Tag Archive for PLC

Make Like an Obstetrician and Deliver

Crazy title, eh?  That’s what I thought as I was reading the book Making makingteamworkmeaningfulTeamwork Meaningful by Ferriter, Graham, and Wight.  I heard Will Ferriter present at the PLC Institute this past July and could not get enough of what I was learning from him, so I had to buy his book.  For those of you on the Professional Learning Community journey, I highly recommend this book that is filled with great tools for PLC teams to use.

Now, back to the crazy title…please follow me with a brief history lesson that makes a great analogy to how important our work is.

The authors share the story of how obstetricians, just like teachers, have committed themselves to working collaboratively together to improve their practice together.  Their movement to collective inquiry largely began with Virginia Apgar in 1953.  Apgar loved working in delivery rooms, but was troubled by the seemingly insensitive treatment that many babies received at birth.  Any minor struggle with breathing, poor coloring, or small size could quickly result in a doctor’s judgement that the baby would not make it and just left the baby to quietly die.

Apgar believed that making such rash choices about a child’s future based on nothing more than general impressions was morally wrong.  This led her to develop what we all know today as the Apgar test, which is a simple and repeatable procedure used by nurses and doctors with a baby at one and five minutes after birth.  It was the Apgar test that improved the traditional practices that had previously resulted in doctors giving up on babies that just appeared unhealthy.  Furthermore, doctors began using the Apgar observations to find new new ways to intervene to see if they could improve a baby’s Apgar score between the one and five minute mark.  This collective inquiry has tremendously improved rapid advances in neonatal care and dramatically decreased the rate of infant mortality since the 1950’s.

So, how does this relate to education?  We are just as likely to fall into the same trap that those doctors did many years ago and make quick decisions based on our general impressions about students. ‘He’ll never get this,” we sometimes think about a struggling student, or “I’ve seen a million kids just like him.’

“Such a reliance on nothing more than gut-reactions can result in students who fail simply because teachers stop fighting on their behalf.” (p. 63)


No, the decisions that we make regarding the students in our classrooms are not life or death as it was for the doctors prior to the Apgar test; however, we are making decisions that will affect their lives.  Educators in a Professional Learning Community are committed to progress-driven learning and never stop fighting.  Instead, they collaborate, use common assessments to analyze student results, develop interventions and make a difference in the learning lives of their students.




Sharing Effective Practices with Teachers

If I were to go back to being a classroom teacher, I think I would be one of the best teachers ever…not because I think so highly of myself, but because as a principal, I get to see the best practices in classrooms every day. I could take the best from each teacher I’ve seen and put them together to be a Super Teacher with effective strategies for everything!

As the instructional leader of the building, I feel it is my duty to share with my staff the great instructional practices I see in our building. We have excellent teachers doing amazing things each day. During their grade level/PLC meetings they collaborate and share with each other, but sometimes I think they don’t realize how much they really have to share with each other. Or they don’t realize that some of the great things they do are obvious to them and assume everyone is already doing them. So, how can you get your teachers to learn from each other? How can you get everyone to implement effective strategies that are already great for learning for students in your building?

One way is to have teachers observe others. This is difficult to get started, because teachers do not want to seem like evaluators or feel like they are imposing on each other. I encourage my staff to observe others to gain ideas and many have done so as we have gone school-wide with our literacy framework of Daily 5/Cafe. In addition we require our probationary teachers to observe their mentors twice a year (and mentors to observe their mentees twice a year). I have recently read how leaders like Shira Leibowitz are having their teachers observing each other by having learning walks together as a team.

An even easier method, that doesn’t require classroom coverage or extra time on the teachers’ part is in your weekly memos. I have previously posted about how I utilize my staff blog to past a Monday Memo and Friday Focus post each week. I originally learned about a weekly memo from Todd Whitaker as a way to share great practices with staff. When you share a practice with staff in a memo, it is just the beginning of a learning process. Good teaching in the classroom follows a whole-part-whole approach, as does my practice of sharing great instructional practices with teachers. When I highlight great instructional strategies in my Monday Memo each week, it is the “whole part” introduction to all staff. The next step is getting into classrooms for walkthroughs…you wouldn’t believe how many people I see trying the strategies that I mention in my Monday Memos. When I see this, I praise the teachers for their efforts and for the student learning I see as a result of it. I then follow up with the “whole part” again in a memo after a while again highlighting a particular practice, why it’s effective and thanking staff for being willing to try new things.
I’d love to hear how other principals encourage teachers to try new effective strategies that their colleagues are already successful with? How do you encourage your staff to learn from each other?

Building a Culture of Collaboration

I have not updated this blog in so long that I couldn’t even remember how to login! This new school year has been flying by, with very little extra time for me to get online at night. Why? Because I’m pregnant!! That’s right! I’m now 5 1/2 months pregnant and due in May. It’s quite exciting, but overwhelming at the same time.

Anyhow, I’ve been having a pretty successful year as a 2nd year principal and feel like we are making great progress at our school. It definitely feels better than last year. I was realizing the other day how much I have benefited from other principals I’ve connected with on the net and want to get this blog going again to put my communication out there.

For now, I’m going to copy/paste my articles that have been in the NAESP Communicator. I was excited to be selected as their mentor center principal for the year, because as I’ve read in previous years, many administators offered feedback. Unfortunately this year, the Communicator is now mostly online and you have to login to access it. So there has been very little feedback for me. I’m hoping that by also posting here, I will get more feedback.

Here was my article for October: Building a Culture of Collaboration
Throughout my first year as an elementary principal, I spent much time observing and learning about the school, its culture, and its history, and changing the things I could not live with. I worked hard with staff throughout the year in staff meetings and leadership team meetings to begin change processes to implement this school year. I thought my second year as principal would get easier, but now that I know how much work has to be done, it seems I’m working even harder than before. I still have hope that the third year will get easier.
Some changes at our school this year include: beginning stages of response to intervention and positive behavioral interventions and supports, school celebration assemblies, having the secretary manage my schedule and sort my mail, and meeting with each teacher to discuss his or her professional goals to tailor my classroom walkthrough feedback to individual goals. One other major change is providing biweekly substitute coverage (using ARRA stimulus funds) to allow grade levels to meet for collaboration during the school day. I have provided teachers with a meeting protocol to follow and take notes on that follows Dufour’s guiding questions for a professional learning community. I have found that some grade levels truly collaborate and accomplish great things together; however, other grade levels do not stay student focused or data-driven and revert back to venting or chatting if I’m not there to keep them on track.
I’m hoping administrators can offer some strategies or resources to help build the collaboration among grade levels so they are focused on student learning as a team, even when I’m not there in the meeting to monitor. I appreciate your input and hope that everyone is off to a great new school year!