When my nine member fourth grade team descended on my office, our conversation started like this:
Me: I knew you were coming about thirty minutes ago.
Them: How did you know?
Me: Thatâ€™s when my headache started.
Kidding aside, this team was burning with the passion to see their students succeed and they were always coming up with ideas and strategies they wanted to employ to help them. Our agreement was that before they came to me, they would already have collaborated as a whole team and reached consensus about their proposal. They would come having reflected on the plan sufficiently enough to have the details in place and the justification framed out. My commitment to them was that if they truly believed they could make a real difference and help their students succeed, I would agree to let them try. My personal expectations were that these strategies had to be based in best practices and that they held the potential to help students meet the learning expectations at a higher level than they were currently performing. Finally, there was agreement that if after dedicated effort we werenâ€™t seeing the student performance we expected, we would no longer continue to ride this â€śdead horseâ€ť but would adjust to meet the needs of the students.
Previously I had learned from Dr. Tim Lautzenhiser of â€śAttitude Concepts for Todayâ€ť that â€śwe/us is always faster, stronger, and smarter than I/me.â€ť Involving teachers in the decision-making and problem solving processes and empowering them to act on their ideas generated widespread ownership and commitment to the success of the initiatives on our campus. (fig.1) To promote continuous improvement requires that a learning community look for ways to change that drives the learning forward. In Richard Dufourâ€™s book, Professional Learning Communities At Work, he notes â€śChange is always a threat when it is done to people, but it is an opportunity when it is done by people. The ultimate key in creating pleasure in the hard work of change isâ€¦ to give people the tools and autonomy to make their own contribution to change.â€ť
My fourth grade team proposed that they be allowed to create a writers workshop wherein they would bring the entire fourth grade to the library to receive instruction in Thinking Mapâ€™s â€śWrite From the Beginning,â€ť which was the core of our writing program. They felt the students would all receive consistent instruction from the grade levelâ€™s strongest presenter and that in addition to the studentsâ€™ learning, the teachers would learn from one another. The teachers’ efforts to breakdown the walls of the individual classrooms in order to create shared planning and presentation, and to elevate the instruction received by each student, was a departure in practice, but not a departure from the vision and values of the campus. Ultimately, the combination of excellent teachers using a quality writing program netted our students the highest writing scores in the district and placed them among the highest in the state.
I would love to hear from other school leaders who have seen successes in their learning communities as a result of empowering teachers and staff members to design, create, and implement strategies for improvement. If you have not yet gone this route â€śtry it, youâ€™ll like it.â€ť The headache part was just kidding around.