Mike McMahon AUSD
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Leading To Learn

I am summarizing the Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy Leading for Learning framework and its related Source book to assess what Alameda can do to accomplish "Student Success -Whatever It Takes" in the AUSD Strategic Plan for 2003-2008.

Each action area is broken down into sections:

Building Professional Communities that Value Learning

Framework Summary

Underlying ideas

Establishing professional communities that both value and promote learning improvement are harder to realize than current rhetoric would imply. In addition, sustaining professional communities requires relationships that are sufficiently formed and stable over time to engender trust; shared values that grow through interaction as well as selection into the community; and a reason for coming together, such as a task or responsibility that requires collaboration. Leaders have many ways of nurturing, and structuring joint work for community members to tackle.

Process and challenges

In pursuit of professional community, leaders confront a series of issues, concerning basic professional needs, resistance to community, and the appropriate response to ineffective practices.

In evaluating basic professional needs, leaders need to start with basic team building that addresses safety and order, positive relationships among the professional staff and pride in what the school or district stands for.

Leaders are put in a position of diagnosing the sources of resistance and opening the lines of communications, motivating participation and providing a workable vision of collaborative effort. To move from “community” to “learning community” takes hard work, trust and often explicit teaching.

In professional communities their members need to be able to scrutinize each others’ practice and offer helpful critique. To accomplish this, leaders depend on solid relationships and norms supporting honest, critical exchanges about practice. In addition, leaders find ways to provoke or stretch the thinking of the professional community, by introducing promising ideas, assembling evidence of what works and inspiring collaborative effort to solve problems of practice.

Reflective Questions

  1. How focused on learning is the culture of the district? Each school? What could leaders do to make learning a more important part of our work culture?
  2. How well our professional’s basic needs being met? How ready are they to critically examine their own and each others’ practice?
  3. What inhibits the growth of professional community in our district? How can these conditions be addressed?
  4. How do leaders interact with professionals? How can you build respect, trust and mutual listening in these relationships, and use them to promote collegial learning?

Strategic Plan Review

Goal number 2 – Staff Development addresses how AUSD plans to build professional communities. One of the sub-goals is “All teachers will participate in collaborative processes to improve classroom practices and student learning."

Additional Resources

Without regular opportunities to consider, observe, and analyze best practice and receive helpful, non-evaluative feedback, how likely are teachers to engage in continual professional improvement?

The Annenberg Instititute for School Reform prepared a paper on Professional Learning Communities. Here is their description of a professional learning community.

Regardless of their title or job description, school-based coaches have at least two things in common. First, their mission is to assist teachers in learning and applying the new knowledge and skills necessary to improve the academic performance of all students. Second, instructional coaches spend a significant portion of their working day in direct contact with teachers, in their schools and classrooms. The work is complex--requiring the people in it to be part teacher, part leader, part change agent, and part facilitator. This publication (2.2MB PDF file) from National Staff Development Council

A professional learning community craze is sweeping the country. But, as many schools are learning, professional learning communities don't just happen because a principal sets aside time for teachers to meet and slaps a new label on that meeting. That's especially the case when teachers have been accustomed to working in isolation. Principals and teacher leaders must be very intentional about helping groups of teachers become communities of learners, says the lead article in this issue of NSDC's "Tools for Schools" (Nov/Dec 2005), which provides resources school groups can use to establish norms and develop effective teams. For starters, peruse the table that highlights differences between working groups and true teams. (200k PDF file) Join the National Staff Development Council and receive this and other insightful publications every month.

The Journal of Staff Development presents an article that answers question: "What happens in our school when, despite our best efforts in the classroom, a student does not learn?"

The Coalition for Essential Schools had funded work using a cycle of inquiry model and learning communities. Go here for extensive details about the cycle of inquiry.

The Coalition for Essential Schools also reviewed protocols used for Working Collaboratively on Student Work.

The initial steps taken to build a learning community are assisted by focusing on those things in your sphere of influence. This article talks about the "if only" versus "can do" approach.

Here is a paper on Being a Teacher Leader and School Reform.

In this article is a Rubric on Assessing Professional Development.

Instructional Coaching is emerging as practice that supports learning communities.

Here is a set of standards for Professional Development created by the National Staff Development Council.

In this research abstract The Continuing Trouble with Collaboration, Teacher Talk barriers to effective collaboration are discussed.

If teacher were involved in the policy making, we would be better off.

We know that teacher collaboration is a powerful form of professional learning, says Jay McTighe, co-author of the best-selling "Understanding By Design" books. McTighe and Marcella Emberger propose that "one focus for collaborative efforts is designing assessments. When teachers design assessments, give each other feedback through peer reviews, evaluate student work, and plan together for improvement, they are engaged in highly effective professional development." The authors emphasize assessments FOR learning that "are diagnostic rather than summative. They give both teachers and students feedback to help guide their actions -- revising, reteaching, focusing practice." McTighe and Emberger describe, in detail, three strategies that teachers can use to collaborate on the development of performance tasks and assessments. (250k PDF file).

Review an article on creating an online professional learning community: Online Professional Development

A research paper by the National Education Association on "Using Data about Classroom and Student Work ti Improve Professional Development for Educators".

A professional development model based on research.

Create and implement an individual professional learning plan at this interactive site. ENC Online: Developing Your Learning Plan

Another tool that aids in the development of the professional learining community is the creation of Critical Friends Group (CFG). A Critical Friends Groups represents the basic unit of support for educators engaged in improving schools and increasing student achievement. A Critical Friends Group generally range between six to twelve teachers and administrators who commit themselves to two years of learning to work together with the aim of establishing student learning outcomes and increasing student achievement. A Critical Friends Group usually meet for two hours per month at which they establish and publicly state student learning goals, help each other think about improving teaching practices, collaboratively examine student work, and identify school culture issues that affect student achievement. Group members also observe one another at work at least monthly and offer feedback to each other in challenging but non-threatening ways. Here is an exercise for a CFG that focuses on teacher passions.

With the emergence of technology, teachers are asked to integrate technology into the classroom. Teachers know best.

Becoming a new teacher can be overwhelming. Here six tips to help new teachers in their transition from a brand-new, overwhelmed teacher to a brand-new, confident teacher.

Back to Leading to Learn Summary

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Last modified: April, 2014

Disclaimer: This website is the sole responsibility of Mike McMahon. It does not represent any official opinions, statement of facts or positions of the Alameda Unified School District. Its sole purpose is to disseminate information to interested individuals in the Alameda community.