Professional Learning Teams

During recent professional development work in two different districts I have been noticing increased teacher interest and willingness to explore a more collegial or team based approach to meeting student achievement goals It was especially motivating for me that one of the sites was all secondary teachers.

My thinking was reinforced while reading a recent Education Week post (June 28, 2010) by Tom Carroll and Hanna Doerr of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) titled Learning Teams and the Future of Teaching.

…according to the most recent MetLife Survey of the American Teacher (2009), today’s teachers work alone—they spend an average of 93 percent of their time in school working in isolation from their colleagues, and they continue to work alone during their out-of-school hours of preparation and grading. Their day-to-day work is disconnected from the efforts of their colleagues, and their pullout professional development is fragmented and poorly aligned with their students’ learning needs.

In last week’s blog, I provided some examples of teachers collaboratively planning and assessing student progress. NCTAF identifies learning teams for creating teacher collegiality focused on student achievement:

NCTAF’s Six Principles of Success for Professional Learning Teams

Shared Values and Goals: The team should have a shared vision of the capabilities of students and teachers. They should also clearly identify a problem around which the learning team can come together, with an ultimate goal of improving student learning.

Collective Responsibility: Team members should have shared and appropriately differentiated responsibilities based on their experience and knowledge levels. There should be a mutual accountability for student achievement among all members of the learning team.

Authentic Assessment: Teachers in the community should hold themselves collectively accountable for improving student achievement, by using assessments that give them real time feedback on student learning and teaching effectiveness. These assessments are valued—not because they are linked to high stakes consequences—but because they are essential tools to improve learning.

Self-Directed Reflection: Teams should establish a feedback loop of goal-setting, planning, standards, and evaluation, driven by the needs of both teachers and students.

Stable Settings: The best teams cannot function within a dysfunctional school. Effective teams required dedicated time and space for their collaborative work to take place. This required the support, and occasionally, positive pressure from school leadership.

Strong Leadership Support: Successful teams are supported by their school leaders who build a climate of openness and trust in the school, empower teams to make decisions based on student needs, and apply appropriate pressure perform.
Source: The National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future

Here are some video clips where NCTAF features schools implementing learning teams.

Note how the following quote from Michel Fullan, All Systems Go (pg 72), illustrates the power of Learning Teams:

The power of collective capacity is that it enables ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things—for two reasons:

…knowledge about effective practice becomes more widely available and accessible on a daily basis

…working together generates commitment

Building collective capacity should be on the top of school leaders’ agendas as they plan for the start of a new school year. Teachers learning in teams to meet students’ achievement goals provides a strategy.

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