Sunday, March 13, 2011

Using PLC’s to Embrace the Transition to the CCSS!


As we move into March we enter into a time of the year, where it is helpful to be reflective on the quality of your collaborative work. The list below, is a good diagnostic tool for measuring the quality of your PLC professional development work in 2010-2011.

Ultimately, the professional development question for the school faculty and administration is not as much about the provision of time as it is: How will you ensure the most effective use of the time dedicated to the teacher learning team for professional development? This question requires school administrators and teachers to have a well-focused professional development plan for the content work of the collaborative teacher learning teams.

First, what is it we want students to learn at each grade level or in each course? What mathematical knowledge, skills, understandings and dispositions do we expect them to acquire as a result of each unit of mathematics instruction? A school committed to helping all students learn must ensure that the professional development teachers receive provides great clarity and low teacher-to-teacher variance on the question, “Learn What?”

Answering how to implement the “ What” question is one of the primary tasks of every grade level or course based teacher team. The table highlights questions every school principal should ask in order to keep teacher teams focused on obtaining agreement and then implementing answers to work tasks that will make a difference in improving student learning. The very nature of the CCSS and the mathematical practices will dictate much of the “What should students learn at each grade level?” question, yet there must be crystal clear agreement and implementation by the grade or course level team around these questions. This represents the real work of the teacher teams.

The real professional development “work” of mathematics teacher teams

1. Do we have clear agreement on “What” do all students need to learn at each grade level or in each course?

2. What kinds of instruction will facilitate that learning for each unit of mathematics content?

3. What do and should our classrooms look like? Where are the gaps between our vision for mathematics instruction vs. the reality of our instruction?

4. How will we ensure the use of engaging learning opportunities for our students and meet the spirit of the CCSS mathematical practices?

5. What is our vision for teacher learning and sharing together?

6. How will our grade level or course based teams know which students are achieving intended learning goals? Based on what measures of learning? Based on what common grade level unit assessments?

7. What are the targets for improved student performance that will be set by the teacher learning team?

8. How will we know students have gained expected grade level or course based knowledge and that we met our learning targets?

9. How will we reflect on our teaching and learning and share that experience with one another?

10. How will we share our best models of high quality mathematics teaching and learning?

During this decade the CCSS will move the agreement on what is to be learned for every grade level into the “less is more” direction as fewer mathematics standards will be required at each grade – the caveat however, is that those required standards are taught with greater depth for meaning and understanding – and this will place great demands on the professional development work of your grade level or course based teacher teams.

The teachers as a team, answer questions such as: What will we re-teach? How will we re-teach it? How will we intervene and expect students to learn what they yet don’t know? The school and district answer questions such as: What required interventions will we develop in class and outside of class to support student learning in and out of the classroom? How will our teacher teams address the needs of English language learners – such as effective comprehension strategies? How will we adjust lesson plans and design meaningful instructional support to struggling students?

This is the real work of teacher learning teams. The professional development of mathematics teachers must help each teacher and each mathematics leader answer these questions in the context of their work place on an ongoing basis.

16 comments:

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  2. Depth rather than breadth --- it is definitely more challenging but meaningful to delve into the content and much simpler to have students regurgitate rote information. I recently saw a movie in which a scene depicted a person bragging about her Spanish skills and all she could really say was a series of dialogues and lines that her teachers obligated her to memorize. I laughed so hard it brought tears to my eyes but sadly, there is more truth than comedy here!

    Reeves once said that you can't teach 21st century skills with Ming dynasty assessment yet so little has changed from the way I learned my content to the barriers that many language teachers are still trying to break away from. And yes, this is the charge for a learning team - to ensure that authentic teaching and learning opportunities are afforded to students and professionals alike!

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  3. I agree with Rowena that teaching depth rather than breadth is challenging for educators. She comes to this with a high school point of view, and I come to it with an elementary point of view, yet I think we both would agree that there needs to be more rigor in our curriculum.

    I will give a perfect example from the elementary school. In fifth grade, we teach United States history. Each year, fifth grade teachers rush to "get to the Civil War" by June 8 because that is where the curriculum (textbook??) says we need to be at the end of the school year. Thus, teachers only skim the surface of important events in our country's history. Instead, they should be teaching the main ideas of exploration, colonization, revolution, and freedom in depth.

    There will be much more rigor and thinking taking place if we teach depth over breadth. The kids will get US history again in seventh grade and in high school. So what is the rush to cover 250 years in nine months of fifth grade?

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  4. There are about 10 problems in education that I believe are universally known and an effective solution has never been truly adopted by educators. Two of those problems are identified in this post in some way, shape, or form.

    First, the argument of a curriculum that is "a mile wide and an inch deep" is again revisited. Referring to the fact that we have numerous topics we expect various grade levels to cover and the time to cover those topics is so little that we end up always introducing the concept and never fully investigating it. The other topic is how the field of education has become a slave to the textbook manufacturers.

    Each topic listed here is linked to each other because we have created our own problem. I feel that at one point there was such lack of adherence to a set curriculum that state government intervened and began assessing the local school districts to determine an effective level of achievement within the area. With these assessments providing nothing more than a question or two for the given curricular area, we spend in inordinate amount of time covering everything that could possibly be on the assessments.

    The textbook manufacturers reinforce this by providing resource packages that could never be successfully covered to any real level of depth in a school year. In the end what happens is we spend a day or two on each lesson and reinforce a thin curriculum. In the end, we have placed ourselves into a perpetual cycle that we cannot escape.

    The answer requires a who will trust who approach. Will educators once again be allowed to step outside the sparse curriculum to teach to appropriate depths or will we as educators break away from the resource packages which tie us to the sparse curriculum? The Tootsie Pop Owl said it best in the classic commercial, "the world may never know."

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  5. That list of ten encapsulates what we should be doing in every curricular area but know deep down inside that we may not be doing with fidelity. There are pockets of great teachers or great teams that are using these questions to guide their work. But it takes the leadership of the building administration to ensure that all PLC's are tackling these questions to ensure that their curriculum is best meeting the needs of their learners.

    To apply the loose-tight principle here these ten areas need to be the tight directives that are given by the administrative leaders. This still provides room for the loose interpretation in how to address these questions in the classroom while still allowing teachers to add their own craft expertise to the equation.

    The reality is that we may not ask the questions because we already know the answers and they scare us. Those answers are that we either do not have the answers or we do not have systems in place to do the work to effectively answer the questions. Either way we have a moral and professional obligation to move forward and do what is best for our students from that point on.

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  6. I see the depth vs breadth most heavily discussed in the area of math. Teachers do pre and post assessments on every unit. There is no doubt they know their student's strengths and areas in need of more growth. It is so easy and common for teachers to take their high students and want to provide work at the next grade level. Our math coach fights an uphill battle every time because this issue arises because she is committed to going deeper with these students, not thinner and quicker. With that, there is a level of professional development that is required (and currently missing) that will support teachers through this challenge.

    Regarding the 10 questions listed above - I am overwhelmed by the thought of how each grade level team of teachers would have different answers to these questions. How as the school principal do I lead effectively knowing that each team feels slightly different about how these questions should get answered? I think the answer goes along with what Brian said about applying the loose-tight principle. In short, there are school-wide values and research based best practices that must be "tight." How each team (and more specifically, each teacher) answers them can be "loose." Respecting and valuing how each team of teachers feels about accomplishing the tight principles will go a long way.

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  7. As we approach our curriculum work, it's critical to focus on what we really want students to be able to know and do as a result of our instruction. We struggle to identify what is most essential in our curriculum because there are so many state standards to choose from. We have a difficult time believing "less is more" because our coverage based mentality has supported curriculum that is a mile wide and an inch deep. Educators often value exposure and a well-rounded educational experience over development of expertise and deep learning, especially at the elementary and middle school levels.

    As we shift toward the development of power standards in our district, teachers have a really hard time letting go of "their curriculum." This makes sense. Teachers have passionately invested time and energy into the development of enriching projects and experiences for their students. They have enjoyed complete autonomy for much of their careers, and the prospect of becoming cookie cutter teachers and schools, is scary and undesirable. As learning leaders we must continue to push our staffs toward defining what is truly valuable and essential for student learning, and then we must equip and encourage teachers to use their teaching craft to ensure that learning occurs. The creation of specific curricular outcomes and clear learning targets for all does not mean that teaching and learning should be boring or stagnant. As leaders, we must be tight on Curriculum and Assessment, but we must convey that the Instructional component is where the art of teaching comes in. Teachers have defined autonomy when it comes to the "how" of teaching. Instruction is where the magic of education occurs, and through collaboration and a crystal clear vision, we as educators have terrific potential to really make a difference.

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  8. Embracing the transition to PLC's. I am proud of our middle school administration team that really confirmed that the first step of "time" is created for teachers to build PLC teams. The next step is to decide on "what" we are teaching. This step has taken a large amount of time in my district and school since we have been functioning as isolated islands for so many years. My PLC groups have successful decided on the "what" and are beginning the hard work of tackling the instruction piece. I really like the concept of "less is more" and getting rid of the fluff in our schools.

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  9. Looking at the "what" we are going to teach is essential, and yet it seems to be somewhat vague for some experienced teachers. At a time when we are moving towards specific standards of instruction, we continue to feel push-back from teachers that want to hold onto their cherished projects. I certainly think there is room for favorite units as long as they fit into the collaberative answer to "what" are we going to teach.

    I love the ideas that teachers should answer the "what" question as a team. Our teachers work as a team, but the classroom experience still varies for the students with different teachers. "How will we intervene and expect students to learn" is my favorite question. I like the idea of the team having a pre-determined bag of tricks that can be consistently used in the classroom. Although we have some ideas, I don't feel the consistency that our students should be able to rely on.

    I am looking forward to the core standards, and the "less is more" structure that they are expected to provide. By targeting specific skills that work with each other in sequence, our students should be able to receive a sequenced education. Hopefully, with feedback given to teachers quickly after students are assessed, the teachers will be able to work with their teams to reflect on their collective practice.

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  10. As we have discussed in class, one of the greatest impacts on student achievement is the quality of their teacher. Because of this, high quality professional development is essential to increase teacher knowledge, skills, beliefs, and attitudes so they can influence their students to achieve at high rates. From my experiences, the most effective manner to improve education practices is through professional development that is results-oriented, data driven, and includes interactions with their colleagues. This is a professional model of development that recognizes the importance of research and experience to improve progress.

    I agree with a lot of comments about the “loose-tight” debate. As a district, it is very important to know what is loose and tight to ensure consistency. If we think about our instruction with the end in mind, this should be considered, “tight.” The loose part should include the steps we take in order to reach our intended objectives of the lesson.

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  11. I have a very veteran staff. Every time I state this they chide me for calling them "old. My point is that most of them (well over 50%) went through teacher training programs two decades ago or more. In a team meeting earlier this year a very good teacher said something like, "It's not like it was when we first started teaching. Then, we were supposed to just cover the material and if the students didn't get it, it was on them. Now, if they don't get it, it's our responsibility to make sure that they do." She wasn't complaining, merely stating the shift in the paradigm that truly necessitates the need for a PLC approach to education in the age of accountability.

    There are parallels here with an article I just read called, "My Nine 'Truths' of Data Analysis. It's all about getting teacher teams to do the right work, like the old cliche, "work smarter, not harder." Unfortunately, teachers sometimes have difficutly discerning the difference. It's so critical to agree on outcomes, assessments, and effective teaching strategies. We absolutely must ensure that every student has the same learning opportunities. It's not about taking away their individuality and creativity as teachers, it's about providing students with similar learning experiences. Your science project example clearly demonstrates this. I'm sure there are hundreds of similar examples in thousands of schools.

    Finally, the questions, "What will we re-teach? How will we re-teach it? How will we intervene and expect students to learn what they yet don’t know?" are ones that constantly plague us. We HAVE to have good answers to these questions. Otherwise, we are doomed to repeat our past mistakes as teachers.

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  12. To provide for deeper learning teachers must first have depth of knowledge regarding their content areas of instruction.  In addition teachers need to have a deep understanding of how to teach students using varied pedagogical approaches that promote critical thinking, problem solving and authentic learning experiences.  Student will typically do what is asked of them. If we only ask students to memorize, recite and repeat information and facts, that is al that most will do.  Teachers must provide ongoing opportunities for students to analyze information, make comparisons and move to higher levels of thinking and problem solving.  I agree with the comments posted previously; that all too often we focus on providing learners with a broad base of knowledge that is only surface deep.

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  13. There are many great points raised here. I think the takeaway message for me is the fact that there are two distinctive roles of teacher/curriculum teams. First, every member must know and be able to articulate the what, how and why associated with their curriculum choices. There must be consistency, validity, rigor, and best-practice that manifest themselves within the team. The vision of the work must be a shared one and the team must function in a manner that allows this to organically transpire. The second function of the team is the ability to assess the success, needs, and interventions for their students. The team must rely on each other to develop the formative assessments, find ways to re-teach material, provide interventions and enrichment for students, and progress monitor the effectiveness of them. The team must possess the capacity, willingness and dedication to meet these expectations. Working together, they can have a significant impact on each other and on student learning and outcomes if the work is done well and in congruence with the overarching vision of the school. This is a lot of work, however, it has merit and value and is tied into great things for kids.

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  14. The move to the common core standards is an exciting one for me as a professional. Never in education has a rigorous, standards-based curriculum been required at the same time that accountability measures for teachers were raised to an all time high by tying student learning to teacher evaluations. The possibilities for students and their learning are endless and as a school leader, we have a significant responsibility to ensure that we utilize what we know to work in schools during this time of significant change. More specifically, the common core standards have, in essence answered the first of the four PLC questions (What is it that we want all of our students to know and be able to do.) Additionally, in some ways, the common assessments being developed by the PARCC consortium might end up answering question two (how will we know when they have learned this?). Fortunately (or unfortunately), that means that the two big questions that are left over fall to the area of the school culture that I am most connected with: what will we do when students don't learn; and what will we do when students demonstrate that they have already learned this? The good news is that our school is in the process of building a collaborative culture based on the PLC principles to ensure that it is not just my responsibility to answer these questions.

    For a full day this week, I had the privilege of listening to my colleagues present a bit about the work that they had been doing in their buildings during this school year. Over and over again I heard stories of teachers who had partnered with coaches, parents, administrators, and students themselves to ensure that every student got over that proverbial "bar." That sticks out to me as significant. Never once did I hear that a teacher worked all alone in their classroom and achieved outstanding results. It might have happened, but it definitely happened and will continue to happen in places within our schools where adults have partnered to ensure that every student learns and achieves at the highest level possible.

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  15. I began this week in training for a new Reading / LA curriculum adoption aligned to the CCSS. I ended the week working with teachers on curriculum maps and assessments that align to the new standards and that pull from our new curriculum materials. These are exciting times. The new standards and yet to be developed assessments will change the face of education on a national level. The impact of these changes are being felt in schools across the country as teacher and administrators shuffle and sometimes struggle to align existing curriculum and assessments to the new standards.

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