Thursday, June 7, 2012

Live From St. Louis!

Becky DuFour Shares "The Big Ideas" during the opening
keynote in St. Louis, Missouri.
I have the honor this week of leading a talented and dedicated contingent of faculty and administrators to a professional learning conference in St. Louis, Missouri.  I think it is quite remarkable that this group of individuals has volunteered time outside of their normal contract to participate in this conference.  It speaks volumes that teachers have been out of school for two weeks and have given this precious time to learn how to improve their craft.  When this conference ends on Saturday and we return home, our work will just be beginning as this group of educators will serve as teacher leaders for others in our district, taking back what they have learned and beginning the process of implementing these strategies in our school district.  We have long known that the most powerful component to impact student achievement in schools is the quality of instruction delivered in the classroom, and that the only way to improve that instruction is through quality and relevant professional development.  As educators, we sometimes fall victim to quick gimmicks or strategies that are promised to improve student achievement only to see these strategies and plans fall victim to the next greatest thing.

Something appears to be different this time however.  Could it be the decades of proven research?  Perhaps.  Is it the shiny presentations and words of encouragement?  Might be.  But more than all of that, I think it is the fire that we are beginning to see in the bellies our attending faculty.  If you look at the second sentence of this paragraph, you may realize that this is not new research.  What is different, at least in our case, is a realization that we have the talent, and that through this conference we are gaining clarity, and a sense in purpose.  The real key for us will be when we return to the district.  The initiative that we will embark will need to be led by our teachers.  If this is viewed as an administratively driven proposal, we could be doomed.  From what I have seen in these early stages, we have the right people on the bus and they are hungry!

Our attendance here is driven by a desire to fulfill our Core Purpose:  "We Create Effective Learning Environments That Result in Success For All Students".  Additionally, the Iowa Core Curriculum/Common Core recognizes the power of a collaborative culture in the delivery of instruction.  So what have we uncovered so far?  According to Becky DuFour, one of the architects of the PLC at work model there are three big ideas:
  1. We must first accept that the fundamental purpose of our school [and thus our work] is student learning.  Because of this, we must be willing to examine all practices in light of their impact on learning.  Almost seems like a no brainer, right?  Except that this is a huge paradigm shift for our educators.  Common thinking about schools has previously been that we about teaching.  The focus has been more on what we do as educators.  The shift is that learning is the purpose of teaching.  We haven't really thought about this before.  Teaching without learning is just presenting.
  2. We are committed to working together to achieve our collaborative purpose.  We develop our collaborative culture through the development of high-performing teams.  As educators, if you can believe it, we are used to working along and in isolation.  We view our classrooms silos and the pupils as "my kids", and thus take on the full responsibility of educating them without help from our peers.  The true 'aha' moment here is that we must recognize that we don't always have the best strategy in the school, and that someone else may have a better way of teaching a skill (such as fractions).
  3. We assess our effectiveness on the basis of results rather than intentions.  Individuals, schools, and teams must seek relevant information and data, and act on that data.  How do we really know if we have been successful unless we are able to compare our data with those of our colleagues?  If 80% of students are proficient on a test is that good?  Well, that depends.  If the other three classes have proficiency scores of 65-70%, that probably is good.  But, if the other classes have proficiency scores of 95-100%.......well you get the picture.
I know what you are thinking, these seem like pretty simple concepts and should easily be able to be implemented with fidelity into a school district.  Not so fast.  As I stated above, this is a complete paradigm shift for school districts, and it certainly will not happen over night.  If it were that easy, every school district in the country would have done it already.

The rest of this conference will be devoted to learning about the process in which to set up the PLC (Professional Learning Community), and how to generate that fire and excitement throughout the rest of the staff.  Our work toward fulfilling that vision of "Creating an Effective Learning Environment That Results in Success For All Students" will be rooted in the idea of answering four key questions:
  1. What is it we expect our students to learn?
  2. How will we know when they have learned it?
  3. How will we respond when they don't learn?
  4. How will we respond when they already know it?
Indeed this is an exciting journey that we are on!  I am so excited to be here with this outstanding group of educators from the Hudson Community School District.  I am very optimistic that they will lead the charge that will impact positive change in our district.

In closing, I would invite you to join our progress at this conference by following my Twitter Feed at To follow the conversation use the hashtag: atplc.

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