The answer is really not all that difficult. Many school districts are beginning to embrace professional learning communities to transform the culture so that teachers feel empowered - and safe - to truly evaluate their successes and failures, and work together to improve practice. I recently had the pleasure of visiting a school that is just at the beginning stages of this process and was completely blown away at how effective it has become in a very short time. Teachers are organized into teams of about six; in this case, it was by grade level teams. Each week, the teachers meet together during common planning time and review student work, through the lens of a common assessment that they have implemented for this purpose. This particular school is working to improve writing skills. They have a simple rubric based on four writing traits that they have identified as most in need of improvement. At their weekly meetings, they discuss the scores they have awarded their students and work to create reliability on this assessment, so that students will be scored in a similar way in each classroom. Then, they look for trends and discuss strategies to adjust the curriculum and improve instruction. The following week, they all implement selected strategies, and meet to discuss what worked and what didn’t. The next step for this school will be to teach their students how to assess their own work and each others’ work. Then, they will begin working with parents so they understand the four traits of writing that are the focus, and how to assess them.
Once a month, all faculty assemble at a faculty conference and complete a similar process to ensure consistency across all grades. This procedure will continue throughout the year. Finally, students will take the state’s standardized tests, and those results will be added to the conversation. The school’s leadership team, comprised of teachers, students, administrators, parents, and community partners, will review all results, including classroom assessments and standardized tests to determine how the school’s goals should be adjusted in the following school year.
So, here is the magic that is bound to yield tremendous results. The teachers feel empowered to align curriculum, instruction, and assessment in a meaningful way to move students forward. They feel safe to make mistakes and learn from them. They enjoy working together with their peers and holding each other accountable for success. They believe that this process has made them work “smarter” and report they are actually working fewer hours with greater results. The kids understand what is expected and are eager to work together in a similar way as the teachers; to get better at writing, and hold each other accountable for progress. In short, this school has become a true community of learners including students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community partners. There was no legislation that made this happen. It happened because the entire school district has made a commitment to professional learning communities and is expecting them to live and breath in every organization within the system. It happened because a wonderful school leader embraced this process as a way to to help her kids succeed. It happened because teachers were expected and trusted to behave like the professionals they are.
If you would like more information about this process, you might want to check out this book: Results Now!