Early in my career as a high school Principal, I caught myself complaining that we needed “more money”, “more resources” and “more time” to implement new initiatives to improve student achievement. But four years ago, I had a revelation: the money is the money, the resources are what we have, and there are 24 hours in the day. In order to change student results, our school needed to investigate a high-yield strategy that utilized our existing resources. For our school, developing a Professional Learning Community was that strategy. The PLC journey that we have been on has been chaotic, tumultuous, and at times incredibly challenging, but it has become the most satisfying journey I have embarked upon in my career.
Four years ago, we began looking at a PLC model. The ideas of creating time within the timetable for teachers to work interdependently to develop common emphasized curricula and assessments, to utilize the resultant data to modify instructional practice, and to create an intervention system that ensured the success of each student were very topical for our school. Staff collectively determined that our student achievement data needed improvement. Teachers learned about the concepts of collaboration. An exploratory team attended a PLC Conference, and we created a PLC pilot project for staff. We ironed the logistics of embedded collaborative time and creating our academic intervention program. And then we were off: it seemed so straightforward! I thought people would relish collaborating with their peers, we would react in a timely and effective manner to ‘promising learners’ who were not able to demonstrate learning outcomes, achievement would go up, and parents would be thrilled with our results. How naïve was I!
Many people didn’t want to collaborate. If they were collaborating, it often turned into sharing or complaining sessions. Our reaction to our ‘promising learners’ was inefficient and costly. The set of interventions had staff working harder than the students. The local teacher’s association was complaining that we didn’t address the loss of preparation time created by altering our timetable for collaboration time. It was chaos!
After these initial hiccups, we have found three things to be essential in developing our learning community:
- Consistent support on collaborative techniques for team leaders: As a result, teachers collaborate in their subject areas to determine emphasized learning outcomes, use data to find “stumble points” at each grade level, examine promising practices in to address these points, and modify their teaching methods as a result.
- Confronting ineffective assessment strategies: Consequently, we have moved away from grading practices such as late marks, averaging of terms, and zeroes.
|Our school timetable with the mandatory study block and teacher collaboration block|
|Our overall failure rates for all courses has decreased consistently over the last four years--95.4% success!|