Leading Professional Learning Teams: A Start Up Guide for Improving Instruction
Publication Year: 2009
“As a high school principal, it is crucial to have tools and models that have teeth, that will make an impact on student achievement, and also improve collegiality and collaboration among teachers. This is a wonderful faculty book study choice for any school looking to have teams of teachers focused on data and how to incorporate best practices in their classrooms.”
—Steve Knobl, Principal
Gulf High School, New Port Richey, FL
Strengthen teacher expertise and expand instructional leadership through focused professional learning teams!
Although a generous amount of research describes professional learning teams (PLTs) as a positive structure for developing a vision of school change through informed, data-based decision making, little guidance exists for schools wanting to create and sustain this type of team initiative.
Leading Professional Learning Teams provides ...
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
- Chapter 1: Understanding Professional Learning Teams
- Defining Professional Learning Teams
- The Need for PLTs
- Other Models for Teacher Collaboration
- Key Points for Chapter 1
- Chapter 2: Setting the Stage for Success
- Readiness for PLTs
- Understanding Change
- Building Relationships
- Creating Avenues of Communication
- Key Points for Chapter 2
- Chapter 3: Laying the Foundation within the School Community
- Advocating for PLTs with Important Stakeholders
- Aligning with School Goals
- Structures for Working Collaboratively
- Providing and Using Data
- Providing Additional Resources
- Establishing Supportive Accountability
- Key Points for Chapter 3
- Chapter 4: What About Leadership?
- Administrators as Leaders
- Shared and Facilitative Leadership
- Teacher Leadership
- Sustaining Leadership
- Vignette: A Professional Learning Team in Action
- Key Points for Chapter 4
- Chapter 5: Supporting the Work of PLTs
- Successful PLTs
- Reinforcing PLT Strategies and Skills
- Ensuring That PLTs Are Teacher LED
- Using a Rubric to Encourage Reflection
- Anticipating Potential Challenges
- Celebrating Success
- Key Points for Chapter 5
Copyright © 2009 by Corwin
All rights reserved. When forms and sample documents are included, their use is authorized only by educators, local school sites, and/or noncommercial or nonprofit entities that have purchased the book. Except for that usage, no part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sather, Susan E.
Leading professional learning teams : a start-up guide for improving instruction / Susan E. Sather; foreword by Shirley M. Hord, a Joint Publication With the American Association of School Administrators and Education Northwest.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4129-6552-1 (cloth)
ISBN 978-1-4129-6553-8 (pbk.)
1. Teachers—In-service training. 2. Professional learning communities. 3. Teacher effectiveness. 4. Effective teaching. I. Title.
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
09 10 11 12 13 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Acquisitions Editor: Debra Stollenwerk
Associate Editor: Julie McNall
Production Editor: Libby Larson
Copy Editor: Jeannette McCoy
Typesetter: C&M Digitals (P) Ltd.
Proofreader: Theresa Kay
Indexer: Terri Corry
Cover Designer: Lisa Riley
Graphic Designer: Rose Storey
List of Figures and Tables[Page v]
- Figure 1: PLT Inquiry Cycle 4
- Table 1: Typical PLT Timeline for One Year 6
- Table 2: Features of Effective Professional Development 15
- Table 3: Fifth-Grade PLT Results 62
- Table 4: Fourth-Grade Mathematics PLT Results 63
- Table 5: Fourth-Grade Reading PLT Results 63
- Table 6: Third-Grade Results 64
- Table 7: Third-Grade Assessment Data 64
For decades, school improvers have searched for the silver bullet—looking for a program, process, or innovation that could be put into place—to immediately exhibit desired outcomes.
By and large, these improvers have failed to give appropriate attention to “the giant leap” of implementation (Hall & Hord, 2006), where a great deal of knowledge and understanding of the innovation and of the persons who will use it are required. In the first paragraph of this book in the Preface, Susan Sather points out that this manuscript is committed to support both the planning and implementation of professional learning teams. Bravo, Susan. You are responding to this vital need.
Change process research and staff development research inform us of the complex work that is necessary for putting innovations or new programs into place. First, a clear mental image of what the new thing will look like when it is implemented in a high quality way is needed. Typically, such pictures of the program are fuzzy—in a word, ill defined. Unfortunately, such is the current state of professional learning communities or teams whose descriptions are ill defined. Many people who report about their PLTs indicate that their teams meet, period. Well, meeting is a necessary first step, but only a first step. This mental picture of PLTs will not lead us very far. Of course, there is not just one way or picture of a PLT, but there are models that are more productive and effective than others.
Linda Lambert (2003) defines the work of teams: “Teams are reciprocal learning communities in which each member expects to learn from and contribute to the development of others” (p. 26). Examining the three words—professional, learning, team—surely gives us clear understanding about what the teams are doing when they are in community: learning. But what are the teams learning? Their focus of attention is on student needs and how the staff will learn new content, strategies, and approaches so that they increase their effectiveness and students learn successfully. Sather gives the reader abundant information and insight about what the PLT is doing when it is meeting and learning, the skills that the members need, and the support structures and resources required. More important, one section is devoted to the role of the school administrator as leader and the responsibilities they have for supporting the teams in their work. The development of teacher leadership is also given attention so that leadership is broadened and deepened. Furthermore, the professionalism of teachers is strengthened when leadership opportunities and support are shared with them.
One of the major issues of implementation over the last three decades has been the lack of continuous quality professional development scheduled over [Page vii]time, with follow-up and coaching as a part of the work. Staff development researchers Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers (2002) point out that just telling or reporting about a new program or practice will productively influence only 10 percent of the audience. Adding modeling and demonstrating increases the percentage, but giving the opportunity for practice and feedback ups the ante considerably to about 60 percent. But what really enables individuals to implement well is the follow-up and small-group or individual coaching to solve the individual user's problems. When this is supplied, typically 90 plus percent of the participants experience quality transfer of practice to the classroom.
Of what relevance is this to the leaders of the PLTs? A great deal. For not only does the PLT determine the learning that it needs to acquire in order to be more effective in supporting students to be more successful learners, but the PLT members will determine how they will go about doing the learning. Understanding how adults learn more productively so that their learning is transferred to their classrooms guides the PLT in designing its learning strategies.
The PLT is a self-governing body and as such will of necessity develop many skills and competencies that support their work as a learning community. It is here that Sather's guide is so helpful. There is a plethora of activities and opportunities for the PLT members to develop the skills necessary to operate effectively in their PLT. The guide “assists in building support structures and relationships, reinforcing PLT skills, and anticipating some of the potential challenges” (see Preface).
More important and in addition, the PLT context is one in which its members learn to use 21st-century skills being demanded of our public school graduates. These skills are critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and teamwork, self-generative learning, quality communication, plus others. Because the PLT is a self-organizing group, these skills are required and are learned by the group. As the adults develop and experience the skills, they learn how to provide opportunities for students to develop them as well.
In the school, it will be important for all the teams to meet periodically and frequently as a whole staff. In this way, the staff members are studying schoolwide data to identify learning needs of students. Staff then determine on what they will focus so that their learning enhances their capacity to address the students' needs across the school. Such goals would likely be consistent with the school improvement plans for the school. In this way, the PLTs support not only their specific grade level or academic subject areas but also a common purpose across the school.
This book serves the novice PLT leaders and members very well as well as those who are more experienced. Susan Sather and her colleagues in the partnering schools are congratulated for their work of experiencing, reviewing, and revising the rich array of materials in this book. They will prove valuable to all those interested in improving the quality of teaching, and thus, the successful learning of students in our schools., PhDScholar LaureateNational Staff Development CouncilAugust 2008
The most successful PLT in this building is run by the social studies department. They really got on board. They've structured their departmental meetings completely using the PLT structure. They have jumped in, read everything, even if they need to meet at lunch time. They've changed their practice—every single social studies teacher has changed practice around the PLT model. … PLTs are the vehicle we used to pull people together and create camaraderie. Were PLTs completely responsible for building cohesion? No, but they played a big part in that.
There is a body of research describing professional learning communities and documenting the positive effects of teacher collaboration in professional learning communities. However, there is much less information providing guidance for schools hoping to develop and sustain such communities. This publication was written as a resource for school administrators, school leadership teams, and teacher leaders as they embark on the journey establishing professional learning teams (PLTs) as a structure to enhance teacher collaboration and student learning in their schools. The main purpose is to help leaders understand and support the work of PLTs. This guide provides practical and useful information to assist them in planning, starting, and sustaining PLTs. It also assists central office administrators to understand and support the PLT process in their district's schools. At the same time, the research informing PLTs is included as a necessary underpinning to the leaders' information base.
School leaders are more fully equipped to provide essential supports when they understand the structure and processes of PLTs along with the rationale and research. Attending PLT workshops, engaging in training activities, and strengthening their own leadership skills are all important actions for these leaders. The PLT process described in this book provides guidance and strategies for teachers as well as school leaders to begin to effectively develop these learning communities in coordination with their school improvement plans. To ensure successful implementation, school leaders need support in taking the critical and sometimes difficult first steps toward creating job-embedded, collegial, schoolwide professional growth opportunities. This book provides that support with both a theoretical foundation for PLTs and concrete advice on getting ready for PLTs. It assists in building support structures and relationships, reinforcing PLT skills, and anticipating some of the potential challenges.[Page ix]PLC vs. PLT
Professional Learning Communities (PLC) were evident in 2001 when we started developing the process referred to in this book as Professional Learning Teams (PLT). While there were descriptions of PLCs, at that time, there was no clear process for bringing teachers together to support the development of a community of learners focused on professional practice. Our belief was that a team approach would build a solid foundation, thus our goal was to provide a structure and tools to support teacher teams and connect it to the concept of professional learning. It is easier to build small mini-communities (teams) where individuals can share and learn from each other than to engage an entire school community all together in collaborative learning. We strongly recommend that all teams come together several times a year to share their work and maintain the connection to the larger community. However, most of the real work and transformation takes place in the smaller teams (PLTs), with the planned whole school sharing providing powerful touchstones for the entire staff, the overarching PLC.
While the term PLC is frequently used both in the literature as well as in practice in schools, we continue to use PLT to emphasize the importance of teachers working in smaller groups or teams in order to accomplish the work with a focus on their own specific students.Design and Development
The tools and strategies presented in this book were developed during the five-year period, 2001–2005, by a team of trainers, coaches, and curriculum specialists at the Center for School and District Improvement, part of the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (NWREL) in Portland, Oregon. In 2009, NWREL changed the name to Education Northwest. References to NWREL in this publication refer to work that was accomplished prior to the name change.
We sought to create tools for educators working in a standards- and data-driven educational system and to help support schools and teachers working to develop powerful teaching and learning through PLTs. The publication responds to the demands of the No Child Left Behind Act in assisting teachers to improve instruction in ways that increase learning and achievement for all students. These tools are continually refined and additional strategies developed in response to current needs in real schools. As a result, this is a revision of the first publication Improving Instruction Through Professional Learning Teams (2005) published by NWREL.
Six high-needs schools around the Northwest partnered with NWREL in honing the material presented here. During the pilot-test phase at these sites, particular attention was paid to the needs of school leaders to effectively support the PLT work. This field-based development allowed us to connect with partner-site leaders and combine their experience and knowledge with our own. Through the development process, we learned that the PLT process addresses the following school reform needs:
- Building stability and breadth in a school's instructional leadership by distributing leadership across the school through the use of teacher-led teams [Page x]
- Developing staff collaboration as an important tool for improving the instructional programs in schools by using professional learning teams to improve teacher knowledge and teaching skills
- Aligning staff professional development with the school's improvement needs and objectives
The PLT process and materials align with the National Staff Development Council's standards for staff development (NSDC, 2001). (See Resource A for the complete text of the NSDC Standards for Staff Development.) In particular, this guide supports the following NSDC context standards aimed at improving the learning of all students:
- Organizes adults into learning communities whose goals are aligned with those of the school and district (Learning Communities)
- Requires skillful school and district leaders who guide continuous instructional improvement (Leadership)
In addition, the PLT process responds directly to a need identified by superintendents, principals, and teachers in the 2008 regional needs survey conducted by NWREL. That survey identified creating more opportunities (time) for teacher collaboration around school improvement as a high-priority concern, especially in larger districts (Leffler, 2008). The survey results indicate that they are seeking research-based information on how to create conditions that encourage teachers to collaborate around instructional practices in order to improve student learning and close achievement gaps. This includes finding flexible non-instructional time when teachers are able to engage in on-the-job professional development. A recent study in Washington State on barriers to raising student achievement also identified the need for “[t]ime for professional development and teacher-collaboration” as one of the top four barriers that, if removed, could make a positive impact on student achievement (Kruger, Woo, Miller, Davis, & Rayborn, 2008, p. i).How to Use This Guide
This is not a step-by-step, how to create and manage a PLT manual. Instead, it provides necessary background information and research needed to support the process. It also contains suggestions to guide the planning process along with some tools useful in early implementation. Rather than reading the guide from cover to cover, we recommend that you skim the pages, noting the contents, so that you can refer back to important information when the time and context provide the impetus to delve more deeply into the topic.
One question for school leaders to address up front is, “Are we ready to undertake PLTs as a change effort?” The information included in the guide will assist you in preparing to embark on the PLT process. It will also help you prepare the entire staff to support each other as you collectively engage in professional learning that enhances instructional practices.
[Page xi]This guide will help school leaders have meaningful discussions and learn together, using and modeling some of the PLT strategies and tools. Each chapter begins with a set of questions indicating main points within the chapter to focus the reader. Each chapter also ends with a brief summary of “key points” from the chapter as well as a set of questions to guide leadership team discussions and space for notes. The book concludes by describing potential challenges to the process that we encountered during field testing and evaluating the process as well as from our subsequent experience in conducting training in schools. Recommended reading and other resources are found at the end of the book.
The following graphics indicate special features to aid in these activities.
- Action: Suggested points to use information and take action as you plan and implement PLTs in your school.
- Voices From the Field: Direct quotes from school leaders that provide insights from actual PLTs.
Tool: Materials—handouts, transparencies, or posters—that can be reproduced and used to organize and introduce information on PLTs. The full-page masters can be found in the resource section at the end of the book.
The PLT Rubric (Tool H-12) can assist teams to self-assess their progress as they implement the process.
The Getting Started Roadmap (Tool H-13) contains the basic information found in the book in abbreviated form to assist busy school leaders in introducing and reviewing the process with staff. Intended as a synopsis tool for leaders, it contains abbreviated material from each chapter with the research base omitted to streamline the information.
Leadership Team Discussion: Suggestions at the end of each chapter to guide discussion among school leaders as you prepare to implement PLTs.Chapter Summaries
Chapter 1 describes PLTs in more detail and provides the rationale for developing and supporting them. Chapter 1 contains a sample timeline for the first year of PLT development. It shows how PLTs align with the features of effective professional development described in the research. It also describes other models for collaboration. This chapter is useful for school leaders as they plan for the PLT process and prepare to explain PLTs to district leaders, parents, staff, and community members.
Chapter 2 discusses preparing for successful PLT implementation. This includes assessing current conditions and teachers' readiness to engage in collaborative activities as well as understanding change. There is a focus on building relationships—developing trust, working with conflict, and ensuring productive avenues for communication.
[Page xii]Chapter 3 provides information about necessary structures—advocating for PLTs, using a leadership team, allocating time for professional development, making data available, aligning PLT efforts with school improvement goals, and ensuring accountability. Resource D contains additional suggestions for finding the necessary time for PLT members to attend workshops and meet as teams.
Chapter 4 presents research on the importance of both principal and teacher leadership and their relationship to student achievement. The role of the principal in supporting PLTs as well as the need to develop instructional leadership is discussed. This chapter also looks at facilitative and shared leadership as well as sustainable leadership. The chapter ends with a vignette describing a PLT in action—one school's experience implementing PLTs.
Chapter 5 considers factors supporting the success of PLTs, including ways that school leaders support and reinforce the teams' work. Emphasis is placed on ensuring that teams are led by teachers. A rubric is introduced to assist leaders and teams in understanding, reflecting, and self-evaluating the work of their PLT. Some of the possible challenges are mentioned with suggestions for addressing them. The chapter ends with the importance of celebrating success.
The original publication (2005) and this revision were made possible through the collaborative efforts of many individuals associated with NWREL. Former NWREL staff member Jennifer Jensen provided invaluable research and wrote an early review of the literature that served as a foundation for this publication. Dr. Jim Kushman, director of NWREL's Center for School and District Improvement, and Deborah Davis, Improving School Systems unit manager, along with former members of the Quality Teaching and Learning (QTL) Team, gave unfailing and ongoing support, encouragement, and advice. Those team members included Dr. Jerian Abel, Jacqueline Raphael, Mary Foulk, Kim Wier, Dr. Jayne Sowers, and Dr. Liliana Heller-Mafrica. Abel, Raphael, and Sowers also made significant written contributions to the professional learning teams training materials, as did Erin McGary-Hamilton at NWREL; Beverly Flaten, NWREL trainer; and Mike Sirofchuck from Kodiak High School in Alaska.
The QTL Advisory Committee, made up of practitioners and university professors, provided valuable advice and feedback that helped shape the content and format of PLT training as well as this guide: Abby Augustine, Judy Bieze, Betty Cobbs, Beverly Flaten, Maria Elena Garcia, Geoff Henderson, Dr. Esther Ilutsik, Alison Meadow, David Munson, Erik Running, Dr. Al Smith, and Sheila Wallace.
Several NWREL colleagues reviewed and influenced the first version of this guide: R. Newton Hamilton, Dr. Jim Leffler, and Katherine Luers. Other NWREL colleagues provided administrative support, insights, and additional assistance: Linda Gipe, Nancy Crain, Meg Waters, Sara Sellards, and Grant Menzies. Communications staff members provided editorial, bibliographic, and graphic design expertise for the original guide: Rhonda Barton, Linda Fitch, and Denise Crabtree continue to contribute their expertise.
External reviewers contributed their insights: Anne Jolly, SERVE; Becky Smith and Diane Appert, J.B. Thomas Middle School; Darrel Burbank, Holmes Elementary School; Dr. Diane Yendol-Hoppey, University of Florida; Dr. Lonnie Barber and Carol McCloy, Caldwell High School; Dr. Roberta Evans, University of Montana; and Linda Patterson, Gresham Barlow School District.
The author would like to express her deep gratitude to Debra Stollenwerk, Julie McNall, Libby Larson, and Jeannette McCoy at Corwin. Their ongoing guidance and patience helped shape this publication into a more complete and useful resource for school leaders.
[Page xiv]Above all, I am grateful to the administrators and teachers in the schools that codeveloped the professional learning team process and strategies:
- Caldwell High School, Caldwell, Idaho
- Holmes Elementary School, Wilder, Idaho
- J. B. Thomas Middle School, Hillsboro, Oregon
- Kodiak High School, Kodiak, Alaska
- Shaw Middle School, Spokane, Washington
- Whittier Elementary School, Great Falls, Montana
Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:
Dr. Becky J. Cooke
Mead School District
Dr. Douglas Gordon Hesbol
Superintendent of Schools
Laraway CCSD 70C
High School Principal
Pasco County School System
Gulf High School
New Port Richey, FL
Hintgen Elementary School
La Crosse, WI
About the Author
Resources[Page 88]Resource A: National Staff Development Council (NSDC) Standards for Staff DevelopmentContext Standards
Staff development that improves the learning of all students does the following:
- Organizes adults into learning communities whose goals are aligned with those of the school and district.
- Requires skillful school and district leaders who guide continuous instructional improvement.
- Requires resources to support adult learning and collaboration.
Staff development that improves the learning of all students does the following:
- Uses disaggregated student data to determine adult learning priorities, monitor progress, and help sustain continuous improvement.
- Uses multiple sources of information to guide improvement and demonstrate its impact.
- Prepares educators to apply research to decision-making.
- Uses learning strategies appropriate to the intended goal.
- Applies knowledge about human learning and change.
- Provides educators with the knowledge and skills to collaborate.
Staff development that improves the learning of all students does the following:
Source: Used with permission of the National Staff Development Council, http://www.nsdc.org, 2008. All rights reserved.[Page 89]Resource B: Survey of School Capacity for Continuous Improvement
- Prepares educators to understand and appreciate all students; create safe, orderly and supportive learning environments; and hold high expectations for their academic achievement.
- Deepens educators' content knowledge, provides them with research-based instructional strategies to assist students in meeting rigorous academic standards, and prepares them to use various types of classroom assessments appropriately.
- Provides educators with knowledge and skills to involve families and other stakeholders appropriately. Revised 2001.
The Survey of School Capacity for Continuous Improvement, formerly the School Readiness for Reform Survey, asks questions about several characteristics of your school that are often areas of concern when school faculties plan reform and improvement efforts. The survey is intended to help your faculty develop a shared understanding of these characteristics in your school, provide a stimulus for frank discussion, and provide a place to start planning for specific reform and improvement activities. The results can help school staff identify the aspects of school climate that will support change and where to focus attention to improve the conditions that foster successful improvement initiatives.
The survey can be accessed at http://www.nwrel.org/assessment/SchoolCapacity/about.php. There is no charge to the school for completing the survey and receiving school reports. School principals can register to have their staff members complete the survey from the Create Account page. The survey can also be set up on a district level instead of a school level. More information on how to establish an account for this capacity can be found on the Help page.
Survey questions are grouped under the following seven categories:
- Clear School Direction (Mission and Vision)
- Shared Facilitative Leadership
- Staff Collaboration
- Personal Commitment by Teachers
- Challenging Curriculum and Engaged Student Learning
- Communications With Parents, Community Members, and Business Partners
- Meaningful Involvement of Parents, Community Members, and Business Partners
Using Adobe Acrobat Reader, you may review the survey questions, the interpretation guide, and sample school reports online:
- Survey Questions: http://www.nwrel.org/assessment/SchoolCapacity/School_Capacity_Question_List.pdf
- Interpretation Guide: http://www.nwrel.org/assessment/SchoolCapacity/Interpretation_Guide.pdf
- Sample Reports: http://www.nwrel.org/assessment/SchoolCapacity/Sample_Reports.pdf
The sample school reports were created from the combined responses of all teachers who completed the survey from January 2004 to June 2004.[Page 90]Resource C: Professional Learning Community (PLC) Survey
The Professional Learning Community (PLC) survey is a research-based, validated instrument that measures the degree of professional community among teachers in a school across six facets. Together, these facets define a professional learning community:
- Organizational learning,
- Collective responsibility,
- Focus on student learning,
- Reflective dialogue,
- Staff collegiality and collaboration, and
- Deprivatized practice.
Research on restructuring schools has shown that these facets of teacher professional community have significant positive effects on student achievement. The instrument is especially useful in stimulating discussion among staff looking to develop greater professional community.
The survey can be accessed at the following Web site:
http://www.nwrel.org/csdi/services/plt/PLCSurvey/ Using Adobe Acrobat Reader, you may review the survey questions and sample school reports online:[Page 91]Resource D: Finding Time for Professional LearningCompiled by Jennifer L. Jensen, Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory
Professional learning teams (PLTs), focused on improving student success, need dedicated time together that is regular, consistent, and sustained over the long term. This time for learning and collaboration must be built into the regular school day (Lewis, 2000). Teacher learning alone will not improve student learning. Teachers need the time to acquire new ideas, experiment in their classrooms, collect data on the changes they are making, and share results with colleagues (Garet, Birman, Porter, Desimone, & Herman, with Yoon, 2001; Smylie, Allensworth, Greenberg, Harris, & Luppescu, 2001).
There are a number of different strategies for finding time. Most of the examples detailed in this section are from schools that used just one method; however, a combination might be employed to provide every staff member with the opportunity to participate in a PLT. Some staff members might have substitutes cover their classes during the school day, while others choose to meet on their own time in return for making formal inservice days voluntary rather than mandatory. Still others might prefer to take advantage of a flex-time schedule. The key to implementing a menu of team opportunities successfully is to provide staff members with a choice; their participation may be mandatory, but how they choose to participate should not be mandated unless there is staff consensus on one clearly advantageous method.Strategy 1: EliminateDuty Periods
Many teachers spend an entire class period, from 50 to 90 minutes in a given day, on supervisory tasks unrelated to actual teaching. Schools that do not have duty periods within the school day may still involve their teachers in such work before and after classes. There is no professional reason for teachers to spend time as hall monitors, lunchroom supervisors, or playground police (Maeroff, 1993; Sparks & Hirsch, 2000). Time for professional learning and collaboration may be found by examining duty requirements with an informed and critical eye.
[Page 92]Traditional Inservice Days
- Identify which duties are essential and determine whether state or district requirements are suggested guidelines or non-negotiable mandates.
- If allowed by law, find parent or retired community volunteers to relieve or supplement certified staff during duty periods, or hire part-time workers.
Most schools build a number of full or half days into the school calendar for teacher inservice education. These days are distinct from planning or work days, which assist teachers to get ready for a new school year or to complete students' grades at the end of a grading period or school year. They are also distinct from work days in their productivity: Traditional inservice opportunities produce little to no effect on teachers' practice in their classrooms. While isolated days sprinkled sparsely throughout the year will not support effective teaming either, these hours can be redistributed into regular, ongoing time for teams. Many states or districts will grant waivers to the required inservice schedule for schools that document how a comparable amount of time will be used for other types of professional learning.
If the traditional inservice calendar must be maintained, consider making attendance on some or all of these days optional for staff that volunteer regular ongoing team-meeting time outside the contract day and document their participation.
At Mission Bay High School in San Diego, California, teachers “chose to select for themselves when their study groups would meet each week. The groups met at different times and on different days. Several of the 17 study groups met early in the morning, others at lunch time or during planning periods, others after school, and one met in the evening. Teachers accounted for their professional development time and, on designated staff development days, teachers were not expected to attend meetings” (Murphy, 1997, p. 31).Faculty Meetings
Similarly, faculty meetings in most schools do not use professional time efficiently. If faculty meetings concern mostly administrative matters, which could just as easily be handled by e-mail or memo, reduce their frequency or eliminate them altogether. Staff members will learn to look for electronic or paper announcements.
If meeting time has been an hour or more, shift this time directly to teams. If faculty meetings have been of shorter duration, bank the time by allowing teachers to arrive late or leave early on some former meeting days in return for arriving early or staying past their contract time on others or use the time to supplement hours gained from reallocating some or all of scheduled inservice days.
At Deepwood Elementary School in Round Rock, Texas, “the principal limits faculty meetings to one Wednesday a month. Study groups meet on the other three Wednesdays of the month. All teachers in the district are asked to reserve every Wednesday for faculty meetings” (Murphy & Lick, 1998, p. 63).Other Activities
Scrutinize the existing school schedule and budget for activities that do not directly contribute to student achievement or staff professional learning. “Invite a variety of individuals to search [for these days]. … [M]ultiple perspectives can often find possibilities that have been overlooked” and bear in mind that often resources such as time and money are allocated to activities “simply [Page 93]because they always have been” (Pankake, 1998, p. 144). Funds freed from less-productive activities can be used for substitutes or extended contract hours for some teams; other teams can be organized around the time found.
In one example, cited by Morrissey and Cowan (2000), a principal scheduled “evening meetings to share information with the staff, often providing dinner, or asking teachers to potluck. This ensured the regularly scheduled during- and after-school time would be free for collaboration, rather than taken up by administrative meetings” (p. 20).Strategy 2: Extended Lunch
In schools with a single common lunch period for all students, this time can be extended once a week or every other week to provide time for staff teams to meet. If allowed by state law, parent or community volunteers can supervise students and conduct that day's activity. If not, substitute teachers can be hired. Responsibility for planning the activity can be shared in rotation among the teams meeting during the extended lunch. Activities and supervision could be planned for the student body as a whole or in grade-level groups.
At Kendon Elementary School in Lansing, Michigan, the lunch period for teachers is extended to twice its normal length every other Friday. This means that for 80 minutes, the teachers are able to have the kind of concentrated, duty-free time together that those who work in elementary schools seldom get. Typically, a portion of the time is given over to a whole faculty activity and the other half to meeting in teams or small groups. This opportunity comes on top of the half-day a week that is available to teachers for meetings of study groups.
Meanwhile, the school's 300 students—except the kindergartners, whose school day ends at the start of lunch—spend the time eating, playing at recess, and attending an activity with educational content. The educational activity is held twice during the teachers' extended lunch so that half of the students can be at recess while the rest attend the activity. … Aides are hired specifically to come to the school during the extended lunch to be with the children. Having the students eat in their classrooms with the aides helps minimize rowdiness. (Maeroff, 1993, p. 125)
Kendon also cites challenges with keeping students productively engaged during this period, which they have countered by expecting teachers to set a context for the Friday lesson during regular class time and follow-up afterwards.Strategy 3: Flex Time
Flex time allows teachers to arrive at school at different times and adjust the time they leave according to the daily hours mandated by their contracts. For some schools, this method can create an adequate length of time, either before or after school, for teams of teachers on the same flex schedule to meet for collegial learning. For example, if teachers are required to arrive at school [Page 94]30 minutes before students and stay 45 minutes after, teachers who flexed their time to arrive 15 minutes before students and stay for one hour after would have an hour available for a team meeting after school every day. Others could arrive and leave earlier for before-school team meetings.
Flex time can also be implemented only on those days when meetings are scheduled. These can be scheduled around duty requirements to ensure that student supervision is not negatively affected.
Broadmoor Junior High School in Pekin, Illinois, “allows teachers three options for their workday: 7:15–3:00, 7:30–3:15, or 7:45–3:30, with the understanding that they must attend scheduled faculty meetings” (Hackmann & Berry, 2000, p. 47).
At Brushy Creek Elementary School in Round Rock, Texas, “the principal makes allowances for the time teachers spend after school in their study groups. If teachers are expected to stay 45 minutes after students are dismissed and a group of teachers in a study group stays an hour and half beyond dismissal time, those teachers will be allowed to leave earlier than the 45 minutes on the other days of the week” (Murphy, 1997, p. 31).Strategy 4: Hiring Substitute Teachers or Administrative Substitutes
Hiring substitute teachers can be a very productive method for releasing teams of classroom teachers for professional learning and collaboration during their regular workday. It presents some obvious challenges, the same ones faced by a teacher who is absent for any other reason: Planning for the substitute often requires substantial time, continuity of learning can be interrupted for subproof lesson plans, and the quality—as well as the content—of instruction may suffer.
These challenges can be alleviated somewhat through hiring a regular team of substitutes who step in for the same teachers during regular meeting times. For example, if a school had a four-period block schedule, one class period would be sufficient for a weekly team meeting. If the school had 10 five-member PLTs, five substitutes would be hired for 2.5 days per week. The same substitute would replace the same teacher during the same period every week. Because these substitutes spend several days per week in the school, they are available to coordinate with teachers prior to the class periods and their familiarity with students reduces behavior problems.
In a school with sufficient administrative and counseling staff, a team of administrators and/or counselors can step in to substitute for one or more teams of teachers each week while they engage in professional learning. Not only is this method less expensive, but it also provides these staff members with an opportunity to get to know students in a different context than their usual interactions, while also helping them keep in touch with the realities of teaching in today's classrooms.
Broadmoor Junior High School employs permanent substitute teachers. “One of their responsibilities is to substitute for teachers engaged in collaborative planning. Teachers are more comfortable leaving their classrooms in the [Page 95]care of staff members who know their students, understand the teachers' class expectations, and can continue meaningful class instruction in the teachers' absence” (Hackmann & Berry, 2000, p. 47).
Holmes Middle School in Flint, Michigan, tried hiring substitute teachers, but regular classroom teachers “found themselves returning to their classrooms with a sense of dread. The substitutes were little more than strangers walking through an unfamiliar neighborhood, and the students acted out every mischievous and aggressive fantasy they ever harbored.” Rather than give up, they tried a new approach: “Three resource teachers were hired as, in effect, regular substitutes for teachers who received reallocated time. No longer would as many teachers be released at once, but those who were away from their classrooms did not have to pay for their absence with a guilty conscience. The same resource teacher showed up in the same classroom each week at the same time; she got to know the students and they got to know her. Furthermore, there was ongoing contact between the resource teacher and the regular teacher to try to make the instructional transition as smooth as possible” (Maeroff, 1993, p. 128).
Sarah Cobb Elementary School in Americus, Georgia, offers another strategy:
Before getting a waiver from the Georgia Board of Education for early release, the Sarah Cobb Elementary School faculty designed a plan to use teaching assistants to release teachers for their study group meetings. The key points of that plan included the following:
- A team of five teaching assistants released five teachers the first hour of school so teachers could meet as a study group.
- For the last hour of school, the teaching assistants covered five other classrooms.
- Each day, two study groups meet. By Friday afternoon, all 10 study groups have met.
- Each week, the groups rotate the time of day they meet. The groups that met the first hour one week would meet the last hour the next week.
Activating this plan the first week of school and continuing it until the waiver was approved in January indicated to the community and the Georgia Board of Education that the faculty was serious about its intent to create a new approach to professional development. (Murphy, 1997, p. 30)
Murphy (1997) also describes the approach taken by Addison Elementary School in Marietta, Georgia:
The principal … found a way to enable as many as six study groups to meet in a single day. The principal hired five substitutes who spend one day every other week at the school. On that day, this team of substitutes releases five teachers at 9 a.m. to meet as a study group. The subs release five other teachers at 10 a.m. to meet as a study group, five more at 11 a.m., and so on until the school day ends. Because the school has 10 study groups, the team returns the next day for a half-day to enable the other four study groups to meet. During the weeks in which substitutes don't provide the released time, the study groups meet for an hour after school. (p. 30)[Page 96]Strategy 5: Early Dismissal or Late Arrival for Students
An early dismissal or late arrival does not have to be accompanied by a loss of instructional time. Schools find various ways to account for the hours during which students are absent from school: lengthening the other school days, creating service learning requirements, or offering students school-to-work internships.
Lengthening the normal school day requires parental and district support due to the child care and bus schedule changes that accompany it. Waivers from the state and/or district for early dismissal or late arrival schedules are usually readily obtained as long as the school can demonstrate that it will retain minimum requirements for instructional time. The staff will also need to have this change approved through their unions in districts with collective bargaining, as well as reach consensus that they can support this change themselves.
A late arrival has two distinct advantages over an early dismissal. An early dismissal can interfere with afternoon school activities, such as sports practices and games, unless provision is made for students who must remain at school between dismissal and the activity while all staff are involved in professional learning. This problem usually is not encountered in schools with a late arrival or with service learning or internship programs, because students are transported back to the school at the regular dismissal time. Also, late arrival time “may be more effectively used” than an early dismissal “since teachers are not asked to engage in collaborative activities after several hours of instruction” (Hackmann & Berry, 2000, p. 46). Despite the disadvantages, many schools employ an early dismissal with great success.
One key to success is to schedule the early dismissal or late arrival weekly so that “teachers, parents, and students become accustomed to routine deviations from the normal school day” (Hackmann & Berry, 2000, p. 46). It is much easier for stakeholders to remember that every Wednesday is a late arrival day and plan accordingly, than for them to have to count off every other week on a calendar further complicated by school vacations or closures due to weather. A published and widely distributed and promoted school calendar may be of assistance to schools that are unable to schedule weekly time, but arrangements should be made for the larger numbers of students who will forget about the change in schedule.
An example of a school with early dismissal is R.B. Hunt Elementary School, St. Augustine, Florida. This school “uses weekly early-release days for professional development. Administrators requested a waiver from the St. Johns County School District to put their plans for early release in place. Then they developed a schedule for their early release days. In formulating their plan, they considered parental concerns about child care on these days. They sent a memo to all parents asking them to confirm arrangements for their children” (Cook & Fine, 1997).
The following are examples of schools with late arrival.[Page 97]Brandon and Oxford Professional Development Schools, Ortonville, Michigan
With contributions from all partners, Brandon School District started the PDS [professional development school] in September 1992 and Oxford instituted its program in January 1993. Both restructured the school week to provide two-and-one-half hours each Wednesday morning for staff planning. Each day was lengthened to provide the same or more instructional time.
Under the redesigned school schedule the teacher workday from Monday to Friday is 7:20 a.m. to 2:50 p.m. On Wednesdays, the time from 7:20 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. is used for both professional development time and teacher planning time; students do not report until 11:10 a.m. Teacher lunch lasts until 11:10 a.m., so that the student day begins at 11:10 a.m. Morning and afternoon classes are alternated on a weekly basis, and six minutes are added to each period. (Fulford & Dieterle, 1994)Holtville High School, Holtville, California
Classes begin 30 minutes late on Wednesdays at Holtville High School. … But on Wednesdays, teachers arrive 30 minutes earlier than on the other four days. This gives teachers one hour for collaborative planning in their study groups. (Murphy, 1997, p. 30)Sweetwater High School, National City, California
At Sweetwater High School in National City, California, a large faculty of 120 teachers found one hour a week for heterogeneous study groups. After analyzing the number of instructional minutes in a regular school day, they determined that the school was “banking” time in terms of instructional minutes. In order to have time in the school day for 20 study groups to meet, they took the accumulated five minutes and combined them with the time from a staff development day to create 26 days when classes could begin 45 minutes later.
Once a week, study groups meet from 7:30 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. On that day, classes begin at 8:20 a.m., and all periods are shortened. On the other four days, classes begin at 7:30 a.m. Students know that on “Study Group Day,” the bell schedule is not the same as on the other four days. (Murphy, 1997, p. 31)Strategy 6: Special Studies Day or Time
This strategy can create a full day of planning and professional time each week by rearranging students' schedules so that all of the students for one team of teachers devote one entire day to studies with their specialist teachers such as art, music, physical education, and computer sciences. One team's students rotate through these areas on one day, and another team's the next.
[Page 98]A similar technique can be used to create blocks of time throughout the week: Instead of a full day with specialists, that time is divided during several days. At any given period during the week, all of the students of one team of teachers work and learn with one of the specialists available in the building. This variation may work more easily than the full-day method in schools that share specialists with other buildings. In turn, the art, music, physical education, and computer science teachers in either example have a common student-free time to work together as a team.
Although this strategy may seem a more natural fit to elementary schools, where students' schedules are almost identical to those of their classmates, it has also been successfully used in New York City's alternative high schools (Raywid, 1993, p. 32).
One advantage of both of these methods is that they use resources already present in the building, avoiding the expense, as well as the other challenges, of substitute teachers. In addition, neither requires a change in the overall school or bus schedule.
A third variation of this strategy employs college students who function as substitute teachers but are paid in tuition dollars:
Winnona Park Elementary in Decatur, Georgia, benefits from a team of 19 college students that spend every Thursday at the school. The young men and women are participating in Eco Watch, an environmental leadership program of the Atlanta Outward Bound Center. The college students do classroom and schoolwide environmental activities with the elementary students. This frees teachers to meet in study groups on Thursdays. The college students keep a record of the hours they spend at the school and, at the end of the schoolyear, the hours are converted into dollars for college tuitions. (Murphy, 1997, p. 31)
Your state and district policies regarding the qualifications and certification requirements for adults who supervise students should be thoroughly investigated before considering this variation.
The following is an example of the special studies approach.Hefferan (West Garfield Park) Elementary School, Chicago, Illinois
Hefferan has built large blocks of training and planning time into the teachers' schedules in the workplace, during school hours. Teachers are treated as professionals. Parents' talents and those of community volunteers are used to support the work of the school. … The staff and the [site council] devised a plan that frees all teachers' time one day a week for team planning and study. As a result, new kinds of teaching and experimentation are taking place, students are enjoying a variety of new experiences, teacher morale and attendance are high, and parent involvement is steadily rising.[Page 99]
Students at Hefferan have four intense days of classroom work each week and a fifth day called Resource Day. On Resource Day, students are involved in art, music, gym, library, and computer lab. The students look forward to Resource Days because of the variety in their schedules and the possibilities for creative and experiential learning experiences. With the faculty divided into five instructional teams, each teacher has one free day per week—the Resource Day for students is a planning and study day for teachers. The Resource Day also is economical since no substitute teacher pay is needed. Students simply rotate their classes. Security monitors and parent volunteers are present throughout the building to oversee the rotations from class to class. (Fulford & Dieterle, 1994, p.1)Strategy 7: Four-Day Student Week
Many schools that have opted for a four-day student week have done so to save money. Only after the budgetary measure was implemented did they discover the many advantages the schedule offers in addition to reduced busing, cafeteria, and custodial costs. As long as all or part of Friday or Monday is maintained in teacher contracts, the most pertinent benefit is regular, ongoing, job-embedded time of sufficient frequency and duration for professional learning teams to thrive.
If the contract hours are cost prohibitive even given other savings or refused by the local union, teams can still volunteer to meet on the open day when they are better rested and have fewer personal obligations than after school, evenings, or weekends. In this situation, ending the work day when students leave two afternoons a week or excusing teachers from formal inservice days might be adequate compensation to make this a permanent solution.
A four-day week does not require that students lose instructional time. Schools lengthen each day so that student-teacher contact time is maintained; state achievement test scores remain stable. Student and teacher morale and attendance improve, while disciplinary referrals and drop-out rates decrease (Fager, 1997). Furthermore, a four-day schedule can allow schools otherwise faced with reducing music, art, sports programs, or other vulnerable activities to find sufficient resources to preserve all or most of these critical offerings.
Examples of schools that have a four-day student week include the following:Cove School District, Cove, Oregon
Thirteen years ago, Cove School District in rural Northeast Oregon, shifted to a four-day week in response to reduced funding and low student enrollment. The schedule has worked very well for students, teachers, and the community.
Students in grades kindergarten–12 attend school Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the last 30 minutes reserved for meetings, clubs, and other activities. Primary students are released at 3 p.m. By reducing lunchtime and the time spent between classes, Cove students spend as much time in school as when they attended five days a week.
[Page 100]Along with the financial savings, there are numerous other benefits associated with the four-day schedule. Because Fridays can be used for athletic events and other school-related activities, there are fewer interruptions in learning Monday through Thursday. Teachers also can use Fridays as an extra work day. Many teachers can be found at school on Friday planning lessons, conducting meetings, or working on other classroom projects.
In the years since its inception in Cove, the four-day school week has been widely accepted by all local education stakeholders. Instead of making student services and activities the target of education cutbacks, the schedule has enabled this small community to continue to provide students with a quality education, full of opportunity and challenge. (Fager, 1997)George B. White Elementary School, Deerfield, New Hampshire
The students at George B. White attend school Monday through Thursday from 8:00 to 3:30, instead of Monday through Friday from 8:45 to 2:35. In the four-day week, they get just as many hours of instruction (slightly more, actually).
The faculty, the community, and the New Hampshire Department of Education approved the four-day week for one experimental year. … A contingency plan permitted the return to a five-day schedule if the innovation proved too difficult—for example, if younger students got too tired trying to make it through four seven-and-a-half hour days. In fact, however, the Deerfield school … still operates on a four-day week 10 years later.
Teachers reserve one Friday a month for schoolwide inservice, sometimes bringing in outsiders to help them rethink some aspect of their practice and sometimes drawing on internal resources. Teachers use other time for such activities as looking at student work in teams and observing classrooms in other schools. Deerfield reports improved student and teacher attendance and morale, as well as higher student energy and motivation. (Featherstone, 1991, p. 28)Strategy 8: Block and Modified-Block Schedules
Block and modified-block schedules exist in many variations but all share one common characteristic: They create longer periods of instructional time for students and teachers. In a 4×4 or alternating block schedule, all instructional time is blocked. Students either take four semester-long classes or eight yearlong ones that meet every other day. Blocks are normally about 90 minutes long and a fully blocked day will contain four periods.
However, block schedules can be constructed as creatively as any other kind of school schedule: “Farmington (Missouri) High School adopted a 10-block alternating day schedule that did not meet Missouri's required number of instructional minutes for awarding a Carnegie unit of credit. The faculty and [Page 101]administration readily obtained state approval for their new scheduling approach by increasing the minimum number of credits required for graduation” (Hackmann & Berry, 2000, p. 46). In common modified-block schedules, part of each day is blocked while the balance is composed of traditional 45- to 55-minute periods, or two entire days per week are blocked and the other three maintain a traditional six-, seven-, or eight-period day. In other schools, students take only two classes at a time for 60 days before moving on to the next two.
Block and modified-block schedules are proving to hold many benefits for students and teachers. The longer periods provide time for more in-depth student learning of subject matter and better accommodate the varied rate at which students learn. Students are exposed to a wider variety of instructional methods, including newer, more innovative ones that actively engage students in their own learning and require more time to implement. Textbooks are used less frequently, attendance improves, and failure rates decrease. Students either have longer to prepare for a class, if it meets every other day, or they have fewer classes for which to prepare (Fager, 1997).
One significant benefit of a block schedule is the potential to provide teachers with extended planning and collegial time. If every teacher has 90 minutes a day for planning as a result of block scheduling, a team may more easily choose to devote one planning period per week to professional learning. If students are scheduled into four periods per day rather than eight, arranging common team-planning periods or providing professional learning time through special studies for students is simplified. The pace of a blocked day—one to three class changes rather than five or more—feels less frenetic and leaves teachers better prepared to engage in after-school learning.
However, moving to a block schedule should be approached with caution. Doubling the length of a period requires teachers to expand their repertoire of instructional strategies and carefully choose those that provide appropriate pacing for the period. Before teachers learn how to use the time, they must learn why a block schedule is desirable. Also, the staff must reach consensus to adopt block scheduling. Planning to successfully implement block scheduling may take one or more years as an appropriate schedule is designed and teachers develop ways to maximize the potential benefit to student learning.
Examples of schools that have adopted block schedules include the following:Eggers Middle School, Hammond, Indiana
The classic block schedule is used. For teachers, this means daily back-to-back periods—a total of 90 minutes—during which a team of about 10 members can meet. The faculty is divided into three such teams with about 270 children in each of the learning communities for which a team is responsible.
The first of two successive 45-minute segments is typically designated as community planning time. It is a period during which the team discusses such matters as interdisciplinary teaching, thematic units, and individual students. Usually, the second 45 minutes is devoted to individual planning. There is, however, flexibility that allows the team to divide up the 90 minutes each day as it sees fit.
[Page 102]Where are the children during the hour and a half that they are not with their teachers in their learning community? … The students spend this time in such ancillary courses as music, art, home economics, industrial arts, computer literacy, and physical education. This is what makes it possible to free the teachers who are teaching the main academic subjects in the interdisciplinary team program. … Eggers is different from [some middle schools using this approach] in that students are sent to the ancillary courses each day, which allows daily team gatherings. (Maeroff, 1993, p. 130)La Grande High School, La Grande, Oregon
This school has a unique block schedule that meets the needs of students, teachers, and the community. “The schedule consists of four 88-minute block periods, and a 58-minute lunch period. Teachers instruct three classes per day and use the remaining 88-minute block for preparation work. Students complete classes in one semester that in previous years would have taken them an entire year. In general, schedules for each student are balanced to provide them with both electives and more academically rigorous classes … allow[ing] students to make the most of band, choir, and orchestra throughout the year, while maintaining the structure of the block” (Fager, 1997).
An extensive study of the schedule changes at La Grande was conducted during the 1995–1996 school year by the Eastern Oregon State College Regional Services Institute. The study, which included surveys, interviews, and focus group discussions, showed that the majority of students, former students, teachers, and parents support the block schedule and the other schedule-related changes the school has implemented. Student grade point averages have gone up, while disciplinary referrals have gone down. Teachers who once relied on basic lecture techniques to deliver lessons have become innovative facilitators of learning—continually challenging themselves and their students.Strategy 9: Blending Options
Some schools provide multiple meeting times for all of their teachers by combining various methods of finding or creating time. Best Practices High School in Chicago, Illinois, maximizes the quantity and quality of both collegial time for staff and contact time for students through a combination of several of the methods examined separately elsewhere in this resource. Daniels, Bizar, and Zemelman (2001) reported on the school's approach:
One goal of our schedule was to provide ample teacher planning time, and one of the wonderful side effects of our Wednesday internship program (which we stole unabashedly from Central Park East) is a full half day of planning time for teachers every week. An off-campus service learning program has to be the greatest win-win discovery in the history of secondary education: the kids get a powerful, often life-changing experience, while teachers get a half-day of precious collegial time [Page 103]together. Our whole faculty also meets every Monday after school, around 3:15 p.m., with the intention (not always fulfilled) of taking care of our administrative and busywork at that session, leaving the “big stuff”— matters of curriculum and instruction—for the longer Wednesday sessions. We also get some more half-days by using an arcane, Chicago-specific practice called time-banking. If you schedule an extra-long school day, you can save up additional minutes and use them to dismiss kids at noon about 18 times a year. In addition to meetings, we schedule teachers so that they have lunch every day with their grade-level team and have their planning period with their department colleagues. With all these structures in place, BPHS teachers probably enjoy better planning and professional development time than faculty at most other high schools—though it never, ever seems like enough. And even though our teachers have lots of time with colleagues, they still spend more time in class than regular Chicago teachers. In fact, to make the schedule legal, our faculty must vote to approve a waiver of local union rules each year. (Daniels et al., 2001, pp. 177–178)[Page 104]Resource E: Resolving Conflict: Key to CollaborationStephanie Hirsh
Staff development that improves the learning of all students provides educators with the knowledge and skills to collaborate.
When schools try serious restructuring, problems are inevitable. The more ambitious the change that is sought, the more problems that may arise. In order to accomplish significant change, schools must be able to successfully manage their problems.
Embedded in NSDC's standard on collaboration is a concept that groups must learn to manage the conflict that inevitably arises when participants discuss fundamental beliefs about teaching and learning and seek the best ways to improve student achievement.
Working together every day and coming to joint decisions about what will be taught and how it will be taught can be very challenging. And if teachers are expected to come to consensus on what will be taught and how it will be taught, most will presume that everything will not go their way and anticipate differences of opinion that could lead to conflict. Most people fear conflict and take steps to avoid it.
Here's a simple conflict resolution strategy that works.
- Clarify the problem. Ensure everyone understands what they are arguing about. Write it down. Get agreement on it.
- Separate positions from interests. Clarify individuals' interests. Interests are characterized by an individual's needs, desires, or fears. Position is represented by a solution to the problem—key words that may trigger someone who is discussing her position are more, less, or get. Focus on interests and indicate that solutions will be addressed later.
- Identify criteria for a win-win resolution. Seek answers to these questions: What must the outcome achieve? What will an acceptable resolution accomplish? Look at the interests to provide criteria for the resolution. List criteria for solutions that will be acceptable to all parties.
- Brainstorm potential solutions without judgments. List solutions as they are suggested.[Page 105]
- Evaluate each solution against the criteria. Craft a matrix to see which solution meets the most criteria.
- If more than one solution meets all the criteria, then discuss which solution to accept. Choose the best solution.
Consider the process in the following situation. The first- and fourth-grade teams were resisting a proposed change in the scheduling of special-area teachers (art, music, physical education). While each team had a desirable schedule position in mind, the facilitator first identified their interests. First grade wanted a two-hour time block for uninterrupted reading instruction and preferably in the morning. Fourth grade was taking advantage of special areas next to lunch to create two hours for team planning and wanted to continue that. Several options were explored. Various special area schedules were brainstormed. Before and after school suggestions for team meetings were posted. Varying the reading instruction schedule was also offered. Each was posted and later judged according to the criteria. Ultimately, the teams found a solution that met everyone's criteria and didn't disrupt anyone else's schedule.
By embracing conflict as an opportunity to pursue better solutions, you'll be closer to arriving at the new vision for professional learning advocated by NSDC and closer to convincing colleagues that daily collegial learning is essential for advancing the performance of every teacher and student.Source: Hirsh, S. (2003, March). Resolving conflicts key to collaboration. Results. Oxford, OH: National Staff Development Council. Retrieved May 5, 2009, from http://www.nsdc.org/news/results/res3-03hirs.cfmUsed with permission of the National Staff Development Council, http://www.nsdc.org, 2008. All rights reserved.[Page 106]Resource F: Sample Conflict ScenariosScenario 1
Your team has six members. Five of you work very well together, contribute ideas to the team, and offer to gather materials, resources, and some research on your chosen topic. The sixth member skips meetings occasionally, comes late to most meetings that he does attend, and rarely speaks or participates in a meaningful way. Two of you have talked about this and are really irritated. You want him to become a fully participating member of the team. You feel disrespected by his lack of interest and participation. At one point, one of you confronted him about this behavior and his response was, “I can spend this time more effectively working in my own classroom alone.”Scenario 2
Your team has four members. In most of your team discussions, one member dominates the conversation. She does have a lot of experience and knowledge, but the meetings tend to focus on her agenda, and at times seem like a one-woman show. As a result, two of the members withdraw from discussions. They take notes and appear to participate by listening, but they rarely offer opinions or contribute new ideas. You know that one of them, a new young teacher, is taking a class on adolescent literacy and has important new information to contribute. In passing his room, you observe that students are deeply engaged in activities. However, this teacher seems intimidated and afraid to offer new ideas.Scenario 3
There seems to be a personality conflict between some members of your seven-member team. One member doesn't get along with two of the other members. You have heard rumors about arguments between these teachers in the past, but you have not witnessed anything yourself. However, the negative vibe between these people is apparent to everyone on the team and detracts from the cohesion of the PLT. In fact, there are often subtle comments that indicate real animosity between them.Scenario 4
Your five-member team was working together very well, focusing on using some specific literacy strategies to improve reading comprehension skills. One member takes a two-month leave for health reasons, and her long-term substitute joins your team. On occasional, he comes late to meetings, and several times has stepped out to take a cell phone call during a meeting. He sometimes brings student assignments to grade during meetings. This is not only distracting when it happens, but you feel that the focus and work of the entire team is diminishing.[Page 107]Resource G: Possible Expectations for PLT Team Leaders and Facilitators
Some schools choose to train a cadre of teachers as PLT team leaders or liaisons. These individuals, in turn, train their colleagues and help oversee PLT implementation. We recommend that schools ensure that these leaders understand ahead of time the commitment they are making to work with their colleagues. These leaders will conduct training and model leadership and facilitation. Ideally, each PLT will have one of these leaders as a member.
PLT facilitators are expected to do the following:
[Page 108]Resource H: Tools
- Attend all PLT trainer of trainers sessions
- Plan and deliver subsequent training to their colleagues
- Assure that the PLT tools and processes are a good fit for the context of the school and their specific PLT
- Develop their leadership skills as they work with peers and be willing to share leadership with peers
- Engage colleagues in learning-centered conversations
- Communicate with the school leadership about progress and team needs
- Assist their PLT in preparing presentations to document PLT work—chosen strategies, methods of assessment, results, and recommendations
- Qualifications for PLT liaisons include the following traits:
- Communication and relationship skills that support working with peers
- Willingness to develop their own leadership skills and those of team members
- Ability to contribute to the development of trust among the school community
- Content-area knowledge
This section contains masters of the following tools that appear throughout the guide:
- Professional Learning Team Inquiry Cycle
- PLT Inquiry Cycle With Steps Explained
- Getting Started: Sample Agenda for Workshop 1
- PLT Team Log Form
- Sample PLT Team Meeting Agenda and Log
- Defining Team Roles
- Professional Learning Team: Planning Sheet
- Five Dimensions of Professional Learning Communities
- Criteria for Quality Team Time
- Finding Time for Collaboration
- Factors Supporting the Success of PLTs
- PLT Implementation Rubric
- Getting Started Roadmap
The masters can be used in presentations to faculty, parents, community members, district office personnel, and school board members. The masters are suitable for the following:
- Creating overhead transparencies
- Inserting into PowerPoint presentations
- Duplicating for handouts
- Enlarging for use as posters
Suggested Reading[Page 135]Recommended Reading for Chapter 1Baker, P. (Ed.).(2003). Professional development that changes practice. WCER Research Highlights, 15(1), 1–2, 5. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Center for Education Research. Retrieved May 5, 2009, from http://www.wcer.wisc.edu/publications/highlights/v15n1.pdf
This article provides additional detail on the six features that have been identified by research as important to providing effective professional development.Hord, S. M. (Ed.). (2004). Learning together, leading together: Changing schools through professional learning communities. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
The chapters in this book are based on research and development conducted by the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory. This book represents nine years of study and begins to document an intensive and well-controlled pattern of measurement and research of professional learning communities. The study identified five essential qualities and characteristics of professional learning communities: supportive and shared leadership; shared values and vision; collective learning and application of that learning; supportive conditions; and shared personal practice.2008). Leading professional learning communities: Voices from research and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin., & (
The authors provide school leaders with information to guide them in developing a PLC that supports teachers and students. They cover building a vision for a PLC, implementing structures, creating policies and procedures, and developing the leadership skills required for initiating and sustaining a learning community.McREL. (2000). Asking the right questions: A leader's guide to systems thinking about school improvement. Aurora, CO: Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning.
This guide stimulates thinking and provides detailed information about school change with a focus on systems thinking. A companion toolkit is found at http://www.mcrel.org/toolkit/[Page 136]National Commission on Teaching and America's Future. (1996). What matters most: Teaching for America's future. Report of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future. New York: NY: Columbia University, Teachers College.
The members of this commission have a wide array of economic, political, and educational affiliations. In language that is clear, direct, and compelling, NCTAF's report details the issues surrounding teacher quality and their impact on student learning. The report illustrates its assertions with ample vignettes, as well as more extended stories, from the schools studied.WestEd. (2000). Teachers who learn, kids who achieve: A look at schools with model professional development. San Francisco, CA: Author.
WestEd studied eight schools selected from the winners of the National Awards Program for Model Professional Development conducted by the U.S. Department of Education. The schools range from elementary to high school, urban to rural, and most have large minority populations receiving free and reduced-price lunch. Still, each school showed dramatic gains in student performance. The study found common practices in successful professional development among the eight and described them in real-life vignettes. This slim volume provides an excellent overview of what a school looks like if it is a high-performing learning community with the role of teaming as one critical component. Available in pdf or html format, or for purchase at http://www.wested.org.Recommended Reading and Additional Resources for Chapter 22003). Building trusting relationships for school improvement: Implications for principals and teachers. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory., & (
Available at http://www.nwrel.org/request/2003sept/index.html
This monograph reviews research citing key components along with some obstacles to building trust in schools. Descriptions of two schools efforts at school improvement are described.2002). Trust in schools: A core resource for improvement. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation., & (
The authors argue that the extent of trust among adults in schools is a crucial influence on how well schools work for children. They use a variety of research methods to probe the role that trust plays in the life of schools and in students' learning.2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.(
This book, along with Fullan's other work on school change, offers insights into the dynamics of change and presents an imaginative approach to navigating the intricacies of the change process. Drawing on current ideas and theories on the topic of effective leadership, he integrates five core competencies into this work: (1) attending to a broader moral purpose, (2) keeping on top of the change process, (3) cultivating relationships, (4) sharing knowledge, and (5) setting a vision and context for creating coherence.2001). The new meaning of educational change. ((3rd ed.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
This revised version of Fullan's 1982 edition is an updated reference for educators in the new millennium. It provides powerful insights into the complexity of reform and recommends practical strategies to effect enduring improvement.[Page 137]2002). Fuel for reform: The importance of trust in changing schools. Harvard Education Letter, 18(4), 1–4.(
This article summarizes some of the research from Chicago's decade of school reform detailed in Anthony Bryk and Barbara Schneider's book, Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for Improvement (2002). They advocate for good social relationships and contend that a high degree of relational trust helps make the kinds of changes that lead to higher student achievement.1987). Taking charge of change. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development., , , & (
This book provides insights and understandings about school change. Using the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM), the book examines the roles and personal needs of the people involved in a change process. It includes strategies for the total management of an innovation. The first strategy provides ways to introduce change or innovation and monitor various means of implementation. The second strategy focuses on the agent of the change process: the teacher. The third strategy provides a tool for assessing the degree to which teachers are implementing the change and for evaluating progress.
National Staff Development Council
This Web site contains the rationale and annotated bibliography for each of the standards for professional development as well as more detail about the main topic of each standard. The site also provides access to a staff development library with articles from NSDC publications and links to other resources.2001). Interpersonal conflict (, & (6th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
This book provides detailed information on managing conflict constructively. It provides a conflict assessment guide (pp. 205–207) to help bring specific aspects of a conflict into focus and check on gaps in information about a conflict.Recommended Reading and Additional Resources for Chapter 32004). Getting excited about data: Combining people, passion, and proof to maximize student achievement ((2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
This book builds on the first edition and provides additional guidance and support for educators who are ready, willing, and able to explore more sophisticated uses of data. New tools and activities facilitate active engagement with data and a collaborative culture of collective responsibility for the learning of all students.Learning assessment model project: State-of-the art evidence eased teaching. Muncie, IN: Ball State University.(n.d.).
This paper describes a rubric-driven method designed to assist novice teachers in using assessments and in aligning instruction and assessment with standards and best practices.
Small Schools Project
This Web site offers advice on how to organize a presentation when asking your school board for teacher collaboration time.[Page 138]2005). Small learning communities that actually learn: Lessons for school leaders. Phi Delta Kappan, 86(9), 649–651., & (
This brief (three-page) article describes the evaluation findings from two urban districts, Philadelphia and Cincinnati. It contains succinct and useful recommendations for school leaders intent on building communities of instructional practice among their staff.
What Works Clearinghouse
This U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences site—which is a work in progress—aims to provide a central source of scientific evidence on what works in education. The goal is to help identify programs, products, and practices that have demonstrated positive results.Recommended Reading for Chapter 42004). The three-minute classroom walk-through: Changing school supervisory practice one teacher at a time. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin., , , , & (
This publication guides school leaders in developing collaborative supervision and gaining the most from the classroom walk-through. It offers a practical, time-saving alternative to traditional hierarchical supervision that impacts student achievement by cultivating self-reliant teachers who are continually improving their practice.2007). Helping teachers learn: Principals as professional development leaders. Teachers College Record, 109(1), 70–125.(
This study describes four mutually reinforcing initiatives aimed at supporting adult learning in schools, including (1) teaming and partnering with colleagues within and outside the school, (2) providing teachers with opportunities to take on leadership roles, (3) engaging in collegial inquiry, and (4) mentoring.1999). Developing principals as instructional leaders. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh, Learning Research and Development Center, High Performance Learning Communities Project. Retrieved October 19, 2005, from http://www.lrdc.pitt.edu/hplc/Publications/FinkResnick.PDF, & (
In this paper, Fink and Resnick draw on the success of an 11-year program of school improvement begun in 1987 to show how school principals established a culture of learning and raised student achievement. The authors draw the distinction between the administrative duties and instructional leadership duties of school principals; examine methods of effective organized support for school principals in their role as instructional leaders; reflect on organizational conditions that led to districtwide school improvement in a diverse urban setting in New York City's Community School District Two; and report on a strong record of successful school improvement, where teaching and learning are “what everyone talks about.”2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.(
Many leaders face new and daunting challenges, and they must develop the skills needed to lead effectively under rapidly changing conditions. Fullan provides insights into the dynamics of change along with an imaginative approach for navigating the intricacies of the change process. He also shows how leaders can focus on certain key change themes that allow them to lead effectively under messy conditions. Finally, the [Page 139]book demonstrates how leaders foster leadership in others in order to build organizational capacity.2005). Leadership sustainability: Systems thinkers in action. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.(
Building on his prior work, The Moral Imperative of School Leadership, Michael Fullan confronts the question: How do you develop and sustain a greater number of system thinkers in action? These proactive thinkers are the ones to bring about deeper reform while helping to produce other theoreticians working on the same issue. Fullan defines an agenda for the system thinker in action as he examines what leaders at all levels of the educational system can do to pave the way for large-scale, sustainable reform.2006). Sustainable leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass., & (
The authors set out a compelling framework of seven principles for sustainable leadership characterized by depth of learning and real achievement rather than superficially tested performance; length of impact over the long haul, beyond individual leaders, through effectively managed succession; breadth of influence, where leadership becomes a distributed responsibility; justice in ensuring that leadership actions do no harm to and actively benefit students in other schools; diversity that replaces standardization and alignment with diversity and cohesion; resourcefulness that conserves and renews leaders' energy and doesn't burn them out; and conservation that builds on the best of the past to create an even better future.2004). Teacher leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass., & (
This volume in the Jossey-Bass Leadership Library in Education recognizes all teachers as leaders. It describes and provides a rationale for the emerging role of teacher leaders and their ability to make a difference in education. The authors offer case studies of innovative programs that provide teachers with opportunities to lead within their professional communities. The authors also show how to develop learning communities that include rather than exclude, create knowledge rather than merely apply it, and offer challenges and support to both new and experienced teachers.2006). Building school-based teacher learning communities: Professional strategies to improve student achievement. New York, NY: Teachers College Press., & (
Based on extensive evidence that school-based teacher learning communities improve student outcomes, this book lays out an agenda to develop and sustain collaborative professional cultures. Based on their research, it provides examples from real schools illustrating the process—how teacher learning communities get started, how they develop, and how requirements for their development and markers of maturity change.2004). Building teacher leadership within a traditional school structure. In S. M.Hord (Ed.), Learning together, leading together: Changing schools through professional learning communities (pp. 140–150). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.(
This chapter focuses on the professional learning community (PLC) dimension of supportive and shared leadership and its relationship to emerging teacher leadership. It also focuses on the structural design of shared leadership and the principal's role and capacities that build shared leadership.Recommended Reading for Chapter 52003). Leadership of inquiry: Building and sustaining capacity for school improvement. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 25(4), 375–395. http://dx.doi.org/10.3102/01623737025004375(
[Page 140]This report by Michael Copland of the Center for Research on the Context of Teaching at Stanford University contains useful ideas to consider for those engaged in school reform. Copland describes the Bay Area School Reform Collaborative's (BASRC) theory of action, which includes the following:
2006). Changing minds: The art and science of changing our own and other people's minds. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.(
- The work of improving schools must be accomplished collectively.
- Leadership for improving teaching and learning is rooted in continual inquiry into work at the school and focuses on student learning, high standards, equity, and best practices.
- Decisions around critical problems and their solutions should be made collectively and should focus on improving learning for all students.
Howard Gardner examines how politicians, creative artists, business leaders, teachers, and prospective dates go about the business of changing deeply held opinions—what works, what doesn't, and why.2005). A facilitator's guide to professional learning teams: Creating on-the-job opportunities for teachers to learn and grow. Greensboro, NC: University of North Carolina at Greensboro, SERVE.(2008). Team to teach: A facilitator's guide to professional learning teams. Oxford, OH: National Staff Development Council.(
This guidebook, revised in 2008, provides a set of tools for implementing PLTs with an entire faculty or part of a faculty. The book is organized in 10 chapters, each one featuring a variety of tools to use while establishing, maintaining, and evaluating a specific part of the learning team process.2003). Leading for learning sourcebook: Concepts and examples. Seattle, WA: University of Washington, Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy. Retrieved April 24, 2009, from http://depts.washington.edu/ctpmail/PDFs/LforLSourcebook-02-03.pdf, , , , , , et al. (
Drawing on the knowledge and field experiences of more than 300 educators, this handbook suggests how leaders can become more effective when they work to improve student learning, enhance professional learning, and build systemwide supports for all participants' learning. The handbook details five ways in which school and district leaders can advance those three agendas: (1) establish a public focus on powerful, equitable learning; (2) build communities of professionals who value and support learning; (3) engage communities, policymakers, and other external groups around improved learning; (4) identify activities with the most promise for improving learning and rally people around them; and (5) establish incentives and opportunities so that leadership for learning can be shared and developed in others.National Staff Development Council. (2000). Learning to lead, leading to learn: Improving school quality through principal professional development. Oxford, OH: Author.
This slim monograph defines and provides standards for instructional leadership, supports the idea of developing teachers as leaders, and recommends that the federal government, states, and local districts adopt professional development policies targeted at upgrading the leadership capabilities of principals and teachers.1989). Teachers' workplace: The social organization of schools. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.(
[Page 141]This study of the school as workplace provides a coherent description of how school organization at the district, school, and classroom levels influences instructional practice.2000). Schools that learn: A fifth discipline fieldbook for educators, parents, and everyone who cares about education. New York, NY: Doubleday., , , , & (
Building on Senge's earlier work with systems theory, this book describes practices that are meeting success across the country and around the world as schools attempt to learn, grow, and reinvent themselves using the principles of organizational learning. It offers practical tools, anecdotes, and advice that people can use to help schools learn to learn.
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Corwin: A SAGE Company[Page 152]
The Corwin logo—a raven striding across an open book—represents the union of courage and learning. Corwin is committed to improving education for all learners by publishing books and other professional development resources for those serving the field of PreK–12 education. By providing practical, hands-on materials, Corwin continues to carry out the promise of its motto: “Helping Educators Do Their Work Better.”American Association of School Administrators
The American Association of School Administrators, founded in 1865, is the professional organization for more than 13,000 educational leaders across the United States. AASA's mission is to support and develop effective school system leaders who are dedicated to the highest quality public education for all children. For more information, visit http://www.aasa.org.Education Northwest
Education Northwest, formerly known as the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming teaching and learning. We work with educators, administrators, policymakers, and communities across the country. Headquartered in Portland, Oregon, our mission is to improve learning by building capacity in schools, families, and communities through applied research and development. More information about Education Northwest is available at http://www.educationnorthwest.org