Sunday, March 1, 2009

Building a Professional Learning Community

In my current situation as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction, I am charged with ensuring quality programs and learning experiences for all students, Pre-K-12. My biggest challenge right now is that the teachers in my district have not had stability in my position for nearly two years. They are jaded; they have heard that great things would be taking place and were willing to invest time and energy into things that were promised, but have not seen any follow through. In addition, they are starved; they are dying for some professional development that is meaningful, will enhance their daily classroom practice, is seamless in its implementation into the classroom, and will engage and motivate the unique students in classrooms today.

To add to the pool of frustration, my teachers are in their second year without a contract and negotiations have gone into arbitration. To put it simply, it's ugly out there. Teachers are disgruntled and feeling under appreciated and overworked. In addition, as in many other districts out there, there is a huge disconnect and feelings of inequality between buildings and levels (elementary, middle school, and high school). To complicate the matter further, there are feelings of animosity not only between buildings, but within buildings as well. biggest hurdle right now is building collegiality. Thank God for my PLN and my DLN to help me in this momentous task. I've recently begun the process of joining Communities for Learning and I am so excited to have this support to help me on my quest of building collegiality and establishing an atmosphere of supportive collaboration throughout my district. I long to create a learning community "in which participants embrace the privilege and responsibility of learning individually and collectively. " I want to inspire teachers to increase their expertise and share that success with other teachers in an atmosphere where they feel safe and inspired to do so. I believe that, only through building collegiality and fostering an atmosphere of sharing experiences, teachers can come to understand teaching and learning to a point that transcends the limitations of their unique individual perspectives.

How do I go about building this collegiality among teachers, departments, and individual schools in my district? I have some ideas and I'm hoping that my membership in Communities for Learning will direct me and support me in bringing those ideas to fruition. But I would appreciate any suggestions you might have to help me as well. How do you attempt to bring people, who have a history of not working together, to join in conversations to move your building or district forward for the sake of the children you serve?


JD Prickett said...

Hi Kate,
Great post today. You have such exciting work ahead of you. I have been there, and actually still am working through quite a lot of the same issues. I am reminded of Doug Reeves here, when he talks about changing behavior before beliefs. It may be that teachers need to have norms set for them. Building principals would, of course, have to monitor this, but that is where the accountability comes in.

Do teachers meet in grade level teams?

If they are not used to working together, then I would say probably not. This is one of your first steps. It is what Rick DuFour calls "Loose-Tight" Leadership. The Tight part is they MUST meet in grade level team meetings, the Loose part is that they decide when, and what the conversation is about, as long as it revolves around learning and student achievement.

Check this site out for more on the DuFour's work on PLC:

Let me know if you want to talk more about this. I can send you my email address.

It also may be that the contract needs to get settled first. They are not feeling respected right now. Teacher Leader Capacity needs to be built here. They need to see PD as something that happens within.

Lead On,


Ed Shepherd said...

As an administrator, I have learned to focus on one professional development "Big Idea" per year within my school that I believe will help us grow by years end. The idea is designed to impact all staff members in some way in order to improve the overall curriculum or systems in our school over time and create a common language for how we do things. Throughout the school year we keep this focus in front of everyone by continuously spiraling back to the idea, giving needed support to those that request it, and holding everyone accountable for doing "it".
I have learned that a school or business can only grow as fast as its slowest people. Believing this, I feel I must be willing to meet everyone where they are and help them move forward in order to get them where I expect them to be. There is a quote I always think of by Marshall Goldsmith that goes "People will do something-including changing their behavior- only if it can be demonstrated that doing so is in their own best interests as defined by their own values." Knowing this, I work to create a sense of urgency for change as well as work to create vicarious experiences to help staff members see the benefits of the years "Big Idea."
Is everyone always on board at the beginning of the year? No. Is everyone where I want them to be by the end of the year? Usually not everyone, but the large majority is still at different point in their growth and development at the end of the year than they were at the beginning. That is my goal and by remembering that true changes in culture takes time, I feel that I am doing what needs to be done to make that happen.

Theresa G said...

Hi Kate! I just started reading The Speed of Trust by Covey's son, also Stephen Covey and given what you have inherited in the district, that might be a nice place to start. It really has me thinking about how a lack of trust can slow the process down - even if it is a really good process. Building trust takes time - but is really worth it in the end.