Archive for the “Professional Learning Community” Category

“Schools are data rich and information poor” is a quote I frequently hear.  The focus on increased testing, high-stakes testing, accountability, and professional learning communities has yielded mountains of data from standardized tests, formative assessments, locally-developed assessments, and student work.  We’re doing the right thing – looking at the data.  But often when you look closely teachers, schools, and districts are really not digging deep and reflecting on possible trends, causes, and effective solutions. 

However, this is not a result of lack of motivation, concern, or willingness to persevere.  It’s simply a lack of skill.  Most teacher training and prep does not include how to analyze data and dig deep to truly understand what the data (numbers, observatons, facts) means and its implication for instructional practices and student achievement.  Despite the that most of us are not data analysis experts, there are some steps teachers, schools, and districts can take to build skill sets for data analysis:

  • Process data through a team or PLC (professional learning community) that understands the process and protocols of collective inquiry.
  • Data needs to be presented in a a simple format – not simplistic.
  • Data needs to be in the hands of teachers and schools in a timely manner.
  • Provide teachers with PD related to looking at data.
  • Consider using a facilitator to guide a dialogue surrounding data sets – this is important so the focus remains on the data not an indivudals opinion, biases, agenda etc.
  • Start with a question about the data.
  • Follow a protocol for facilitation and data conversations (see below for a numbers of protocols).
  • Look at multiple sources of data (triangulate the data).
  • Look for trends and patterns among the data sources.
  • Drill down to look at individual student needs – identify and act on the implications of the patterns for students.
  • Reflect on the reasons for student performance – what in our teaching might be preventing student achievement and the changes that need to occur?  Identify and act on the implications for our instuction.
  • Create a plan with interventions and actions steps,  ways to monitor progress, timelines to collect and reflect on the data.

Using Data For Meaningful Change Blog (Highly Recommened – Follow in Twitter):

Data My New Dirty Word


ATLAS Looking At Data

Methods For Looking At Student work

Looking At Data Sets

Data Driven Dialogues

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Educational Reform is multi-faceted.  We need to examine all parts of the system to create lasting and truly effective change.  As we continue to dialogue about ed reform educators in the classroom must focus on their role in the process of improving  learning for all students.  To do so, we must define what “good teaching” is and insitute systems and protocols to ensure this occurs in every classroom for all students.

Good teaching requires knowledge of content and effective instructional practices, an ability to build strong relationships and communicate well with both children and adults, passion and commitment, an uderstanding of how to create a dynamic learning environment in which students are engaged in their own learning, constructing knowledge and learning through inquiry and an exploration of knowledg, skills, and understandings through high-level question/thinking (costa’s level 2 and 3 questions, Bloom’s taxonmoy, Marzano’s 9).  Good teaching also requires “letting go” or changing our role to a facilitator as opposed to the leader.  Certainly a teachers who posseses all of these qualities and structures their classroom in this manner would be providing high-levels of learning for their students,  that is, if one more piece to the puzzle is in place – reflection.

Teaching should be a highly reflective practice in which we are constantly reflecting, evaluating, learning and growing.  Of course, any teacher who  sets up a classroom as described above is likely engaged in daily reflection but until we engage in reflection with our colleagues and involved them in this process we have not really made it a truly reflective practice.  We can make assumptions about our teaching practice and assume we are creating positive relationships, fostering an environment where students are engage through opportunities to lead, create and communicate learning, and explore knowledge, skills, and understanding with high-level questions but until we “have the data” we can’t be absolutely sure.  We need to rely on our colleagues and administration to observe our teaching in action, collect information and data on specific areas of focus, share what they observed, reflect, and plan for change or celebrate a success.  Until we engage in this type of learning, our profession will not be all that it can be.   You know, we do this with our students daily – observe, collect data on how they are performing, reflect on it, ask them to reflect, change, grow, and learn.  We need to ask this of ourselves as well.  As Richard Elmore states, “Increases in student learning occur only as a consequence of improvements in the level of content, teachers’ knowledge and skill, and student engagement” 

I highly encourage you to read any of the work by Richard Elmore on this topic.  Begin to “school” your staff about effective teaching, engage in dialogue to build consensus, structure teacher-teacher instructional walk-throughs to collect data on specific instructional strategies, and begin to reflect (see Richard Elmore’s Instructional Rounds book for reflection protocols), grow, and change to provide the best educational opportunities for your students. 

Keep this in mind as well – “your school is only as strong as the weakest teacher.”  This may seem like a harsh statement but instead of looking at this as a negative start to reflect and ask yourself what you’re going to do in a professional, non-threatening manner to encourage the growth of all teachers.  It is all of our responsibilites to ensure the best educational opportunites for students and do whatever it takes!

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Creating or rewriting a vision and mission can be a challenging, yet exciting and mobilizing task.  To assist you along this endeavor I’ve attached a power point that I used with staff at both the district and building level.  Feel free to use the presentation or any of the ideas as you journey down this path.  Feedback on this presentation or how you used it would be appreciated.

Mission and Vision Presentation


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Professional learning communities have had a positive impact on schools and really have the potential to increase student learning. That is, if your teams are fucntioning in the true sense of a professional learning community according to these definitions by Dufour (DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Many (2006). Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work™, pp. 2–4.):

“The very essence of a professional learning community is a focus and commitment to learning of each student”

“To create a professional learning community, focus on learning rather than teaching, work collaboratively, and hold yourself accountable for results”

“Educators committed to working collaboratively in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve. Professional learning communities operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous job-embedded learning for educators.” Learning by Doing (2006)

As you begin work in your professional learning communities your team should reflect on these ideas, individually and as a group, and ask yourself the following questions:

Is your team high-performing?

Review the definition, have each member rate the team, and decide the level of team functioning by consensus.  Work toward a high-performing team and check team perception often.

Do all members of the team share the same vision?

Create and frequently review the vision of the school/team.  ALL members of a team must have a clear and compelling vision.  Every time a decision is made it must align and reflect the vision.  A vision should not be created, checked off on the To Do list, and filed away.  It must be what drives the team every day, for every decision, and for every student.

Do you and your team make decisions based on data and evidence-based practice?

Your team needs to collect relevant data, have reflective inquiry based discussions around the data and what it tells about achievement and current instructional practices.  Interventions must be evidence-based, not opinion-based.  Just because you’ve been doing it one way, does not mean it’s the best for student learning.  Remember Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Are you only focused on student learning?

A school’s only focus should be to ensure that all students have the knowledge, skills, and understandings that support  big ideas, essential questions, and enduring understandings – not just that students are taught.  Every decision need to stem from this focus which may not always be “what’s best for teachers”. “convenient”, or “easy.”

Does your team collaborate or just work cooperatively?

A team that is truly collaborating works interdependently.  A group that works cooperatively is defined by the division of labor among participants, as an activity where each person is responsible for a portion of the problem-solving.  A group that is collaborative is defined by mutual engagement of participants in a coordinated effort to solve problems together.

Is your group action and results oriented?

Clear, specific, measurable goals, based on deep discussions around data, need to drive the work of the PLC.  There needs to be a balance between discussions and decisions so the work of the PLC continues to surround student and teacher learning but moves forward in a timely manner to impact students.

Please see the links below for more detailed discussions about PLCs.

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Edutopia – this organization is excellent and if your not a member I highly encourage you to subscribe.  It’s an excellent resource for educators.  The Back to School Guide to Jump-Start Learning With New Media ( is just one example of the quality of the material you’ll be exposed to.  Below is an excerpt from the Edutopia web site about the organization’s vision:

“ to provide not just the vision for this new world of learning but also the leading-edge interactive tools and resources to help make it a reality.  Edutopia is the tangible embodiment of our vision. Through the Web site, Edutopia magazine, and Edutopia video, we spread the word about ideal, interactive learning environments and enable others to adapt these successes locally. contains a deep archive of continually updated best practices, from classroom tips to recommendations for districtwide change. Allied with a dedicated audience that actively contributes success stories from the field, our mission relies on input and participation from schools and communities.”

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