We Are Not Good Until We Are All Good

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David’s attached document, “Taroona High School – The Way We Work, is a clear example of what is needed to make professional learning communities successful. We know by incorporating professional learning communities (PLC’s) there has been a resultant wide range of effectiveness at improving student achievement and teacher professional practice. The reason for this is stated quite aptly in David’s post – without clear direction, they were viewed as largely a social time to come together and in severely non-functioning PLC’s, a waste of time. “The Way We Work” not only provides that direction and expectations but has obviously been generated by all staff and stakeholders who then have ownership in the process and the objectives. As a member of the Steering Team of the Leading Student Achievement (LSA) initiative in Ontario (more on that in another post) we took the concept of professional learning communities and extended it to work with school districts and form principal learning teams (PLT’s). We are now in our ninth year of this initiative and we have learned much from the research done on this project. Not surprisingly, there was a wide range effectiveness of PLT’s. Some met regularly and engaged in professional learning and sharing and some met infrequently and activities were more social. Despite the wide variation of PLT effectiveness, the research conducted by Dr. Ken Leithwood, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto, founded that principals largely valued the opportunity to meet in PLT’s. He states:

As with PLCs, the survey asked two sets of questions about Principal Learning Teams — agreement that PLTs reflected four productive characteristics and agreement about the value of PLT participation for individual participants. As with PLCs, average ratings of both sets of questions were quite high (using a seven point response scale). __ Mean ratings of PLT characteristics were 5.96 in the fall and 6.05 in the spring. Principals agreed most strongly, as they did last year, that continuous improvement of students’ literacy and numeracy achievement was a necessary part of the job (6.13 and 6.12). Mean ratings of the value of PLTs were 6.17 in the fall and 6.19 in the spring. __ The uniformly favorable view of principals about both the characteristics and value of PLTs mirrors results from last year’s evaluation and justifies continued support for PLTs by the LSA project.

Those PLT’s that had a strong and clear purpose for meeting and focus on improving student achievement functioned more effectively. At Taroona School, School Improvement was central to the way work was done and their school structure was organized upon this foundation. When collaborative groups have an agreed upon clear purpose with set guidelines and directions, they become very powerful in accomplishing their tasks.

Another piece we learned from powerful collaborative groups in the LSA project was an underlying belief that we are not good until we are all good. This belief hits at the heart of moral purpose and is a key element if well facilitated collaborative groups are to become a reality.

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