While at the PLC conference in Seattle, as I mentioned before, Richard DuFour spoke at length. One of his presentations centered on the myths of education. Here’s a very brief synopsis of some of that presentation. He called each idea a “myth” (maybe a mythstake would be better), but I would call them misunderstandings or errors.
Myth #1: Since teachers are clearly shown to have a profound impact on student achievement, teachers are given professional development opportunities to improve their individual classroom practices. This means that classrooms are essentially improved one at a time. Individual teacher growth does not mean organizational growth occurs. Systems in a school improve the culture more quickly than individual teacher improvement. In a PLC everyone on a team learns together, so multiple classrooms are improved simultaneously.
Myth #2: Principals have been told they are instructional leaders; however, DuFour advocates for the term “learning leader.” This subtle change in term means principals do not focus on supervision of and evaluation of individual teachers but begin to focus on the capacity of teacher teams to facilitate learning. (He even called principal walk-throughs “silly” and “ineffective.”)
Myth #3: Schools tend to create “groups” rather than “teams.” DuFour talked about how the end result of groups is collaboration, whereas the end of result of teams is student learning. Too often groups of teachers are placed in a room and told to collaborate without being given a definite goal, or too diverse a group of teachers (no commonality in content taught) is put together and the end result is a complaint session or simple talk about kids in general. Results must drive the collaboration based on common classroom assessments (which also means team members must share common content they teach).
Myth #4: Schools are often told they need to be “data driven,” but schools drown in too much data. What DuFour advocates is the use of data comprised of common assessment results. Formative assessments are used often and summative assessments more seldomly. Regardless, the data of each classroom and the team entire is analyzed to improve instruction and to identify points of weakness in students and teachers. Transparency and openness are critical. If every teacher sees their students struggle on a particular skill, then the whole team needs professional development on that skill. (This leads to professional development being driven by student and teacher need rather than by district or state dictate.)
Myth #5: Educators often say they do not have time to assess students since so much must be taught. DuFour then talked about how the best teachers assess all the time. Of course, this means that informal assessments must be given as much respect as formal assessments. Common formative and summative assessing should be ongoing and regular and, maybe most importantly, created by the team.
As some of you may have surmised, the PLC ideas and principles dovetail into discussions surrounding the use and scope of grading, the purposes of collaboration, and the authority of teams over what and how they teach.
More to come later.