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There Is No “Magic Dust”: Building a PLC From the Ground Up. Anthony Muhammad. Magic Dust?. Instant Results with…. No Personal Commitment to Change No Threat to Tradition No Inconvenience No Accountability.

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magic dust
Magic Dust?

Instant Results with….

  • No Personal Commitment to Change
  • No Threat to Tradition
  • No Inconvenience
  • No Accountability
“Success does not permit shortcuts. It makes you pay all that is due, and it only rears its head after all fees are paid.”

Napolean Hill, Think and Grow Rich

are we serious
Are we Serious?!

If we are serious about closing the Achievement Gap and creating schools where each child is guaranteed a quality education at a chance at living their dreams

We must abandon the Magic Dust mentality!

the task at hand
The Task at Hand

“If schools are to be transformed into learning communities, educators must be prepared first of all to acknowledge that the traditional guiding model of education is no longer relevant in a post-industrial, knowledge-based society. Second, they must embrace ideas and assumptions that are radically different than those that have guided schools in the past.”

Richard DuFour and Robert Eaker

Professional Learning Communities at Work (1998)

big ideas new ideas
Big Ideas/New Ideas
  • Ensuring that Students Learn
  • Collaborative School Culture
  • Focus on Results
my reality levey middle school
My RealityLevey Middle School
  • 97% African-American student population – Student population of 800+
  • School-wide Title 1 eligible
  • Over 80% of students live in single female headed households
  • 30% of students proficient in reading
  • 31% of students proficient in math
  • 25% – 40% annual student mobility rate
  • 2000-2001 school over 3000 disciplinary suspensions
  • 2000-2001 school year over 150 students failed two or more classes and were required to attend summer school
  • 65% of staff in their first, second, or third year of teaching
  • 2001-2002 school year, I was the third principal in three years
technical change
Technical Change
  • Technical changes are changes in learning tools/structure
    • Collaborative time
    • Common assessments
    • Data
    • Educational Technology
    • Support Classes
common misconceptions about technical changes
Common Misconceptions about Technical Changes
  • Changing the structure will lead to higher levels of learning (“Rearranging the seats on the Titanic”)
  • Technical changes make up for poor instruction or unprofessionalism
  • Technical changes will “fix” kids or “fix” schools which are broken (i.e. dress codes, longer school day)
cultural change
Cultural Change

Shared Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals

importance of culture
Importance of Culture

Structural change that is not supported by cultural change will eventually be overwhelmed by the culture, for it is in the culture that any organization finds meaning

and stability.

Phil Schlechty

two underlying assumptions in a plc
Two Underlying Assumptions in a PLC
  • All Children Can Learn
  • All Children Will Learn Because of What We Do

(All children DO learn, they just do not always learn what we want them to learn)

cultural wars school crusades
Cultural Wars(School Crusades)
  • The Believers
  • The Tweeners
  • The Fundamentalists
the believers
The Believers
  • Very intrinsically motivated
  • Flexible with kids
  • Mission driven/connection to school or community
  • Willing to confront negative talk and attitudes towards children
  • Varied levels of pedagogical skill
  • Carries the banner of “learning for all” whether students are learning or not.
the tweeners
The Tweeners
  • Loosely-coupled with the school mission
  • Enthusiastic about the idealistic nature of school, but have not quite hit the “tipping point”
  • Not quite convinced that “all children can learn,” but not Darwinistic in their approach
  • Follows instructions as given by administration (considered “good teachers”)
  • They try to avoid school and district politics
  • One bad/good experience can swing them to be a “believer” or a “fundamentalist.”
  • Firmly believe that all children cannot learn (Darwinists)
  • Firmly believe that school reform is a waste of time (Lortie – Apprenticeship of Observation)
  • Socialization plays a major role in paradigm
  • Believe in autonomy and academic freedom
  • Organize to resist any change
  • Firmly believe that gaps in learning are due to outside forces (students, parents, administration)
  • Varied levels of pedagogical skills
old contract
Old Contract


  • Teach content
  • Complete tasks and paper work as assigned by administration
  • Honor contractual obligations
  • Autonomy of pedagogy and evaluation
  • Maintain acceptable classroom management
  • Accountability is restricted to an annual or semi-annual contractually approved evaluation
  • Teacher is encouraged and free to work in isolation
old contract19
Old Contract

Administrator ……..

  • Complete tasks as determined by central office
  • Ensure that each employee adheres to contractual obligation
  • Maintain attractive building and grounds
  • Punish students who do not follow code of conduct (Maintain order)
  • Respond to parent concerns within the scope of contractual limitations
old contract20
Old Contract


  • Send students to school properly fed, clothed, and rested
  • Assure that child completes all out-of-school academic obligations
  • Support teacher by punishing child when they do not comply with school rules, and make sure that their child does not break that rule again
  • Participate in parent/school events
old contract21
Old Contract


  • Follow the code of conduct
  • Follow all school rules
  • Complete in-school and out-of-school academic obligations
  • Pay attention to the teacher and all of his/her instruction
new contract
New Contract


  • All of the requirements of the old contract
  • Ensure that each student can demonstrate proficiency in all content areas
  • Develop engaging activities which reinforce state academic standards and capture the interest of a student body with and ever-shrinking attention span
  • Semi-autonomy with pedagogy
  • No autonomy in teaching content and expected outcomes
  • Communicate behavior and academic expectations to family’s with a 57% nation-wide rate of divorce and hope for help/cooperation
  • Working in teams becomes necessary in order to successfully complete all of the requirements
new contract23
New Contract


  • All of the requirements of the old contract
  • Ensure that students learn state mandated curriculum or face termination and school restructuring
  • Assume the role of lead-learner and provide assistance to teachers in the areas of pedagogy, classroom management, assessment, parental relations, and school procedures
  • Provide visionary leadership so that each staff member understands their role in the state/federally mandated ascent of the school’s achievement in multiple areas
new contract24
New Contract


  • Send their child to school
new contract25
New Contract


  • Come to school
fundamentalist change is not easy
FundamentalistChange is Not Easy

“Drop Your Tools” Research

  • People persist when they are given no clear reason to change
  • People persist when they do not trust the person who tells them to change
  • People persist when they view the alternative as more frightening
  • To change may mean admitting failure

Norman Maclean’s, Young Men and Fire

the clash
The Clash




Parents Students

  • Leadership
  • Teachers
compliance vs vision

Maintaining status quo

Obsession with management tasks

Appearances are more important than effectiveness

Survival of the organization is the goal


Goals are clear, reasonable, and lofty

Everyone is clear about their role in the ascension

Leader models the behavior he/she wants to see in others

Excelling in the only option

Compliance vs. Vision
the role of vision
The Role of Vision
  • Leadership has a responsibility to clearly provide a direction for his/her institution
  • That direction must be well known and well publicized
  • Leadership must closely consider the role of each individual within the framework of the vision
  • Role definition leads to responsibility which leads to accountability
organized and strong vision
Organized and Strong Vision

Leads to ………..

  • Clarity of purpose
  • Explicit identification of roles, responsibilities, and expectations of each member of the learning community
  • Changes in activity/technical tools are connected to a strong/shared vision
levey mission
Levey Mission

“We will work collaboratively to ensure that each student will be prepared for post-secondary education.”

nine core beliefs
Nine Core Beliefs
  • Schools are places built for the education of children, not for adult employment.
  • Schools play a major role in the future life success of students and their community.
  • Education is a profession, and educators should conduct themselves as professionals.
  • Education is a mission, and educators should conduct themselves as missionaries.
  • Schools are a communities’ most precious institution, and they have the power to transform a community.
  • Children are at the center of everything that we do, and our practice should reflect their best interest.
  • We believe that schools must partner with other members of the community in order for the educational experience to be optimal.
  • We believe that character is important and that schools can help shape a child’s character.
  • We believe that service to the community is important and that it is essential in a democratic society.
new frontier 21 school a fresh approach
New Frontier 21 SchoolA Fresh Approach

Professional Learning Community

plcs are like a vehicle
PLCs are like a vehicle…

They are only useful if you are trying to go somewhere!!!

political vs principled

Concerned with self-interest


Alliances with special interest groups


Dedication to the mission of the school

Service orientation

Holds self and others accountable for contribution toward organizational goals

Political vs. Principled
professional learning community
Professional Learning Community

Community – A group linked by common interest

dictator vs motivator

Seeks control

Catalyst for motion is coercion and manipulation

Rarely shows appreciation


Seeks cooperation

Catalyst for motion is inspiration

Consistently celebrates behavior that moves the community closer to its goals

Dictator vs. Motivator
leading in a plc
Leading in a PLC

“They (leaders) recognize that one of the most significant responsibilities of a leader is to help others believe in their own capacity to lead, and their goal is to ensure that every classroom is directed by a confident and capable teacher-leader.”

Bob Eaker and Deborah Gonzalez

  • Leadership
  • Teachers
vague vs precise

General descriptions

Emphasis on averages

Comfortable with stereotypes


Diagnostic approach

Concerned with the student as an individual

Believes that every student problem has a solution

Vague vs. Precise
student intervention
Student Intervention

Why aren’t they learning?

descriptive vs prescriptive

Restating the obvious

Reinforces current level of thinking

Rooted in frustration

Solving problem is not important


Information is used for diagnosis

Challenges current level of thinking

Rooted in mission

Solving the problem is the only acceptable outcome

Descriptive vs. Prescriptive
certification vs professionalism

Minimal requirement to enter a field

Allows a person to operate at a basic level

Requires little to no ongoing commitment


Requires a commitment to scholarship

Consistently develops skills in an evolving field

Requires an ongoing commitment

Certification vs. Professionalism
inside teaching 2005 mary kennedy
Inside Teaching, 2005Mary Kennedy

Why is reform so difficult?

  • Teachers need more knowledge or guidance in order to alter their practice
  • Teachers hold beliefs and values that differ from reformers’ and that justify their current practices
  • Teachers have dispositions that interfere with their ability to implement reforms
  • The circumstances of teaching prevent teachers from altering their practices
teacher curriculum
Teacher Curriculum
  • Review Critical Data
  • Choose Goals (No more than four/five)
  • Identify best literature/research that helps increase staff ability to meet goals
  • Develop study questions that applies the research to school’s current reality
  • Prepare study guide for teachers and pace their curriculum for the entire school year
levey results
Levey Results


  • 2000 – 30% Proficient (State Avg. 68%)
  • 2005 – 88% Proficient (State Avg. 62%)


  • 2000 – 31% Proficient (State Avg. 54%)
  • 2005 – 76% Proficient (State Avg. 62%)
other levey victories
Other Levey Victories
  • Honored as a National Blue Ribbon School
  • 2004-2005 school year, 6 students failed one or more academic classes, down from 150in 2001
  • 2004-2005 school year, 148 student suspensions, down from over 3000 during the 2000-2001 school year
  • 52% of Levey students are on the honor roll
  • 18 charitable student service learning projects completed during the 2004-2005 school year
  • Trailblazing “Hip-Hop” class that links literacy to pop culture
  • Business course and student run store offered for students in grades 6, 7, and 8 – “The Levey Dollar Store”
no magic dust
No Magic Dust

Where do you go from here?

Will you sit on your hands and wait for change?


Will you go to work and make a difference in the lives of your children and community?

contact information
Contact Information