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We would create systems to ensure…

September 1, 2012

This past week at school, my principal gave us a handout that relates to our development of Professional Learning Communities. PLCs, as they are called, will be groups of teachers teaching the same course (i.e. Algebra 2 Academic or English 9 Honors, see note below) who are using common formative assessments to check their students’ learning and customizing instruction based on the results. At least, that is my impression of what they are. I am not on the “Committee of 100” who have been meeting and discussing PLCs all last year.

So, the handout:

If we really mean it when we say we want all students to learn, certainly we would create systems to ensure…

  1. Every teacher is engaged in a process to clarify exactly what each student is to learn in each grade level, each course, and each unit of instruction.
  2. Every teacher is engaged in a process to clarify consistent criteria by which to assess the quality of student work.
  3. Every teacher is engaged in a process to assess student learning on a timely and frequent basis through the use of teacher developed common formative assessments.
  4. Every school has a specific plan to ensure that students who experience initial difficulty in learning are provided with additional time and support for learning during the school day in a timely and directive way that does not cause the student to miss any new direct instruction.
  5. Every school has  a specific plan to enrich and extend the learning of students who are not challenged by the required curriculum.
  6. All professionals are organized into collaborative teams and are given the time and structure during their regular workday to collaborate with colleagues on specific issues that directly impact student learning.
  7. Every collaborative team of teachers is called upon to work interdependently to achieve a common SMART goal for which members of the team are mutually accountable.
  8. Every teacher receives frequent and timely information regarding the success of his or her students in learning the essential curriculum and then uses that information to identify strengths and weaknesses as part of a process of continuous improvement.
  9. Building shared knowledge of best practice is part of the process of shared decision-making at both the school and team level.
  10. Every practice and procedure in place in the school has been examined to assess its impact on learning.
  11. School leaders are held accountable for ensuring all of the above happen.


I feel that I am addressing numbers 1 and 2 already through the use of Standards-Based Grading. I address number 9 through talking up Modeling Instruction whenever it makes sense to do so. I am pleased that my district’s Science Supervisor is interested in Chemistry Modeling after spending a short time at a local workshop.

The idea of common formative assessments is still taking some time to sink into my brain. I have struggled with common summative assessments for years, and in most cases I have tried to avoid them. In particular this is because teaching using Modeling Instruction means I do not always “cover” the entire curriculum map for my course. But formative assessments are things like checking student understanding through a multiple choice question where every student answers with an index card held up with a letter on it, or they answer with a “clicker.” A formative assessment can be a problem on the board that everyone has to solve at the beginning of class, and I go around and check each person’s work. The thing is that I don’t generally keep a record of the results of that sort of thing, and I think that record-keeping is going to become more important.

I wonder how number 4 will work out for students who are in sports and electives and have no study halls during the school day. The principal talked about having “X-schedules” in which all the classes are shortened to make time for an extra period during the day, and that time could be used for student support or teacher collaboration. But that makes me wonder about the teachers who aren’t collaborating or helping students: what are they doing with the rest of the student body? This has not been made clear.

I wonder what a “common SMART goal” is, mentioned in number 7. I mean, I looked it up and got “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely” but what will that look like for my school and our students? And what about goals that are not measurable?

I am interested in number 10, and wonder if we will be able to abolish some rules that seem silly and put in place rules that are absent but needed.

Number 6 is a problem. When different teachers teach the same course, they usually teach it during different periods. For example, one teacher might teach Physics 1 during 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th periods with an extra period during the in-between periods arranged so that each class gets 6 class periods per week. Another teacher teaching Physics 1 might teach 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th periods, in the same classroom. Each teacher will be “kicked out” of the room into an auxiliary room down the hall several times during the week to accommodate the other’s lab periods, and they will see each other only long enough to say hello and goodbye as they change classes. So how will these two teachers ever find time during the school day to collaborate, and how will schedules be rearranged to work it out? And what happens to the student whose only time during the day to take physics is the period when the teachers are collaborating? This item also presents contractual issues, since teachers are also entitled to one planning period and one lunch period per day, and if a planning period is being used as a collaboration period, that could be construed as a violation of contract.

As you can see, there is a lot to think about in this document. I am interested to see how the principles therein will be applied to improve our practice and improve our students’ achievement. I think it is only going to work if over 90% of the faculty buys into this. I’m willing to give it a shot. I sure hope everyone else is.

Note: The courses listed in the first paragraph, Algebra 2 Academic and English 9 Honors are real courses at my school. We have four levels a given course might be taught at: Academic, Honors, Seminar, and Advanced Placement. So we have a level ABOVE honors level that isn’t AP.

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