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How We Became a Learning School

By Stephanie Novak

Imagine a school looking for ways to increase teacher leadership; a school looking to implement quality, professional development; a school looking to improve discussions around student data. Those needs are what led Prairie Elementary School to join Learning Forward's Learning School Alliance in 2011.

Our two-year LSA journey has provided focused guidance for school improvement work. Making the commitment to LSA gave us an avenue to participate in a network of like-minded schools with similar goals. As a learning school, we center our work around professional learning, leadership, and collaboration.

Learning Forward's definition of professional development is "a comprehensive, sustained, and intensive approach to improving teachers' and principals' effectiveness in raising student achievement." As a learning school, we have made the commitment to engage in continuous professional learning of current research which helps us grow and refine our teaching practices in order to help our students reach their fullest potential. Also, we have strengthened our professional learning communities (PLC), resulting in more curriculum and data-centered team meetings with strong protocols. We have become a community of learners.

Leadership is imperative for implementing and supporting professional development, as well as school improvements, in order to increase achievement for all teachers and students. Before LSA, teacher leadership opportunities at our school were minimal. Since becoming a learning school, leadership doors have been created, starting with the implementation of a teacher leader team to carry out LSA responsibilities. With the increased role of teacher leaders, we are cultivating a positive culture that embraces collaboration, expertise, high expectations, respect, trust, and constructive feedback. We have become a community of leaders.

In order for collaborative professional learning to take place, it is necessary for the faculty to work together to improve teaching and learning for students and adults. Being a learning school has helped us strengthen our teachers' knowledge. Our team meetings focus on student learning and research-based instructional strategies that will produce the best results for our students. Throughout our LSA work, we have brought current best practices to our teams including World Cafe, previewing the curriculum, backwards mapping, and learning walks. We have become a community of collaborators.

Imagine a school where teacher leadership roles have increased. Imagine a school where effective professional development for the staff has been implemented. Imagine a school where discussions centering around student data has improved. This is my school, thanks to our work with Learning Forward's Learning School Alliance.

Stephanie Novak is an extended learning specialist at Prairie Elementary School in Buffalo Grove, Ill.

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