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What are YOU tight about?

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Last month I attended a conference led by Rick and Rebecca DuFour on building professional learning communities. It was a very engaging conference that really hit on some of the key issues we continually face as we work to develop our school into a true professional learning community (PLC). One of the questions Rich posed during a session on building a collaborative culture of a PLC was: What are you tight about? He then stressed the importance of communicating what it is to all stakeholders in the PLC. I started to think about this notion of being tight about certain things, and what those things really are. Now, the staff knows that my number one pet peeve is being late to meetings. I’m about as tight as they come when it is about being on time for meetings. But being tight is not about norms, it’s about the non-negotiables when it comes to student achievement.

After the conference ended, I gave serious consideration to what I am truly tight about, and settled on what I consider my top five non-negotiables, combining what I experience on the job and what was reinforced at the conference. These are the five non-negotiables that will be discussed opening week of school:

1. Interdependence – working together rather than in isolation. According to Patterson (2008), “Interdependence calls for individuals to share ideas, provide materials, lend a hand, and otherwise willingly and ably collaborate (p. 183).” It means using building expertise to improve student learning gained through collaboration and vertical articulation.
2. Vertical articulation – going beyond the team level in articulating student needs.
3. Common assessments across grade levels – all grade levels have a common means of assessing what is learned by all students.
4. Saying NO to averages; looking student-to-student, skill-to-skill – Even when averages look good, there will always be those students who have not learned a particular skill, and those students who already know it well. Ensure that there are interventions for students who have not learned the skill, and for those who have it mastered.
5. Embedding collaboration in routine school practices – interdependence and vertical articulation are the norm.

So, what are YOU tight about? It’s definitely something to think about.

Nancy Flynn
July 19, 2009

Resource:
Professional Learning Communities at Work, Solution Tree publication distributed at PLC Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 24, 2009.

6 Comments

Schools exist to teach kids, right? All this talk about PLCs just makes me cringe. Let teachers teach the kids. We know more than them, and to create some caricature of professionalism (which is all you can muster,given that the research is in opposition to every reform being pushed), you leaders glom on to "words" that make you sound professional.

Well, wanting to create a PLC does not make you a leader, nor does it make a school a Professional Learning Community; it probably means you are hindering a teacher, or stifling something or someone.

Teachers need to be free of principals' desires to appear professional. Appearance doesn't get the job done.

Education is messy, non-linear (except when it is linear), and requires freedom, not the rigidity leaders tend to foist upon teachers. Your list gives me hives.

And, being late to a meeting should be perfectly acceptable if the late teacher was dealing with kids, or parents, or the things teachers used to do before they worked in aspiring PLCs!

As an administrator who created PLC's in two different schools the comments by TFT are not uncommon from many teachers who, in my opinion, do not collaborate. In fact, I might go so far as to say you are afraid of collaboration. Yes, you should be teaching and with your students, but one REAL way to increase the achievement of your students is to collaborate and share ideas with other colleagues. It works and the teachers who are starving to learn new ideas and talk about how to get students successful thanked me for putting together the opportunity to have them collaborate. I did not structure the time out of the classroom so I could look good or use big words - I did it because I recognized the benefit a PLC environment would have for the teachers growth and in the long run the academic growth and success of the students. And.... it worked!

My experience, Mary, is not one of fear; it is one of futility.

If I want to collaborate, and I frequently do, I seek out those I want to collaborate with, and they do the same.

We do not need a principal to allow us, or offer an opportunity, to collaborate. We are professionals and have the ability seek out what we need.

Your immediate jump to my non-existent fear says more about you than me. Too often, as principals take on the fight to close the achievement gap, a fight they cannot win with PLCs, they blame their lack of efficacy on teachers and teachers' defiance of the stupid, like useless collaboration in the name of collaboration.

There have been NO studies showing curricula, collaboration, or firing teachers will close the gap. All studies show out-of-school factors as the problem. When will you address these? Can you? Can a school?

No.

Society must. They haven't, and they don't seem to be, as they continue to put their faith in reformers for the easy fix, which will continue to elude them, in perpetuity.

Some teachers need you, most do not. Let us decide, treat us like the professionals we are. Or do you not trust us? If not, get out!

@tft- You are one of the comment-writers I look forward to reading. You are always clear about your viewpoints, and you certainly do not mince words, especially regarding your feelings toward school administrators. Typically, you paint with a broad brush. It appears to me that you feel as if all principals are basically the same, that we are egomaniacs who place our own best interests in front of the students'.

Well, I will paint with the same brush. From my experiences (15 years as a principal) the reason we are "forced" to artificially create times for teachers to collaborate is because their unions' collective bargaining agreements have clearly stated when teachers should and should not work. Unionized teachers have created a "punch the clock" philosophy in too many schools.

I am so glad to read that you are a true professional in your work. But what do you say about your colleague down the hall who sees teaching simply as an easy nine month job with good pay and benefits that has job security not seen in any other "profession?" If all teachers were tft-like in their approach, we would not be having this discussion. I have many like you on my staff, but their are some who do not behave like the professionals you say they are.

I can't look the other way regarding them, yet I can't release them without a long, drawn out fight. I need to ensure that they work as hard as you do for the benefit of kids, because teachers like you are not doing enough to pressure your poor-performing colleagues into collaborating, working harder, and behaving in a professional manner.

You state that "Teachers need to be free of principals' desires to appear professional. Appearance doesn't get the job done." I could easily switch the words "teachers" and "principals" and your statement would make sense to me and my principal colleagues.

Thanks Dave. If we reverse my statement as you say, and replace "teachers" for "principals" it would read: "Principals need to be free of teachers' desires to appear professional..."

I am not sure I know of a teacher who wants to "appear" professional. We are professional, and your comment about the teacher down the hall indicates you have lots of teachers who, painted with your broad brush, suck. Do they really? Or do you, like me, need an attitude adjustment?

My biggest problem with teacher "professionalism" is that the standard of care (state of the art?) hasn't changed much in a thousand years, and reformers (and school boards, and subsequently superintendents, parents and the media) think by "professionalizing" education they can close the gap. WTF?

The gap is socioeconomic. It won't be closed with more professionalism at school.

It will be closed when we, as a society, decide to close it. We seem pretty far from that end, so I guess we will just continue down this futile, reformist road, knowing full well what is needed, but ignoring it so Gates and Broad can make a buck. Depressing.

interesting your comment about vertical articulation. I have actually shifted every teacher into a vertical team, year level teams are gone forever. for 5 years now we have operated like this. teachers interract with children from all levels and children respect and build culture through genuine opportunities. this is one of the most successful elements operating in my school. I suggest that all schools can build vertical forms -paying lip service to vertical allignment and actually getting ownership from teachers are two different things. loving your list. keep up the gd work.

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Recent Comments

  • Luke Sumich: interesting your comment about vertical articulation. I have actually shifted read more
  • TFT: Thanks Dave. If we reverse my statement as you say, read more
  • Dave Sherman: @tft- You are one of the comment-writers I look forward read more
  • TFT: My experience, Mary, is not one of fear; it is read more
  • Mary: As an administrator who created PLC's in two different schools read more

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