficiently powerful guiding coalition
- Underestimating the power of vision
- Undercommunicating the vision by a power of 10
- Permitting structural and cultural obstacles to block the change process
- Failing to create short-term wins
- Declaring victory too soon
- Neglecting to anchor changes firmly in the culture
The Detroit News reports today (10/13) that the Michigan State Board of Education and Superintendent Flanagan are working on reforming teacher training programs. Some of the changes being reported:
- Align teacher preparation programs with the needs of the teacher workforce and global economy.
- All teacher preparation programs be nationally accredited to ensure quality (and save Michigan money on state oversight).
- The teacher certification process will include a demonstration of actual teaching skills.
- Integrating a performance assessment into the teacher certification system.
I imagine that a portfolio system is in the works. The National Middle School Association has a series of standards based on knowledge, performance, and disposition that are very close to the NCATE standards.
- Systems Thinking – Integrating disciplines, creating a body of knowledge and tools that help understand patterns and how to change them and take into consideration the Law of Unintended Consequences when changing systems.
- Personal Mastery – The “chain is only strong as the weakest link” idea. A school’s strength in learning is only as strong as the weakest teacher-learner.
- Mental Models – What assumptions about learning do I have? Since teachers focus on the experiences that reinforce their own beliefs and observations about how learning happens, creating a space for dialog and reflection among teachers is a beginning to changing the culture in a school and creating a Professional Learning Community.
- Shared Vision – Remember World War II movies in the Pacific? The submarine trying to sneak into an enemy base and sink the fleet without being caught? The captain was the only one who got to look through the periscope and see what was going on. In order for the crew to know what was going on, the captain had to relay information to the various parts of the boat. (I always thought passing the message down the boat from one end to the other was a little humorous.) The crew saw the surface through the captains eyes and made adjustments to the boat with quick and relevant information.
- Team Learning – Teams of teachers use their areas of strength and interest to raise the level of learning in their team. The team focus is centered on two parts: 1. Interdisciplinary Learning and 2. data that allows changes and implementation quickly and easily.
Whether developing a PLC is an active goal in your school or you find it being practiced informally in your learning community, what kinds of things do you see colleagues doing to create a PLC in the school?
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