Moving from a community of talk to a community of practice


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Professional learning communities have gotten a lot of attention over the years.
Academies have the structure and conditions to go much deeper by establishing a
community of practice. These grade level teams can significantly improve student
achievement. Come learn what makes them effective and how to build your own
community of practice.

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Moving from a community of talk to a community of practice

  1. 1. Moving from aCommunity of Talk to aCommunity of PracticeRob AtterburyKathy HarrisConnectEd: The California Center for College andCareer
  2. 2. Introduction Who’s in the room? A. I am an individual teacher and I don’t belong to an academy B. I am an individual teacher, I belong to an academy, but we don’t do much as a team C. I am part of an academy team and we meet as a grade level cohort but we need some help D. I am part of an academy team, we meet together regularly, we are having good conversations but I want to be sure we get better
  3. 3. Introduction: Outcome overview Analyze the elements of a true community of practice Determine the elements of an effective practice and assess my own work Determine action step(s) to move my team further on the continuum
  4. 4. “Communities that Undermine Practice” Jigsaw Assign sections (Everyone reads intro) Table Assignments: o The Toxic Community o The Laissez-Faire Community o The Congenial Community o The Accountable Community: The vision of excellence Individual read and mark document Table discussion about the section Group report out of the table discussion
  5. 5. Elements of an Effective Academy1. Academy Development and Structure2. Advisory Board3. Curriculum and Instruction4. Work-Based Learning
  6. 6. ELEMENT 1: Academy Development and Structure STANDARD 2: PERSONALIZED ENVIRONMENT o 1.2. b. A 3- to 4-year four-year high school program of study linking core courses with technical content at each grade level, with a minimum of four NAF courses (or their equivalent) which are sequenced and coordinated. o 1.2 c. There is a weekly common planning time or other formal collaboration time for the academy team of more than three staff members, so that integrated learning, student supports and individualized student assessment can occur across disciplines and grade levels.
  7. 7. ELEMENT 3: Curriculum and Instruction Standard 1: Program of Study/Integration o 3.1. a. The academy program of study includes one or more NAF courses* per grade level, with themes from these courses integrated into core academic course content. (*or approved alternatives) o 3.1. b. Multidisciplinary projects are the primary vehicle by which NAF course themes are integrated into core subject area content, providing a relevant context for student learning.
  8. 8. ELEMENT 3: Curriculum and Instruction Standard 2: Instructional Practices o 3.2. b. Academy teaching staff shares best practices and demonstration lessons with others in the academy or school and across the network.
  9. 9. ELEMENT 3: Curriculum and Instruction Standard 3 Instructional Supports o 3.3. a. The academy team, advisory board, and school counselors ensure that sufficient academic supports (tutoring, mentoring, Saturday classes, skill workshops, etc.) exist to help students succeed in academy and core courses.
  10. 10. Post-Secondary Articulation College and Career Plan----------college Tours----------Applications ------------Courses Social Social Social Social Studies Studies Studies Studies Math Math Math Math Middle Introductory Intermediate Capstone Technical Technical Technical Technical School Multiple Core Core Core CoreArticulation Level Level Level Post- Secondary Opportunities English English English English Science Science Science Science Work-based Learning Opportunities Company Tours ----------------------------Job Shadowing------------------------------ Internships
  11. 11. Post-Secondary Articulation College and Career Plan----------College Tours----------Applications ------------Courses Social Social Social Social Studies Studies Studies Studies Math Math Math Math Middle Introductory Intermediate Capstone Technical Technical Technical Technical School Core Multiple Core Core CoreArticulation Level Level Level Post- Secondary Opportunities English English English English Science Science Science Science Work-based Learning Opportunities Company Tours ----------------------------Job Shadowing------------------------------ Internships
  12. 12. Brainstorm We have the structures, so…. What should/could teachers teams be doing together? Brainstorm as table groups  Report out a few ideas
  13. 13. Community of Practice Continum Review the COP continuum  Review and cross check alignment to brainstormed list  What’s strikes you?  What’s new for you?
  14. 14. Video Review Three video segments: 1. Teacher Collaboration in the design and development of a project 2. Grade level team of teachers discussing the work mid project 3. Teachers reflecting on the final products Review and reflection  What did you see?  What didn’t you see?  What changes would you suggest?
  15. 15. Self-assessment Using the Community of Practice Continuum, o Where are you and your team on the continuum? o What one action do you want to suggest to either:  Create a team using the COP;  Introduce the COP to your team; or  Help your team move further on the continuum?
  16. 16. Report OutWhat’s one thing you’re taking away from thissession?
  17. 17. Additional Resources
  18. 18. P School leaders must eriod 2 common planning time at team’s shared goal to improve student writ- River High School: Five minutes ing — a school priority. After a quick thanks distinguish between PLCs after the last bell, Team 9B teach- for their efforts, Al continues his walk and ers are amiably catching up on leaves 9B to get on with its business. that genuinely serve one another’s weekends while waiting for If Al had stayed longer, the unfolding in- the perpetual stragglers to arrive. teraction might have made him reconsider greater student learning Maria, the team leader, seems to be the his assessment. Instead of a few minutes, the and groups that protect only one with a sense of urgency. “People, field trip discussion took more than half the remember our norm of getting started meeting. A tangent into a student discipline mediocre performance by promptly,” she implores. “Let’s go. We need issue chewed up another 15 minutes. to spend a few minutes planning April’s field Team 9B got to the main agenda item both students and adults. trip. Then we have to talk about how we’re with 10 minutes left. At that point, two doing with the interdisciplinary writing teachers admitted that they were not getting prompts.” to the writing prompts despite previous Before Maria has finished distributing a promises. John “never could find the time” short agenda, Principal Knox arrives. He’s and Tina complained about “doing English on his daily walkthrough this period and in science.” Colleagues’ comments were dis- cannot stay, but he wants to encourage the mayingly solicitous: group with a “little pat on the back.” “That’s OK, John. Get to it when you Al Knox is proud of his Professional can.” Learning Community initiative at River “Listen, your low group isn’t going to High School. He has provided his PLCs with be able to write much anyway. Maybe you common meeting time, stipends for team could just experiment with one of your good leader(s), and summer training in norm de- sections.” velopment and agenda setting. Compared No one expressed dismay over how time to the fractious group of ninth-grade teach- had been used or the failure to address the ers he saw two years ago, 9B is collaborat- ing pretty well, Al thinks. He is pleased by the congenial tone of the gathering and the By Alexander D. Platt and Caroline E. Tripp18 Leadership
  19. 19. one agenda item that would have a direct erts effort to sustain, conditions that favor bind vocal members together in an “us ver-impact on student performance. No one adult comfort or convenience over student sus them” or “this too shall pass” stance thatmade a passionate plea about the serious gap needs; serves to protect members from externalin writing achievement. No one took a col- • has little or no collective experience demands and to drive non-subscribers toleague to task for violating the team agree- with, or models for, effective problem-solv- silence or to the safety of other spaces.ment, thereby granting tacit permission to ing skills and strategies. Toxicity may result from patterns of dis-the notion that individual autonomy takes Real schools are full of such underper- trict bungling, including lack of supervisionprecedence over responsibility to the group. forming groups, many of which parade and feedback or lingering resentments over If we measure collaboration in terms of past injuries, such as strikes or destructiveimpact on teaching and learning, the meet- bargaining sessions. Toxicity is also fueleding was a failure, and the group’s perfor- by emotional exhaustion from years of “ini-mance inadequate. tiative overload” and unsupported effort and continual stirring of a few “ringleaders”False hope who derive gratification and a sense of pur- Team 9B is one of many learning com- pose from being aggrieved.munities with the worthwhile mission of By nature guarded and suspicious, toxicimproving student learning springing up all groups do pay attention to what the orga-over California. Some do indeed fulfill the nization wants from them and to the wayspromise of professional learning set forth in which organizational goals or changes inby DuFour and others. But as Michael Ful- practice might affect their traditional rightslan warns us from his research, “[We] have and privileges. They often use the unionfound that professional learning commu- contract to defend the status quo.nities are being implemented superficially. Rather than embracing promising ideasThey give the educators involved a false on their merits or supporting leaders whohope of progress.” want to find ways of trying out new practices To fulfill the promise of professional To fulfill the promise of PLCs, within the framework of the contract, Toxiclearning communities, skillful leaders need Communities vote for and encourage unionto do more than simply marshal resources skillful leaders need to do leaders who take a tough, protective stance.and cheer faculty on from the sidelines. Wemust distinguish between groups that gen- more than simply marshal Finally, Toxic Communities focus on why things should not be done, cannot workuinely pool their mental effort to develop resources and cheer faculty on or are a problem for something that alreadyorganizational intelligence in the service exists. Thus, members most often presentof greater student learning — what we call from the sidelines. themselves as blockers to improvement ef-Accountable Communities — and groups forts and as individuals whose job is to sort,whose interactions block improvement and as “effective teams.” As you examine the select and label both children and otherprotect mediocre performance by both stu- profile descriptions that follow, and the adults.dents and adults. suggested approaches for taking on such New teacher induction programs are Three different prototypes fall into the groups, consider how you would use them no match for these lethal culture builders!latter category: the Toxic Community, the to diagnose and help Team 9B. Consider Challenging these communities requires aLaissez-Faire Community and the Conge- whether any of the groups in your school balance of listening, acknowledging and di-nial Community. Although they may look display similar characteristics and what you rect intervention. These highly negative cul-different, each group: and your leadership team might do. tures almost always require some changes in • accepts or tolerates low performance, personnel.inertia or lack of contribution from its own The Toxic Communitymembers; As their name implies, toxic groups are Approaches for tackling Toxic Communities • expects and accepts low performance distinguished by their “negative take” on al- • Identify the past or present causes forfrom groups of students who have somehow most all aspects of schooling and by their real the toxicity (previous authoritarian leader-been labeled as less worthy or less capable; or perceived ability to stifle initiative, punish ship, residue from strikes and contract im- • attributes poor student achievement heretics (anyone who takes a leader’s side on passes, a track record of broken promisesto external factors like family background, an issue), derail emerging solutions to prob- from the district).lack of financial support for schools or com- lems, and blame everyone but themselves for • Build bridges before lighting fires (Len-munity conditions; mediocre student or adult learning. cioni, 2002). Listen to and acknowledge • derives benefit from, and therefore ex- Sarcastic humor and weary cynicism previous conditions and past contributions September/October 2008 19
  20. 20. to the current situation before asking for The Laissez-Faire Community Laissez-Faire Communities frequentlychanges. While Toxic Communities are often evolve in heavily decentralized districts or • Give feedback to individuals when ex- bonded by their sense of injury or by a com- schools in the absence of strong leadership.pectations for effective collaboration are not mon vision of “the other” as enemy, groups They also develop when leadership definesmet, but avoid attacking or labeling state- we have designated Laissez-Faire share little its role as protection of cooperative mem-ments. Instead, focus on the importance of beyond a desire or belief in their right to be bers and motivation through favors andpooling knowledge to better help students left alone to “do their own thing.” deals. These communities tend to supportand name the consequences for students In Laissez-Faire Communities, teachers mediocre learning because they see it aswhen adults are unable to collaborate. or administrators co-exist pleasantly but are an inevitable result of student limitations disconnected from institutional goals and and because examining and subsequently • Adopt and consistently use structures from each other’s work and work concerns. changing one’s core practice would violatethat equalize participation in discussion Members are largely motivated by personal the fundamental value of autonomy.and minimize opportunities for harangu-ing and bullying. needs either for comfort and convenience or Approaches for intervening with for instructional autonomy; no shared pur- • Use transparent, data-based processes Laissez-Faire Communities pose or vision drives their interaction.for identifying student learning problems • Identify the practices and forces that If Toxic Communities snarl and snort inand setting priorities for action, rather than are supporting autonomous actions, deal- response to requests for collaborative prob-unstructured decisions by acclaim or asser- making, secrecy or low expectations. lem solving, Laissez-Faire Communitiestion. • Determine when and how the group sniff and sigh with martyred resignation. • Honor contract provisions consistently, interacts well to solve a problem (even if it The school’s designated goals do not ap-but persist with clear non-negotiables and is low-level) and build on established struc- pear to have immediate relevance or utility.expectations. Do not let grievances distract tures or norms. Rather than adversarial, as in Toxic Com-from your focus. • Establish clear problem-solving struc- munities, relationships with leaders are • Remove the most negative individual or tures and make problem solving a central often collusive: “You scratch my back, I’lla destructive ringleader from the group. part of meeting agendas. Use time effi- scratch yours.” ciently. • Assess how much time is wasted on un- important topics; be judicious in identify- ing the most important problems for the focus of collaborative action. • Monitor how time is spent during group meetings; collect agendas and minutes. • Help teams use standards and feedback to define a common learning problem, iden- tify a change goal for itself, and establish how it will monitor its own performance. • Offer options for initial structuring of joint work. Looking at student work, devel- oping common assessments and examining student test results could all be productive starting points. • Have much of the work done in course- alike pairs or trios where there is compelling rationale for working together. The key to improving the collaboration of these autonomous units is to help them see that joint work will help them be more effective in their own classrooms. The Congenial Community Congenial Communities are “happy” or “nurturing” places to work. These groups send off the false aura of smoothly func-20 Leadership
  21. 21. tioning teams. Considerable effort goes Books Worth Readinginto building and maintaining adult rela-tionships and comfort, but unlike Toxic orLaissez-Faire Communities, they have nodifficulty with requests to collaborate. Six Secrets of Change; How Leaders Learn Members usually enjoy one another’scompany and have positive or neutral re- Reviewed by George Manthey, assistant executive director, ACSA Educational Serviceslationships with the leaders. Mediocrity is “G ive me a good theory over a strategic plan any day of the week,” is thesustained because members do not chal-lenge one another’s ideas and practices in opening sentence of Michael Fullan’s latest book. It is a guide for bothservice of better student learning, because business and education leaders who want to make their organizationsgetting along comes first. “survive and thrive.” Six “secrets” are offered as a theory of action, with the caution Problems are quickly reduced to sim- that leaders be open to “surprises or new data that direct further action.”plistic statements and solutions, and no The secrets are not likely to surprise you as they deal with the way leaders treatreal effort is made to examine data to get at employees, define purpose, build capacity, learn, share information, and create orga-the core practices that are no longer serv- nizations that learn. Fullan cautions that for the secrets to work they must all be nur-ing children’s needs. Congenial Communi- tured, as none are sufficient in isolation of the others. For me, the six secrets provideties especially can be by-products of leadershortcomings. a useful filter for examining the efficacy of decisions and actions. Recognizing that good relationships and “The Six Secrets of Change” (2008), by Michael Fullan. Published by create effective teams, administratorsoften overstress the role of congeniality and Ginadvertently send signals that getting along ordon Donaldson credits Joanne Iskin, a principal in California’s Lennoxis paramount. Such leaders see themselves Unified School District, for insisting that this book get written. In it Don-as being responsible for keeping peace and aldson provides a model (Interpersonal-Cognitive-Intrapersonal or I-C-I)harmony, and worry that any attempt to that he has found useful for understanding performance and learning. The bookpress for genuine changes in practice will provides real examples of how teacher leaders and principals have used the I-C-I“undermine school morale” without pro- model to provide a framework for their own leadership of learning. Donaldson as-ducing results. serts, “Persistent hurdles to leader effectiveness are the result, in part, of gaps of lead- Thus, everyone understands that nam- ers’ interpersonal, intrapersonal, and cognitive knowledge sets.”ing an ineffective practice goes againstestablished cultural norms, and difficult One aim of the book is to help leaders understand that their focus can not be theirquestions about poor student or adult per- own skill set, but must include increasing their understanding of how what they doformance are swept under the rug. affects the “knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and practice” of those they are leading. Donaldson also reminds us that the highest purpose of leadership of schools is toApproaches for intervening withCongenial Communities lead in ways that increase student learning. • Lead with relationship building and the “How Leaders Learn” (2008), by Gordon A. Donaldson. Published by Teachers Col-need for acceptance and affiliation, but use lege to reframe focus from adult comfort tostudents’ losing out. • Help congenial groups be more accept-ing of conf lict by adopting protocols thatassist members in managing conf lict (seeNational School Reform Faculty Web site, • Invest in training that helps membersto identify their own preferential styles andconflict-aversive behavior, and analyze theconsequence of “burying” difficult infor-mation or important disagreements. • Invite community members to examinetheir own performance against criteria for a September/October 2008 21
  22. 22. collaborative and accountable communityand identify goals for growth. Team 9B is certainly not a Toxic group. Becoming accountableIt is probably more a hybrid. It has qualitiesthat mark it as Laissez-Faire: spending timeon topics not focused on teaching and learn- W e can’t expect all teams to become accountable overnight, but we do expect leaders to actively confront Fullan’s worry that “professional learning commu- nities are being implemented superficially,” by taking four actions. 1ing and embracing individual autonomy as a Be committed to strong measures of accountability and intervention in cases ofprimary value. The aversion to conflict and malfunctioning teams. There will be no spontaneous outbreak of improvementthe cultural norm of guarding the friendly without intervention, feedback and coaching. 2climate marks it more as a Congenial team. Give “life and clout” to the California Standards for the Teaching Profession Stan- The exact classification, however, is less dard No. 6: Developing as a Professional Educator, especially 6.3 — Working withimportant for leaders than being clear about Communities to Improve Professional Practice (“Inspect what you expect”). Usehow to monitor, supervise and coach Team existing evaluation standards to reward contribution and recommend growth where9B to work in ways that are more likely to needed.impact student learning. This requires thatleaders recognize malfunctioning teamsand adopt a toolkit of intervention strategies 3 Develop clear definitions and images for what constitutes a high functioning, “ac- countable” PLC that impacts student learning. Share these descriptions with teams so they can self assess their performance.listed above. They also need a clear vision ofwhat a high-performing team looks like.The Accountable Community: 4 Collect data on what is actually happening. If the principal had really observed Team 9B, he would have been able to give growth feedback to the team leader or the entire team.The vision of excellence Accountable Communities are the much principals who have gone overboard ondesired but rarely achieved ideal for teamfunctioning. They are demanding and Accountable Communities are the collaboration. Ironically, these groups are marked as much by what they don’t collabo-sometimes uncomfortable places to work.Labeling a community as “accountable” much desired but rarely achieved rate about! Some have described this as “re- lentless focus” on matters of instruction andmeans its members have moved beyond ideal for team functioning. They learning (see box above).merely working together well in service of If school leaders want to maximize thestudents in general. The team takes direct are demanding and sometimes power of PLCs, they need to not just sup-responsibility for monitoring its own ac- uncomfortable places to work. port, but monitor and coach. Otherwise,tions and for calling others on behaviors and we will have a few great teams, fewer greatstances that are not helpful to the mission. schools and many students performing Accountable Communities impact the Because of the emphasis on problem below our hopes. nconsistency and quality of members’ class- solving and the constant fine-tuning thatroom instruction more than teams function- goes on in Accountable Communities, the Referencesing at other levels. Accountable Communi- impact of their teaching on student learn- Lencioni, Patrick. (2002). The Five Dysfunc-ties live a “no quarter, no excuses” existence, ing is less random. Through their skilled tions of a Team. San Francisco: Jossey-where every choice a teacher makes is open problem solving, they relentlessly address examination and revision when there are learning gaps (concepts not yet understoodstudents who have not yet learned what they and skills not yet mastered) for both adults This article was adapted from “The Skill-need to learn. and students. ful Leader II: Confronting Conditions That Could you describe any of your teams as There is a willingness to move beyond Undermine Learning” (2008).accountable? Do you have some good teams the most obvious solutions and responses towho could stretch to this level of perfor- problems and seek other explanations andmance? opportunities. They let go of treasured but Alexander D. Platt and Caroline Tripp are authors These communities are bonded and mo- non-working approaches when faced with of the best-selling book, “The Skillful Leader:tivated by the glue of common goals, com- data indicating their lack of success. When Confronting Mediocre Teaching” (2000) andmon agreements, common assessment and/ the knowledge of the group falls short, they the new book, “The Skillful Leader II: Confrontingor common students. They do not depend seek external expertise. Conditions that Undermine Learning”on external authorities to police them; they Accountable Communities do not col- ( Platt is also a seminarare able to connect their classroom work to laborate on everything. They are very se- speaker at ACSA’s upcoming Leadership Summit,larger organizational goals. lective and are known to push back against Nov. 6-8 in San Diego.22 Leadership