Monday, October 5, 2015

True Confessions

Part of my work as the Chief Innovation Officer is to research innovation strategies and structures that we might find useful in our district. One piece I recently read is an article by Erika Kessenger of Thought Ensemble, entitled Four Steps to a Creative, Innovative Culture. One of the steps she suggests is to detail what the organization's desired future state looks like and sounds like.  As I was giving that some thought, my eyes wandered to a Learning Forward graphic that I have on the wall:

The first phase in the iterative cycle is standards-based professional learning, as research shows it has a greater potential to change what educators know, are able to do, and believe.

Michigan adopted the Standards for Professional Learning in 2012:

Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students... 

  • occurs within learning communities committed to continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and goal alignment
  • requires skillful leaders who develop capacity, advocate, and create support systems for professional learning
  • requires prioritizing, monitoring, and coordinating resources for educator learning
  • uses a variety of sources and types of student, educator, and system data to plan, assess, and evaluate professional learning
  • integrates theories, research, and models of human learning to achieve its intended outcomes
  • applies research on change and sustains support for implementation of professional learning for long-term change
  • aligns its outcomes with educator performance and student curriculum standards
These seven Standards have four things in common: a commitment to learning that benefits all students, a commitment to fully engage in learning, a commitment to collaborative inquiry, and a commitment to differentiated learning.

Even though standards-based professional learning is the first phase in the graphic, the arrows show that the cycle often works in reverse too. This is where some of my classroom experiences live, but in reflection, my students probably suffered from my lack of standards-based professional learning. Sure, I had evidence of student learning that demonstrated a deficiency, and I identified a change I wished to make. I also figured out what new skills I probably needed, and sought out training to acquire them. The problem for me, as you may have noticed in this example, is that it is full of "I" not "we"; I did not seek out a learning community, and I did not fully appreciate the difference job-embedded, standards-based professional learning could make. Without it, I did not focus on knowledge and beliefs; I sought out quick, skill-based training that was easy. Upon reflection, some of the changes I made that I thought lived deep in my professional practice were likely more superficial. Sometimes I did not live the cardinal rule I preached to my students: true learning is hard work and it takes time and practice.

Fortunately, I've come to appreciate Rick DuFour's advice to avoid the "seductive shortcuts," and strive toward this:

Due to the generosity of our community, we can now provide time and support for teachers to let things grow. Thanks to Destination: Innovation, teachers who are not achieving the student outcomes they want and have researched a desired change in practice may apply for a grant to obtain standards-based professional learning and practice assistance. All grant recipients now receive implementation support through myself and others in the Instruction Office. 

Even without a grant, "growing time" may be available. In 2014, all principals and one teacher representative from each school attended a three-day workshop on professional learning communities and their capacity to make change in teacher practice for student results. Since that time, the Instruction Office has continued to provide support to principals and their teacher professional learning communities, and in many of our schools principals are allotting time and resources for the lengthy and hard work.

Just how weighty is it? As Rick DuFour and Doug Reeves pointed out just a few days ago in an Education Week article:
While providing time for educators to collaborate in meaningful teams is a necessary condition for effective PLCs, it is far from sufficient. A professional learning community is not simply a meeting: It is an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recursive cycles of collective inquiry and action research in order to achieve better results for the students they serve.
This encapsulates the Learning Forward graphic I shared in the beginning of this post, and within it the Standards for Professional Learning. It is also incredibly similar to our 2015-16 District Professional Learning Goal, based in the Instructional Framework: We will use a cycle of collaborative intentional planning and reflective practice to increase our instructional expertise and deepen student learning.

My "wonder" now is how we move forward to grow an effective PLC for every teacher in our district. So, please join the conversation...
  • Might you be willing to throw open the doors of your PLC as a growth experience for other teachers? We would love to make an in-house video and use it as part of standards-based professional learning.
  • What professional learning might your PLC need to move forward in its goal of increasing student outcomes? 
  • How might we as a district create and sustain a culture committed to creativity and reflection to effect results for all students?

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