Best Questions: Professional Learning Communities
Despite the rumors, school improvement is hard. It's not about a single passionate leader. It's not about "fixing" teachers and teaching or parents and parenting. It's not about poverty. It's not about money. And it's not about standards. It's about all of them. And more.
In this column, I'll take on the real deal of school improvement—for all schools, not just certain kinds. And for all kids. Because it's not about quick fixes or checking off the instant strategy of the moment. It's about saying, "Yes, and..." not "Yes, but..." no matter what our circumstances. It's about asking ourselves the best questions.
"Lifelong learners" is at best a description of a healthy, dynamic culture; at worst, an overused cliché running rampant through school mission statements and professional resumes. It's one of those statements that folks use all the time, but no one really defines or assesses in a meaningful way (here we go with my word snobbery again!). So let's take it on. And this time, let's turn the lens on the grown-ups and figure out what and how they're learning these days.
Jabba Da Hutt (I suspect a pseudonym) rightly noted in a comment last month that my set of four central questions for school improvement,
- Is each of our kids healthy? Safe? Engaged? Supported? Challenged?
- How do we (as adults committed to student success) know?
- What have we done to make it so?
- What have we taught them to keep it so?
echo Rick DuFour's questions (PDF) for professional learning communities:
- What do we want all students to know and be able to do?
- How will we know if they have learned it?
- What will we do if they haven't learned it?
- What will we do if they already know it?
Obviously, given the title of this column, I am a believer in questions as a powerful strategy to motivate responsive action. But I'm also intrigued in both of these instances by the fact that we can easily replace the words "kids" and "students" with the word "adults" and ask the same questions. In fact, we must ask these same questions for adults if we are to actually commit to lifelong learning and create the kinds of learning experiences for kids in and out of school that prepare them for meaningful careers, further education, and engaged citizenship.
For children to learn effectively, they must be surrounded by adults committed to seeking knowledge and skills. For children to feel powerful and develop self-mastery, they must be surrounded by adults who collaborate, share insights and feedback, and lead school improvement efforts in consistent, intentional ways. For children to become lifelong learners, they must be surrounded by adults who make the time, assess the effect, and routinely ask higher and harder questions of themselves. Are you a lifelong learner?