A Clearinghouse for Martensdale-St. Marys Community Schools Professional Development

Monday, December 6, 2010

Whatever It Takes, Chapter Six

The last few chapters of Whatever It Takes have allowed us to examine the practices of high school and middle school staffs related to DuFour's theory of professional learning communities. This next chapter focuses on an elementary school's response to children who aren't learning. While there may be some differences in instructional practices, pedagogical theory, and content between an elementary staff and a secondary staff, there are some common linear themes in their approaches to struggling learners.

1) Boones Mill began its process of creating a school-wide system of time and support by building shared knowledge of the current reality in the school in terms of how the school responded when a student was not learning. Its staff demonstrated the discipline to confront the brutal facts of that reality. What is your current reality? What happens in your school when kids don’t learn?

2) How did Boones Mill Elementary School . . .
a. Identify students who needed additional time and support for learning?
b. Provide that additional time and support?

3) Review the steps in the “Team Learning Process” utilized by Boones Mill. How did this process contribute to the implementation of Project PASS, the school’s system of time and support for students?

4) Once Boones Mill was able to create a time each day when students were available for additional support, staff members were able to identify a variety of ways to enlist the assistance of others in giving students personal attention. What additional human resources could you enlist in the effort to help all students learn at high levels?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Whatever It Takes, Chapter Five

We are approaching the halfway point in our study of DuFour's introduction to professional learning communities. From reading your comments over the past few months, it is clear you and your colleagues are working through the text and not only grasping the content but also finding ways to apply your learning to MstM. Chapter five switches from the high school environment to the middle school model.

In addition to working through chapter five today, make sure you have taken the time to plan and schedule your peer observations. The original timeline for the fall indicated they needed to be done before December 8th, but that is not a reasonable expectation at this time. Make certain you have completed and "debriefed" from them by the end of the semester. If you are taking PD for credit this year, you will need to turn in your notes from the observation as well as a reflection. If you are not taking PD for credit, these are artifacts that you may use in your portfolios. Please see me with any questions you have about this or any other element of our work this year.

Here are the discussion questions for chapter five in Whatever It Takes:

1) Some critics of the middle school concept maintain that the model has been too focused on the social and emotional development of young adolescents at the expense of the academic rigor necessary for their intellectual development. What is your reaction to that criticism?

2) How did Freeport Intermediate . . .
a. Identify students who needed additional time and support for learning?
b. Provide that additional time and support?

3) Freeport Intermediate calls upon teachers to give common assessments to students on a regular basis and to share their results with each other in order to identify and replicate successful strategies a colleague might be using. What concerns might teachers have about this process? What steps could be taken to address some of those concerns in a productive way?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Planning Peer Observations

Part of your PD work this week involves planning for peer observations to be carried out sometime during the remainder of the second quarter. Our shared study of Whatever It Takes has not explicitly discussed the use of peer observations, yet they are an effective means of building the shared trust and understanding of our professional needs that are the foundation of the professional learning community. As you work with your teams to plan, consider these tips:

Identify objectives and establish context. While this isn't a formal observation by your building administrator, it is important we have a sense of expectation as both observers and practitioners. In your groups, you should discuss what you want your colleague(s) to look for while they are observing your class. In addition, you should provide your observer(s) with a context for the lesson (i.e. student objectives, the lesson's place in the unit, means of assessment, etc.).

Decide on a means of recording and sharing observations. For formal observations, your building principal uses the district-developed evaluation tool to record notes and share feedback. These peer observations, however, do not need to be that formal. Make sure you and your colleagues collaborate to create an effective yet efficient structure for recording observations and providing feedback. If you would like some suggested formats for this, please leave a comment on this post. In order to adhere to the PD calendar, you might want to plan to meet with your group during your common planning time, team time, or collaboration time to plan and/or debrief.

Know and understand these are nonjudgmental. As educators, we want to ensure our students are in safe, comfortable, judgment-free environments. Likewise, as professional colleagues, we want to ensure we can observe one another with mutual understanding and respect. There is no single quality or formula that defines a great teacher, yet it is clear MstM has a committed, knowledgable, and trustworthy staff. That said, we all have the opportunity to learn from one another through these observations.

If you can think of other tips for effective peer observations, please leave a comment. Enjoy the time in each others' classrooms!

Whatever It Takes, Chapter 4

Chapter 4 of Whatever It Takes delves deeper into the logistics of implementing the kind of interventions and programs discussed in chapter 3. Taking a week to process the content of your discussions surrounding the PLC responses at Stevenson High School will give you and your group a strong grounding as you synthesize the ideas in the book with knowledge of your classroom, grade level, content area, and district as a whole. While there is only one discussion question for this chapter in the study guide, you will also need to work with your group to complete the handout given to you during the large group discussion earlier today. Take the time and energy needed to complete this assignment as it will provide the groundwork for implementing professional learning communities district wide at MstM in the near future. Thanks for your hard work this year; we are well on our way to becoming a PLC school!

1. This chapter describes how Stevenson staff addressed some of the barriers they confronted when attempting to provide students with timely, directive, systematic interventions. List some of the barriers you will confront in your school.

2. Use “Where Do We Go From Here?” Worksheet #1 (distributed earlier today) to develop a plan for creating a system of interventions in your own school.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Whatever It Takes, Chapter 3

Upon completing your PLC groups' reading/discussion of the "Common Core Fact Sheet", you are to continue working together to read and discuss the third chapter in DuFour's book. Despite the chapter's focus on a high school's "response when kids don't learn," there are other elements of the chapter that apply to students, instructors, and administrators at all levels. As with previous chapters, the content (and subsequent discussion questions) of the chapter challenges assumptions and perceptions about our staff, our students, and our profession as a whole. It is important we address these tough questions with an open mind if we are going to better serve our students. The staff as a whole has done an excellent job with the book thus far - keep up the great work!

1. This chapter reflects on the varying explanations and reasons offered at Adlai Stevenson High School in the early 1980s as to why students were not being successful. What explanations are offered at your school?

2. How did Stevenson High School . . .
a. Identify students who needed additional time and support for learning?
b. Provide this additional time and support?

3. Generate a list of the various steps the school created to give students additional time and support.
a. Which steps could be easily adopted in your school or adapted to meet the needs of your students?
b. Which steps could be adopted or adapted after considerable effort?
c. Which steps would be impossible to adopt or adapt in your school?

**If you are not able to complete your discussion of this content during PD, remember you may use your collaboration time to continue your work**

Iowa Core/Common Core Fact Sheet

For the first part of PD today (Wednesday, November 10th), we will spend a little time discussing the Iowa Core/Common Core in our PLC groups. The focus of the discussion centers on a document labeled "Common Core Fact Sheet" in the "Professional Development" folder in the Teacher Common. This document was shared with the Iowa Core Leadership Team during their attendance at the October Leadership meeting in Indianola.
The team felt it would be a good vehicle for initiating discussion and generating questions about the Iowa Core/Common Core and its impact on our district. Use the comment feature to post your questions to the group. When we meet on November 17th, the Iowa Core Leadership Team will (attempt) to answer these questions during the first part of our PD time. Please do think critically about the content of the "Common Core Fact Sheet" - we want to utilize the collective knowledge of our staff to ensure a clear understanding of these ideas as well as provide some problem-solving and support for all.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Whatever It Takes, Chapter 2

We continue our study of Whatever It Takes with chapter 2: "What Do We Do When Kids Don't Learn?" If you recall from last week's reading, this is one of the three essential questions of the PLC theory. The content of this chapter might challenge us a little by asking some difficult questions. It is important work, however. Use the time today to really dig in and address some of those tough questions with your peers. I applaud you for your work on previous chapters and it is my hope is that you and your team members will continue to work together and get the most out of your PD time. I will also encourage you to take time to read comments from the last two chapters. You'll find that the staff at MstM is a collection of conscientious, deep-thinking educators committed to student achievement. Happy reading!

1. This chapter describes the different responses of four schools that confront students who are not learning. Are there other responses you can identify?

2. Do you agree with the assertion that “in the real world of schools, we have all four of these responses occurring in the same school at the same time. . . . Students in the same school who experience difficulty in learning will be subject to very different responses based upon the beliefs and practices of their teachers”? Cite evidence from your own school to support your answer.

3. The authors contend that PLCs approach time and support for learning from a very different perspective than that of traditional schools. Summarize that difference in your own words.

4. Educators could argue that time and support for learning have always been variables in school. They could point to retention, summer school, remedial programs, and schools that design curricula to stretch 1 year of algebra into a 2-year program as examples of traditional approaches that give students extra time and support for learning. Why would the authors reject these strategies as inconsistent with their message?

5. The chapter concludes with the scenario of what happens to Johnny Jones when he is not learning. Do you agree with the idea that “this situation represents the norm in most schools?” Why or why not?

An Interesting Article

While this is certainly not required reading, this op-ed piece from the Des Moines Register echoes a lot of ideas shared in the commentary from last week's PLC Forum posting. It seems that educators all over Iowa - and probably the US - share the same sentiments when it comes to accountability and the "teaching to the test" mentality. If you are so inclined, feel free to post your thoughts.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Whatever It Takes, Chapter 1

Good afternoon!

First of all, thank your for your contributions to the previous posting. Your comments were concise yet indicative of good discussions among your team members. If you have not done so already, I would encourage you to read other groups' comments before beginning the next chapter. I look forward to even more in-depth and insightful commentary on Whatever It Takes as the year progresses. Keep an open mind as we continue reading and discussing these issues and ideas. Nothing ever changed by staying the same.

The following questions should be used as a starting point for your discussions over chapter one. You and your group may elect to simply answer the questions as they are posed, or you can put your responses in paragraph/essay form. Do what works for you, and enjoy the process!

1. Do you agree with the assertion in this chapter that “contemporary public
schools in the United States are now being called upon to achieve a
standard that goes far beyond the goals of any previous generation—high
levels of learning for all students?” If this represents a new goal, what
were the goals of schooling in the past?

2. This chapter introduces three critical questions the authors maintain
schools must consider if they are to fulfill their stated mission of “high
levels of learning for all.” Do you agree with that assertion? Do you feel
any of the questions are not “critical,” and that a school could help all
students learn at high levels without the collective consideration of that
question? Are there other questions you feel should be added to the list?

3. This chapter introduces the topic of formative versus summative
assessments—a topic that will be referenced repeatedly throughout the
book. What is the distinction between the two?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Whatever It Takes Introduction

Good afternoon!

I hope this finds you well and excited to begin our study of Richard DuFour's Whatever It Takes and the theory and practice of professional learning communities (PLCs).

As explained in your professional development calendar for the school year, your task today is to read the introduction to the text and post your team learning on this forum. That way PLCs across the district can read and respond to your thoughts, answer questions, and engage each other in dialogue. For your post today, please respond to the following questions, taken from the study guide for Whatever It Takes:

1. Consider the brief review of the characteristics of a Professional Learning
Community offered in the introduction. Educators who have considered
this description of a PLC never express opposition to these
characteristics; yet they typically struggle when attempting to create
these conditions in their schools. What are the barriers and obstacles that
make it difficult for educators to implement a PLC in their schools? How
have some schools been able to overcome these barriers and become

2. The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future contends
that “communities of learning must no longer be considered utopian; they
must become the building blocks that establish a new foundation for
America’s schools.” Is it possible that schools operating as PLCs could
become the norm rather than the exception? If so, what are promising
strategies for bringing about this transformation?

3. In the introduction, the authors claim that schools should respond to
students who experience difficulty in learning with systematic, timely,
and directive interventions that ensure students receive additional time
and support for learning. Would most educators oppose this proposal? Do
you? Why or why not?

We are all looking forward to your responses and continuing our work beyond the walls of our classrooms.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Professional Development Day 1 (Secondary)

To begin our use of this forum, please respond to the following questions using discussion with your PLC members:

How has the 1:1 laptop initiative changed your classroom?

How are students adapting to the change?

What successes have you experienced?

What challenges are you facing?

What would you like to be doing in your classroom that you aren’t doing yet? How might your PLC help you with this?

This will allow teachers from across the district to read, respond to, and ask questions posed in your groups. We are all looking forward to your responses and team learning experiences.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Welcome to the PLC Forum

As we begin the 2010-2011 school year, I want to take an opportunity to welcome you back. I am very excited to begin our work studying professional learning communities (PLCs, for short), and I hope you will enjoy and benefit from it as well.
You'll notice in the letter from your building principal that our primary activity for our professional development is a study of Whatever It Takes by Richard DuFour. The PD calendar is designed to maximize our time during inservice days to develop a strong understanding of the PLC to allow for professional growth, meaningful collaboration with colleagues, and (most importantly) to ensure student achievement stays at the center of all we do.
This blog will serve as a forum to share and collect ideas from one another as we develop and apply our understanding of the PLC. Throughout the year you and your colleagues can use this as a means of quantifying your learning, posing important questions, and sharing your insights with the entire MStM learning community. From time to time, there will be discussion questions posted on this blog for you and your PLC to consider while working together. We have a dedicated and knowledgable staff with a wealth of experience and insight, and I look forward to putting it all to use.