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Critical Priorities in Building a Professional Learning Community. Illuminating the Vision in CUSD. “On Common Ground”. Roland Barth Doug Reeves Rebecca & Richard DuFour Jonathan Saphier Robert Eaker Mike Schmoker Barbara Eason-Watkins Dennis Sparks

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Critical Priorities in Building aProfessional Learning Community

Illuminating the Vision in CUSD

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“On Common Ground”

  • Roland Barth

  • Doug Reeves

  • Rebecca & Richard DuFour

  • Jonathan Saphier

  • Robert Eaker

  • Mike Schmoker

  • Barbara Eason-Watkins

  • Dennis Sparks

  • Michael Fullan

  • Rick Stiggins

  • Lawrence Lezotte

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“On Common Ground”

“If there is anything that the research community agrees on, it is this: The right kind of continuous, structured teacher collaboration improves the quality of teaching and pays big, often immediate, dividends in student learning and professional morale in virtually any setting. Our experience with schools across the nation bears this out unequivocally.”

  • Mike Schmoker

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A Simple Concept - Schmoker

  • It starts with a group of teachers who

    • meet regularly as a team to identify essential and valued student learning,

    • develop common formative assessments,

    • analyze current levels of achievement,

    • set achievement goals,

    • share strategies, and then

    • create lessons to improve upon those levels.

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A Simple Concept - Schmoker

  • Picture these teams of teachers

    • implementing these new lessons,

    • continuously assessing their results, and then

    • adjusting their lessons in light of those results.

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A Simple Concept - Schmoker

  • Importantly, there must be an expectation that this collaborative effort will produce ongoing improvement and gains in achievement.

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Addition by Subtraction

The challenge of becoming a PLC demands more than adopting new programs and practices. We must also demonstrate the discipline to discontinue much of what we have done traditionally.

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The Need to Stop Doing

Most of us have an ever-expanding “to do” list, trying to build momentum by doing, doing, doing – and doing more. And it rarely works. Those who built “good-to-great” organizations, however, made as much use of “stop doing” lists as “to do” lists. They had the discipline to stop doing all the extraneous junk.

  • Jim Collins

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A Powerful Guiding Principle

Great organizations simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea or guiding principle. This guiding principle makes the complex simple, helps focus the attention and energy of the organization on the essentials, and becomes the frame of reference for all decisions.

  • Jim Collins

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The First (and Biggest) “BIG IDEA” of a PLC

The guiding principle of a PLC is that the purpose of the school is to ensure high levels of learning for all students.

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Making the Complex Simple

  • If we could truly establish high levels of learning for all students as the guiding principle of the school….

  • And if we were willing to honestly confront the brutal facts of the current reality in our school….

  • The right decisions about what to do and what to stop doing often become evident.

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Why Engage Teachers in the Discussion of Essential Learnings?

  • The most wonderfully designed curriculum on the planet will have no impact unless it is taught!

  • Professional study of and dialogue about essential learnings increases the likelihood that essential curriculum will actually be taught.

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“To Do” Learnings?“Stop Doing”

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Assess Your Collective Response to Kids Who Are Not Learning Learnings?

  • Is it TIMELY? How quickly are we able to identify the kids who need extra time and support? Is our focus prompt intervention rather than remediation?

  • Is itDIRECTIVE rather than invitational? Are kids invited to put in extra time or does the system ensure they put in extra time?

  • Is itSYSTEMATIC? Do kids receive this intervention according to a schoolwide plan rather than at the discretion of individual teachers?

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The Second “BIG IDEA” Learnings?of the PLC

We can achieve our fundamental purpose of high levels of learning for all students only if we work together. We cultivate this collaborative culture through the development of high performing teams.

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What Is Collaboration? Learnings?

A systematic process in which we work together interdependently to analyze and impact professional practice in order to improve our individual and collective results.

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Critical Corollary Questions: If We Believe All Kids Can Learn:

  • What is it we expect them to learn?

  • How will we know when they have learned it?

  • How will we respond when they don’t learn?

  • How will we respond when they already know it?

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Keys to Effective Teams Learn:

  • Collaboration embedded in routine practices.

  • Time for collaboration built into the school day and school calendar.

  • Teams focus on key questions.

  • Products of collaboration are made explicit.

  • Team norms guide collaboration.

  • Teams pursue specific and measurable performance goals.

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What Evidence Do We Have that Our Team Collaboration… Learn:

  • Focuses on the critical questions of learning?

  • Leads to change in classroom practice?

  • Increases the team’s ability to achieve its goals?

  • Helps individual teachers, the team at large, and the school do a better job of helping all students learn at high levels?

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The Learning Leader Learn:

PLCs will shift the focus of their school-improvement efforts from the supervision and evaluation of individual teachers to an emphasis on building the capacity of teams of teachers to take responsibility for their own learning.

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Individual Growth Does Not Ensure Organizational Growth Learn:

Developing the skills and knowledge of individual teachers is important, but insufficient. Effective leaders will focus on developing the culture and the capacity of the organization.

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A Third “BIG IDEA” of the PLC Concept Learn:

We assess our individual and collective effectiveness in helping all students learn at high levels on the basis of results rather than activity. We eagerly seek out multiple indicators of student achievement and use that information to promote continuous improvement.

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Interpreting Data Learn:

  • Student Performance on the High-Stakes State Math Test:

    - Mean 178

    - Median 177

    - Mode 180

  • Use the data presented above to answer the following question: To what extent is this school helping all students achieve at high levels in math?

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The DRIP Syndrome Learn:

Schools typically suffer from the DRIP syndrome – Data Rich, Information Poor. Data alone will not inform professional practice. Data can become a catalyst for improvement only when we have a basis of comparison.

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Main Idea/Detail Learn:

Student #
















Average Score

# Proficient

Homeroom Class #4

















7 (47%)

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To Inform and Impact Professional Practice, Ensure All Teachers Receive:

Timely and regular information on the achievement of their students

  • In meeting an agreed-upon standard.

  • On a valid assessment.

  • In comparison to others.

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Sharing Data: Beginning of Community Teachers Receive:

Collecting data is only the first step toward wisdom, but sharing data is the first step toward community.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

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Insist on Common Assessments Teachers Receive:

Teachers of the same course or grade level should have absolute common agreement on what they expect all their students to know and be able to do. Therefore, they should administer common, collaboratively-scored assessments at least once each quarter. The classroom activities leading up to those assessments might differ. The need to administer the same assessment should not differ.

Doug Reeves

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Assessment for Learning as the Catalyst for School Improvement

Assessment for learning, when done well, is one of the most powerful, high-leverage strategies for improving student learning that we know of. Educators collectively become more skilled and focused at assessing, disaggregating, and using student achievement as a tool for ongoing improvement.

Michael Fullan

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Creating the Foundation for Results Improvement

The combination of three concepts constitutes the foundation for results: meaningful teamwork; clear, measurable goals; and the regular collection and analysis of performance data…good faith efforts to establish goals and then to collectively and regularly monitor and adjust actions toward them produce results, and results goad, guide, and motivate groups and individuals.

Mike Schmoker

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“To Do” “Stop Doing” Improvement

Sustain the PLC initiative by appealing directly to the heart - to the fundamental human longings.

Stop using fear and test scores as the primary motivators for school improvement.

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If Your Goal Is Improved Test Scores… Improvement

  • Increase the drop-out rate.

  • Assign more students to special education.

  • Eliminate electives to devote more time to tested areas.

  • Redraw attendance boundaries to send high-performing students to at-risk schools.

  • Warehouse low-performing students in one school.

  • Identify kids “on the bubble.” Focus on them and ignore the students too far behind and those who already meet standards.

    • Doug Reeves

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What is Improvementour vision of a PLC?

The Instructional Leader:

Expects that all teachers will be a part of a team

Keeps the focus on student learning in all activities—professional development, evaluations/observations, walkthroughs

Monitors teams for their progress toward the goals and action plans they designed to improve achievement

Facilitates embedded professional development to address the goal areas in a sustained fashion over time, and supports the implementation of new learning

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What is Improvementour vision of a PLC?

Teachers are held accountable to work within teams that center their focus on:

Clarifying the content and sequence of the curriculum

Monitoring learningof allstudents in the areas deemed priority for the course/grade level using common assessments

Designed or selected by teams

Defined by collective agreement of “proficiency”

Using Information/Data gained from a variety of sources to adjust instruction and improvement strategies

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An unexamined life is not worth living… Improvement

- Socrates

Unexamined efforts are not worth doing…

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Structure/Processes? Improvement


What are your next steps?

Where is your school now?

Where did your school begin?

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Fundamental Human Longings Improvement

  • To be successful (achievement)

  • To belong (connection)

  • To make a difference (significance)