Soon, I’ll be interviewing principals who have applied to join the 2015 Learning School Alliance cohort. During that interview, I always ask a simple yet compelling question, “Why do you think the Learning School Alliance is right for your school?” Usually their answer gives me keen insight into whether or not the school is ready for candid conversations and deep work to improve educator practice, change behaviors, embrace transparency, and work collaboratively to achieve team-developed goals.
Over the years, I’ve gotten interesting answers to my simple question. Some principals see the Learning School Alliance as a way to solidify their own leadership power and influence. Others honestly admit they were told by someone in central office to join the alliance to fix whatever problems the school faced. Still others mention colleagues who’ve been through the program and recommend they do the same.
My favorite answer, though, came from a veteran principal who genuinely wanted to see the student and adult learners in her school thrive and grow. She said for years they had “done PLCs” but few teachers at the school really understood what it meant to be a learning school.
She had read the Standards for Professional Learning and realized the Learning Communities standard described what she desired for the school. She wanted everyone working horizontally and vertically to create, as the standard states, “Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students (that) occurs within learning communities committed to continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and goal alignment.”
The alliance is a yearlong program for schools to use a collaborative professional learning community approach to school improvement. It brings together school teams in a collective setting that encourages honest dialogue and idea sharing about the member schools’ student achievement goals and the adult learning plans they design to meet them. The principal determined this approach was the right starting point for a ground-up transformation in which all the adults took responsibility for the business of learning.
Before you embark on your next professional learning initiative, ask these questions to make sure that you and your team are ready to make the commitment necessary to achieve ongoing success:
- How can we foster our staff’s ability to work together as colleagues to support attaining our learning goals for students?
- How can we build trust between teachers and administrators in our school and district to foster buy-in and ongoing support?
- What professional learning structures are in place to cultivate in-house expertise in instruction, curriculum, and assessment?
- How can we build a culture in our school where educators challenge each other to accept no excuses for low student achievement?
Ultimately, any ambitious school improvement effort isn’t for the faint-hearted. Such challenges require candid conversations, transparency, and difficult work to improve educator practice and change behaviors.
Director of Learning, Learning Forward
The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.