Meta-reflection for Standards 6 & 7: Communication & Collaboration

The process of completing a needs assessment was extremely informative! I loved creating, administering, and analyzing my own (with my partner) survey and hearing confidential (so, more truthful) answers to tough questions. We created the survey in the end of January because we wanted to get started right away. We asked the staff to get back to us within a week and a half. We got most of the staff’s results and began our analysis of the data and completing our needs assessment. After our face-to-face meeting, Star and I received feedback and then began our Action Plan. Star and I did 100% of the project together; we completed nothing without the presence of the other. We found the data analysis not only surprising at times but also reassuring that we weren’t the only ones feeling that one particular aspect was lacking or another was already robust. This is in regards to the Nine Characteristics of High Performing Schools (which was the bases of all our questions we created for the survey). I found that completing the Action Plan was more difficult than I had thought it would be at first. It was challenging to create a SMART goal and make sure that all the steps that needed to be accomplished in order to accomplish the SMART goal were addressed.  Star and I, as indicated in the action plan, intend on bringing this product to our Building Learning Team (BLT) to see if the implementation of Critical Friends Groups (CFGs) and more effort toward increasing family involvement (specifically in conferences) could be pushed forward! The artifact below is the survey given to the staff, the needs assessment and the action plan that was developed in regards to the previous documents. These artifacts satisfy standard 6: Communication: Communicates regularly and effectively with colleagues, parents, and students through a variety of mediums. These artifacts also satisfy standard 7: Collaboration: Cooperates with other professionals to bridge gaps between schools and community and between departments/disciplines with schools.

Response Summary Survey

Needs Assessment

Action Plan

Below is a direct link to all artifacts and discussions that I feel have implications regarding communication and collaboration.

https://oswook.wordpress.com/category/standard-6-communication/

https://oswook.wordpress.com/category/standard-7-collaboration/

Response Summary Survey, Needs Assessment and Action Plan

To assess the beliefs of ———- Elementary staff we created and administered a survey regarding the Nine Characteristics of High Performing Schools prepared by G. Sue Shannon, senior researcher for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). Twenty-two staff members, out of a possible 36 people (61%), completed the online survey that was comprised of 22 questions. The questions were on a nominal scale of never, sometimes, often and always. After analyzing the compiled data we found three areas that displayed need. The first area of need was under the characteristic of effective school leadership specifically the question I believe leadership is shared between administration and staff. 59.1% of the participants answered sometimes. The second area of concern was under the characteristic of high levels of collaboration and communication. The question was I believe there is clear communication between administration and staff; 50% answered sometimes. The third area of need also falls under the characteristic of high levels of collaboration and communication. The question was I believe parents and community members are involved in identifying problems and working toward solutions with the school. 81% of the staff that took the survey answered sometimes.

Below are links to the Response Summary Survey that the staff completed, the needs assessment created based on the survey results, and the action plan focused on the top two areas of need identified in the needs assessment. (All  school, district, city and tribe names were omitted for privacy).

Response Summary Survey

Needs Assessment

Action Plan

Action Plan Reflection

The process of completing a needs assessment was extremely informative! I loved creating, administering, and analyzing my own (with my partner) survey and hearing confidential (so, more truthful) answers to tough questions. We created the survey in the end of January because we wanted to get started right away. We asked the staff to get back to us within a week and a half. We got most of the staff’s results and began our analysis of the data and completing our needs assessment. After our face-to-face meeting, Star and I received feedback and then began our Action Plan. Star and I did 100% of the project together; we completed nothing without the presence of the other. We found the data analysis not only surprising at times but also reassuring that we weren’t the only ones feeling that one particular aspect was lacking or another was already robust. This is in regards to the Nine Characteristics of High Performing Schools (which was the bases of all our questions we created for the survey). I found that completing the Action Plan was more difficult than I had thought it would be at first. It was challenging to create a SMART goal and make sure that all the steps that needed to be accomplished in order to accomplish the SMART goal were addressed.  Star and I, as indicated in the action plan, intend on bringing this product to our Building Learning Team (BLT) to see if the implementation of CFGs and more effort toward increasing family involvement (specifically in conferences) could be pushed forward!

A Call to Action!

“If we could present an absolutely irrefutable case that the successful implementation of professional learning community concepts in your school will result in higher levels of student achievement and greater professional satisfaction for your educators, would you be willing to make substantive changes in your traditional practices to effect that successful implementation?”

-Richard DuFour, Robert Eaker, Rebecca DuFour

On Common Ground

In DuFour et al.’s book On Common Ground, in the chapter titled, Closing the Knowing-Doing Gap, the authors focus on what barriers schools come across and give suggestions on how to overcome those barriers. Reading this chapter through an educator’s lens, examining my practice, my school’s practices and the district that I teach in was at first scary, then enlightening, and finally, after days of thought, I was left with a feeling of hope–the thought that I have the power to help turn the tides. This, according to DuFour et.al., is the first step to creating a more effective school; if schools are to change, people need to be willing to change their practice. Not only do the people need to change but each cell of the organization needs to shift with an organized and intentional plan to create the system change, (DuFour, 180-181).

I found that each barrier addressed in On Common Ground, is not necessarily a barrier that can be overcome completely as there is always room for the improvement of all practice. One barrier that I find most common and most human is the barrier #5: Mindless precedent. People are quite reluctant to change and that could possibly be more so in education as we educators feel personally attached to our practice in an intense way. We have to learn that teaching to the status quo or believing that the way we do things in our classroom is the best way–the only way is not progressive thinking. We need to analyze our practice and the practice of others with the students’ best interests in mind. After all, isn’t that why we do this? As written on page 235, in On Common Ground, “The single best strategy for addressing this barrier to action is to bring the unstated assumptions that created the precedent to the surface–to challenge people to think carefully about the assumptions underlying their practice” (DuFour). Furthermore, the only way these assumptions can be presented nakedly to the staff is if shared leadership is practiced and trust is present amongst all staff. Leaders should hash out new practices with the staff in so doing creating a shared knowledge base and discuss the assumptions that brought the idea of change to the table. Allow everyone opportunities to say their peace–conducting “honest dialogue about the similarities and differences” (DuFour) between the ‘old way’ and the ‘new way’. These barriers addressed by DuFour, et. al., are not a means to an end but rather a means to continuous evaluation and evolution; with this in mind I feel that we are more willing and able to take action.

(title: A Call to Action is the title for section 5 of DuFour et. al.’s book On Common Ground)

Teachers As Researchers

“The classroom teacher must be like a researcher because….”

Researchers often follow the scientific method: they ask a question, do background research, construct a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, analyze the data, draw a conclusion, share the information and start all over again. teachers follow a similar process; we call it the teaching-learning cycle. We ask, “What do my students need to know?” (Question) We ask, “How will we teach effectively to ensure students learn?” (hypothesis) Then, “How will we know that students have learned?” (assessment/test hypothesis) And, “What do we do when students don’t learn or exceed expectations?” (analyze the data and draw conclusion. We can add to that to include the sharing of information to cycle to ensure collaboration of many minds throughout the entire process as researchers and teachers rarely work alone. A way to achieve this inclusion of collaboration in the teacher/learner process is to utilize collaborative groups such as: lesson studies, Critical Friends Groups (CFG), or book studies.

In our discussions and readings this week a common theme of support and trust amongst staff was apparent. Not only was it an apparent prerequisite to true and naked collaboration but it also seems to be a need that is lacking in many schools. In Critical Friends Groups “teachers take the lead in their own learning” (Zepeda). This is not a group where chatting and commiserating is focus; it’s quite the opposite. Support and trust are imperative because it is a continual process that is focused on student learning through a goal oriented (“specific, measureable, achievable, relevant, trackable, and ongoing”) (Zepeda) approach to student learning. You must be willing to take risks and be willing to except change.

Another way to improve practice is lesson study. My district has embraced this approach with our professional development days. The professional development consists of one full day of questioning, hypothesizing, researching and analyzing previous data surrounding the concept. The second day is used as a studio day where teachers collaborate on student learning and what lessons need to be taught next. We write the lessons together with the children in mind and then get to watch the lesson be taught. We then reconvene at the end of the lesson to discuss what went well in regards to student understanding and what needs tweaking or what needs to be revisited at a later date. We “Study curriculum and formulate goals, plan, conduct research, and reflect” (Zepeda).

All in a day’s work! 🙂

Breathing Space

What makes a fire burn

is a space between the logs,

a breathing space…

-Judy Brown

In Teaching with fire: Poetry that sustains the courage to teach

(2003)

A safe environment is necessary where teachers (not only students) feel that they can take risks and breathe while doing so. From what I know about human nature is that we like boundaries; children and adults alike. As adults we often assume that we can carry focused, productive, professional conversations; however, I’m sure all of us can think of at least one person who cannot (perhaps that person is us and we aren’t aware.) Protocols can provide boundaries where risks in providing ideas, sharing thoughts, and discussing teaching methods and student work can occur without feeling like you’re under water.

“If time is going to be spent on reflection, teachers need to be taught to structure their meetings” (Dearman and ALber). The use of protocols, not only in staff or district meetings, but in book studies and grade level teams can create an environment that flourishes, adapts, and builds off of each others’ strengths. Protocols ensure that everyone is heard and time is used efficiently and effectively – focused on student work and improving teaching practices. As one of my colleagues said, “When people break away from the norms of the protocol, the focus and the purpose of the discussion begin to fade away.” All too often I have participated in protocol-ran conversations and the group slowly decides to slip away from the protocol and it only starts bantering and chatting about what a student did at lunch or something funny that happened in class. This type of conversation is essential in building friendships but not for improving teaching practice and student performance.

What is our purpose (our shared purpose) in this meeting… “The purpose…is to learn more about the student and in focusing on the student to learn about one’s own teaching” (http://www.lasw.org/vp.html). If this quote must become a mantra or a huge poster in the front of each meeting place, so be it!

Playing Hit the Target!

“Students can hit any target that they can clearly see and doesn’t move.”

Stiggens reiterates throughout his essay that student confidence is an essential component of success in learning. In order to aid in student confidence a goal cannot be a mirage that is constantly wavering. If this is the case hope begins to diminish when the student realizes that the goal will forever be untouchable and out of reach. “This requires that we ensure that all students believe that success is within reach if they keep trying” (DuFour, 73).

Many people throughout the discussion mentioned the importance of self- assessment and clearly stated and written learning objectives for both the teacher and the students to refer to as a strategy to improve student confidence. In my classroom, I provide an end-of-the-unit self assessment at the beginning of the unit in order for the students to see where they are and where they will be going. They take this assessment at the end of the unit as well so they can see how much they have improved. This is a huge confidence builder.

Someone in the discussion mentioned concepts we discussed in a previous course about teachers being leaders and not the dictators of learning; teachers are the sharers of knowledge, not the keepers of knowledge. I was thinking that a simply way of executing this personae is to do investigations and explorations and being forward with learning objectives. Another way could be the use of charts. I use charts to write learning objectives for all to see. Using a chart students are then given guiding questions they can use to guide their independent work. Then, after independent work we can come back together and discuss and chart our learning further. In the end, the chart has our goal, guidance, and the results of student learning all on one piece of paper! This takes me back to our discussions surrounding the Nine Characteristics of High Performing Schools and how important it is to have a clear and shared focus not only between staff but between staff and our students! Before, I wasn’t thinking this was a characteristic regarding anything but staff; boy was I wrong!

Stiggins also discussed the importance of synergy between formative and summative assessments in order to build student confidence and promote achievable competence. Assessment FOR learning promotes the growth toward the goal by informing students of where they are and how to get to the goal.  Assessment OF learning verifies their learning.

In the end, we must nurture confidence in our students so that they can say, “I am not there yet, but I know where ‘there’ is, and I’m on my way” (DuFour, 78). And, “I’m not there yet, but I am much closer than I was and, if I keep trying, I am going to get there” (DuFour, 79).

Community

“Of all the habits of mind modeled in schools, the habit of working to understand others, of striving to make sense of differences, of extending to others the assumption of good faith, of working towards the enlarged understanding of the group -in short, the pursuit of community- may be the most important” (Grossman, Wineburg, and Woolworth, 2001, p. 1000).

This week’s readings surrounding Professional Learning Communities (PLC) really hit home in regards to the staff at my school. Our staff meeting this week was suppose to be focused on professional development regarding a literacy component. Before the meeting began to take its planned course a few people had some announcements. One thing led to another and discussion broke out about frustrations and concerns teachers had about the relationships between the staff and between the staff and administration.  Do to the unique situation our building has, two school under one roof, tension has more opportunity to fester. Teachers were concerned about a divide that is beginning to occur between the staff especially because the students have very different needs (e.g. one being a Title 1 school, the other not.)

Though the discussion was left unsettled I am glad that it was allowed to occur. And, though the conversation wasn’t executed in the most professional or effective manner I am glad that someone  had the courage to speak out when they felt the community of learners amongst teachers was slipping in the wrong direction. Just like our students, adults can’t learn when they are anxious or unhappy. Taking risks is a requirement of effective PLCs. If we do not have faith and trust in each other, if we do not strive to make sense of our differences (whether it be between schools, teachers, or students) if we do not put the importance of the building, as a whole, being a community of learning – we will fail.

Cultural Relevance and Community-School Relationships

“Cultural relevance, Building partnerships with families…finding common ground with parents…family involvement will need to include options that accommodate family circumstances, provide choices, validate the family’s culture and values, and explicitly emphasize the importance of family support of the student’s learning” (Nine Characteristics, 120).

Throughout the discussion cultural relevance came up often as an integral element in serving all students and their families. Many ideas were mentioned to promote a more cohesive relationship between schools and culturally diverse communities. Providing various venues for families to attend parent/teacher/student conferences such as gymnasiums, community centers or parks could alleviate any pressure parents may feel toward government institutions; the idea of meeting on common ground.

“When this partnership is extended to include the larger community, the benefits are greater yet. Perhaps most important is that when responsibility for children’s learning is shared by the school, home, and community, children have more opportunities for meaningful, engaged learning. Students are able to see the connection between the curriculum in the school and the skills that are required in the real world” (http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/envrnmnt/famncomm/pa400.htm).   Developing culturally integrated educational opportunities such as the development of story poles which occurred on the Tulalip Indian Reservation a couple years ago and this year! This provides students, families, community and school members an opportunity to collaborate and work together on a complex and culturally meaningful project that inspires pride and confidence in one’s self and culture.

“This vision of school improvement compels us to create a new conception of the appropriate relationship between the school and its community, parents, and families. Pedagogically, as we have come to know the importance of rooting learning in children’s real lives, we can no longer tolerate the artificial boundaries between the classroom and the home. Politically, as we move the authority for decision making down to those closest to children, we cannot afford to exclude parents and community members from the process of crafting new schools. Nor can we avoid being held more directly accountable to the immediate community constituency for decisions made at the school site. Practically, schools have no chance of enacting the fundamental changes on the reform agenda in the absence of whole-hearted support from the entire community–parents, citizens, and business” (http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/envrnmnt/famncomm/pa400.htm).

As the above website mentioned, it is when we begin leading the students to middle and high school that parent involvement seems to drop. This is the time where we need to be most adamant but also begin developing the student’s independence by developing programs that support business, school and student relationships. The Council for Corporate and School Partnerships not only gives ideas for mentorships and apprenticeships but also on how to engage the local businesses in educating our youth. In my experience, local businesses and service industries such as the police department, Home Depot and the PUD are all extremely engaging and educational opportunities to involve our community members in our children’s educations and a great way to build an expanded community relationship!

Distributed and Shared Leadership

Everyone learns. Everyone leads. Everyone contributes.

I can’t remember who wrote this statement or when I read it. Once I read it; however,  it has been the banner on my work computer and on my cell phone!  I also believe this statement to sum up the main ideas of this week. Distributed and shared leadership. “Distributed leadership is characterized as a form of collective leadership in which teachers develop expertise by working together” (2004).

Coaching of many types were addressed in this week’s reading. The gradual release of responsibility was mentioned in regards to coaching, which matches perfectly with the statement above. Everyone is learning when both the coach and the teacher get the opportunity to observe each other; leading and contributing through planning lessons,  teaching and reflecting upon decisions and student learning outcomes. The knowledge that comes from these coaching cycles can then be brought to a larger group such as professional development studio work to further contribute to the teaching practice.

I would like to continue my reflection by switching gears, just a bit, and move toward a focus on district coaching as there was an intriguing discussion about whether district coaches are meant to advance system goals or individuals’ goals.

I believe that coaching is distributing leadership simply by empowering the teacher by aiding in filling the gap between theory and practice. Both coaches and classroom teachers have the ‘big picture’ district goals that they must adhere to, and for good reason, as many intelligent people are behind those system goals. So, the answer is to whether the coaches are meant to advance system goals or individuals’ goals? My answer is, “Yes!” Coaches have a big job. They, like gen. ed. teachers (all educators) have the responsibility to keep those system goals  on a pedestal while the coach coaches the classroom teacher in achieving his/her individual goals (that is, at the same time, making sure that the individual’s goals match the system’s goals.)

Harris, Alma. (2004). Distributed leadership and school improvement: Leading or misleading? Educational Management Administration Leadership, 32 (11).

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