Sunday, August 1, 2010

In teams or not at all

Consistent strong results for students, at a level that closes gaps, support economic growth, and strengthens our communities, will be created by teams of teachers--or it will not happen.

In my reading, listening, writing, and blogging, I keep coming back to that.

Reading the literature on professional learning communities gave me a name for the approach: teachers thinking together, looking at student work, checking progress toward standards, finding ways to adapt instruction to speed that progress, finding and sharing professional growth activities to fit the questions they generate together are the core of the PLC idea.  It sounds like multiple separate elements, but they're really a single coherent initiative, like a cube formed by six sides.

Listening to teachers who deliver for students often caught in the gap, I had already heard the same ideas.  I heard it direct from our high performance, high poverty schools.  I heard it indirectly through the interview results from the systematic Black Box study and through every Kati Haycock presentation and EdTrust success story I can remember.

Writing years ago for the Kentucky Association of School Councils,  I grappled with ways to describe the same shared approach based on what I'd learned from Kentucky schools that deliver the highest results for African-American students, students with disabilities, and students in the federal lunch program.

Blogging last year about the McKinsey report, I kept circling back to the idea of consistent teaching quality, and the collaborative environments in which teachers worked together in ways that spread strong skills, making them all more effective at their craft.  I  came back to the same ideas as I engaged Karin Chenoweth's case studies in How It's Being Done.

No single educator, whether teacher or administrator, can will that kind of collaboration into being.  It takes many colleagues, growing together, developing the trust and the habits to lean on one another and learn from one another.  Naturally, some members of the team may be the first to propose the approach, the most willing to begin, the most able to draw others into the circle--but the big steps for students happen when many have joined the circle and the shared process has their shared ownership and commitment.

The thing that must happen for students will happen in teams of teachers, or it will not happen.

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