Thursday, May 21, 2009

PLCs inside the Black Box

Remember Inside the Black Box?

Steve Clements and Patty Kannapel produced a runaway hit in their 2003 study of high performing, high poverty schools.

The features that distinguished the eight impressive schools were a near-perfect match for the features of professional learning communities. Straight from the executive summary, here they are:
High expectations that were communicated in concrete ways. Principals held high expectations for faculty and staff, who held high expectations for themselves and the students. There was a strong belief that all students could succeed academically and that faculty and staff were capable of making this happen.

Relationships. The caring, nurturing atmosphere in each of the schools related closely to high expectations. Respectful relationships were observed among adults, between adults and students, and among students.

Academic, instructional focus. All eight schools had a strong focus on academics, instruction, and student learning.

Student assessment. All of the schools paid close attention to their performance on state assessments, but the results from the state test were just a starting point. Each school had a system in place to regularly assess the progress of individual students and to plan or change instruction to meet the students╩╝ needs.

Leadership and decision-making. Leadership styles varied greatly at the schools, but all shared a collaborative decision-making process. None of the schools had an authoritarian or dictatorial leader, and faculty and staff were involved in making most key decisions.

Faculty work ethic and morale. The faculty and staff worked very hard to meet their students╩╝ needs, regularly analyzing data on individual students and planning appropriate instruction or interventions. They helped families and students find transportation, clothing, health care, and other services, and they worked after school and on weekends to provide help with tutoring, portfolios, assessment preparation, or parent programs. They did this work with enthusiasm and dedication; there were no reports of overload or teacher burnout.

Teacher recruitment, hiring, and assignment. A contributing factor to the high morale and overall success of the schools was the careful and intentional manner in which teachers were recruited, hired, and assigned.
The literature tells us quite clearly how great learning settings work. The work is figuring out how many more schools, all schools, can work at this high level for their students.

Notes: Inside the Black Box can be downloaded here, and earlier posts on PLCs can be found here. And my congratulations to Steve and Markie Clements on Lee and Natalie's beautiful wedding.

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