Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Are they learning? How do you know?

Our assigned summer reading at my new school is "The School Leader's Guide to Professional Learning Communities at Work" by Richard and Rebecca DuFour. Although the concept of Professional Learning Communities (PLC) isn't new to my district, I've only worked at schools beginning the PLC process through a top-down initiative (top being from the county more than the principals themselves). I've seen it put into place with the reasoning "The county says we have to do this" which results in a lot of "how can we make it LOOK like we're doing this?"* I'm excited to see how a PLC forms in a brand new environment where it is not coming in as a mandate to change to the current norm but instead as a "Let's work together to make this happen so our kids will learn."

In the reading so far what I'm the most struck by is the focus on results. Not on end-of-year test scores but on monitoring student learning as a team and then immediately making adaptations to instruction. It's what we've been doing in special education for awhile now- taking constant data and altering instruction based on what the data tells us.

What I find the most powerful is the constant reminder that it's about them- not us. It's about whether or not they learn the material, not how well our lesson went, what new and inventive teaching techniques we're using, how quiet our children are during the lesson, how cute our centers are, or how well managed our classroom is. Granted- most of those things need to be in place, but that shouldn't be our focus. Our focus is on the kids- what they are learning and what the're not learning and what we can change in our school environment to increase their achievement.

I think the most powerful factor that goes into creating successful teaching teams that are willing to work together to analyze data is trust. Teachers have to be willing to come to team meetings to say, "this didn't work for me", or "Johnny still hasn't learned x". On teams where teachers don't trust each other, or where teachers are constantly vying to be seen as the "best" teacher, there is little motivation for teachers to share their struggles with one another. Teachers have to trust that eyes won't roll or colleagues won't just dismiss their concerns by saying, "Well if your classroom management was better...".

I'm nervously looking forward to watching this year open and see how we work toward building trust with one another and then get down and dirty with our data.

*I actually think my kinder team at the Think-Tank did an awesome job with this concept in math. Granted we all collectively groaned whenever anyone tried to use the lingo from the county, but overall we adapted to the spirit of the law if not the letter. In putting our heads and data together we made awesome progress with our kinders' math abilities.

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