Life can be very stressful. Many of us are so happy to have jobs that we feel the need to be on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When we are not working more and more hours, we are on the Internet searching for the most current education practices to help us in our classrooms and school buildings.
Whether it be in a single school or online, in study groups, action research teams, communities of practice, or conversation circles, educators working together with a shared focus on learning and accountability help all students learn to high levels. In October we looked at professional learning communities (PLCs) and how they provide collaborative environments where staff members take an active part in improving teaching and learning.
A few years ago, the Institute for Global Ethics collaborated with the National Association of Independent Schools to examine what exemplary schools were doing to balance attention to academic rigor with attention to the ethical behavior of high school students. A common thread among these selected schools was a collegial collaboration aimed at making adults feel safe, engaged, and inspired at work. (No surprise to learn that this "rubbed off" on students who were also invited to "take an active part in the school improvement process.")
"The very essence of a learning community is a focus on and a commitment to the learning of each student. When a school or district functions as a PLC, educators within the organization embrace high levels of learning for all students as both the reason the organization exists and the fundamental responsibility of those who work within it." —Rick DuFour, Bob Eaker, and Becky DuFour (2007)
Coaching is popular these days, as evidenced by a recent article in The New Yorker (October 3, 2011) describing how a neurosurgeon decides to extend coaching into the operating room and improve his skills in unhooking a damaged thyroid from the grasp of surrounding tissue. Athletes also get coached, in just about everything. So do executives and those needing better life skills. And teachers increasingly receive coaching on structuring lessons and pacing their instruction.
Post written by Gwendolyn Todd, a secondary instructional resource teacher in the Charles County (Md.) Public Schools. This post was originally featured in ASCD Express.
When I began my teaching career just a decade ago, professors and veteran teachers warned me that teaching is a solitary profession. Although both groups continually taught me strategies to facilitate collaborative learning for my students, they also emphasized that my professional life would be lonely.
A successful learner is a child who enters school emotionally and physically healthy, feels safe and is ready to learn, is connected to the school and the community, and has access to challenging and engaging academic programs. A successful learner is prepared for further education, work, and civic life. When schools implement this whole child approach to education, they make healthy development, student learning, and academic achievement cornerstones of comprehensive, systematic, and collaborative school improvement.
So, we need to talk. The adults at the school need to talk about how students are learning and what and how teachers are teaching. Effective professional learning communities (PLCs) provide opportunities for adults to learn and think together.
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.
Studies show that many teachers want to work collaboratively and that they actually teach better when they do. But just cobbling together a group of teachers and calling it a "professional learning community" doesn't lead to results. So what are the elements of an effective professional learning community?
Ensuring that all children are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged is fundamental for students to become college-, career-, and citizenship-ready. Our policies and practices need to be realigned to support the whole child, and that means a change in how the adults work together. Professional learning communities (PLCs) have emerged as perhaps the best, most agreed-on means of continual improvement in instruction and student performance.
Whether it be in a single school or online, in study groups, action research teams, communities of practice, or conversation circles, educators working together with a shared focus on learning and accountability help all students learn at high levels.
In this episode of the Whole Child Podcast, we take a look at collaborative and collegial learning environments where staff members feel safe to express themselves, discuss, and take an active part in the school improvement process and the student success process. You'll hear from
C. Robert Maxfield, associate professor and teacher leadership coordinator in the Department of Educational Leadership at Oakland University in Michigan and cohost of the podcast series “Podcasts for Leaderful Schools,” a program that focuses on the importance of creating effective professional learning communities centered on student success. Maxfield's research interests include teacher leadership and reforming school organizational structures.
Steven Weber, who has been a classroom teacher, assistant principal, and state department of education consultant in Arkansas and North Carolina and is currently the director of Secondary Instruction for Orange County Schools in Hillsborough, N.C. He is a member of the Triangle High Five, a regional collaborative that offers professional development on the topic of PLCs. Weber also consults with school systems in aligning their curriculum and in unpacking curriculum standards.
Sunndip Panesar, a grades 6–12 online/distributed learning teacher in Vancouver, Canada. As a consultant for Generation: Outreach, Panesar helps teachers and education leaders overcome the challenges of PLCs and understand how they can be used to effectively affect student achievement, and she provides workshops on new teacher survival skills, classroom management, 21st century learning, effective assessment practices, integrating best teaching in the classroom and online, and more.
Who is in your professional learning community and how do you collaborate to improve student learning?