To the Editor:
Your In Perspective article “Working Smarter by Working Together” (April 2, 2008), on the professional learning community at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Ill., was a compelling description of how educators can organize themselves to learn from each other. Adult learning, however, should only be an interim goal. Professional learning communities will become just one more transitory innovation unless they narrowly focus their efforts on improving teacher performance and raising student achievement.
Quantitative and qualitative data about student-learning challenges must shape the agendas of the teams. All that really matters is whether, and how effectively, these teams cause educators to apply their learning to advance student performance, and how well students respond.
The writer is a distinguished senior fellow of the National Staff Development Council, based in Oxford, Ohio.
To the Editor:
Although I applaud Adlai E. Stevenson High School for recognizing and supporting professional learning communities, I am concerned that the school provides only 35 minutes a week for formal collaboration, and that teachers have to supply the rest of the time by coming in early. For too long, teachers have been spending their own resources of time, strength, and money to make their classrooms work. Until school administrators and the public recognize that teaching well involves much more than standing before a class and parroting a textbook, we haven’t a shot at the universal excellence our country strives for.
By way of demonstrating that school districts can do a better job of supporting their teachers, I add that from 1974 to 1988, I was lucky enough to be an elementary principal in Madison, Wis., where all elementary schools dismissed an hour and a half early on Mondays so teachers could get together to deliberate, investigate, and plan—without rules or restrictions.
In Madison’s middle schools at that time, all teachers of the same academic subject had common planning periods daily. As a result of these provisions of time, teaching everywhere rose to higher levels, and many teachers became stars in the district or in the state. A few reached national prominence because of their outstanding work.
The writer is a past president of the National Council of Teachers of English, based in Urbana, Ill.
A version of this article appeared in the April 23, 2008 edition of Education Week as Set Goals and Make Time For Teacher Collaboration