MSU Office of K-12 Outreach has worked with hundreds of schools throughout Michigan, many of them high-priority and low performing. Through this work, we have found that schools that made significant progress made high-quality teaching a priority and put systems in place to support teacher growth and development. Professional learning communities—when they were practiced with fidelity—were instrumental in helping teachers collaborate with colleagues to evaluate and improve their own teaching. Instructional learning cycles (ILCs) provided a structure that enabled teachers to frequently evaluate (and reevaluate) student growth and identify where they needed to try different instructional strategies to facilitate that growth. ILCs were also key to successfully implementing multi-tiered systems of support. The building leadership team was indispensable to making these structures work by providing feedback and support, as well as holding teachers accountable for implementing them with fidelity. The schools that were most effective in utilizing these strategies were located in districts that implemented these reforms in every school, provided extensive training and support to teachers and building administrators, and met monthly with building leaders to check on progress.
The articles in this category will explore multiple aspects of professional learning.
Book Authors: Steven Katz, Loma Earl, and Sonia Ben Jaafar (2009)
The push for practitioner collaboration to improve student achievement is a prevalent theme in the school turnaround literature. A number of prominent buzzwords featured in this body of work reaffirm the need for teachers and administrators to collaborate: cross-learning collaborative, professional learning communities, and professional networks. However, many practitioners working to improve their schools ask themselves: What does high-quality collaboration or networking look like? How should I network in my school? The 2009 book Building and Connecting Learning Communities: the Power of Networks for School Improvement attempts to provide practical answers to the "how-to" questions of networking.
Book Authors: Richard DuFour and Michael Fullan (2013)
Educators and practitioners interested to know where culture falls in their school turnaround framework should pick up a copy of Richard DuFour and Michael Fullan's Cultures Built to Last: Systemic PLCs at Work. DuFour and Fullan assert that cultural change is undeniably the most important piece in school turnaround, and one way to sustain it is through systemic Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).
DuFour and Fullan say the goal of this book is to show leaders how to make PLCs systemic and help all students achieve at higher levels. The book analyzes barriers, strategies, and payoffs of PLCs. Readers will learn the meaning of PLCs on a deep operational level, and understand what the PLC process looks like in action. This book will benefit especially those interested in how to maximize school and teacher autonomy through PLCs (Chapter 3), implement state and district level standards with systemic PLCs (Chapter 4), or even break the stereotype that all PLCs work (Chapter 1).
As summer continues, school leaders are making their final preparations for the new school year in the fall. Summer is often the time where classrooms are scrubbed down, lockers are cleaned, and the hallways are stripped and waxed, but summer is also the time where leaders examine school efforts for the fall and map out their resources and supports for new and continuing initiatives. Hallinger and Heck (2010) suggests that along with strengthening leadership, school leaders must also improve the school's capacity for educational improvement in order to ensure that change interventions are successful.
In a previous article, I charged educators with spending time self-reflecting on their successes and failures at enacting critical multiculturalism in schools and classrooms. As part of this process I suggested administrators and teachers create an Action Plan that identifies short-term and long-term goals for growing their critical consciousness for better leadership and practice in schools. This type of work is primarily for individual growth as an educator. It is necessary work as a first step in having a larger conversation as a content-area team, school staff, administrative team, or even district staff as to how educators can create and maintain anti-oppressive teaching and learning climates for all children. This is necessary if we are going to be most effective in educating all children. The disheartening statistics regarding low literacy and math skills of many poor children and children of color throughout this country (particularly in urban and rural contexts) present educators and the larger society with a moral obligation to "do right" by each child that is served in the public school system. However, educators cannot be effective in the work they are doing in culturally diverse learning spaces without ongoing professional support that engages them in personal and collective reflection, goal-setting and action that supports high academic and life success for our neediest children.
When it comes to closing the achievement gap for any group of students, we know that a focused and targeted professional learning agenda is a critical feature of the effort. How we tackle this agenda is based, in part, on a thorough understanding of current student performance as well as a deep understanding of our own personal and systemic strengths, skills, and challenges. Reflections on these variables can yield insight into professional learning priorities and strategies.