I just got back to my hotel room after listening to Rebecca Dufour talk about the power of PLC's and am really wishing that there was someone here with me. The main topic up for discussion, after all, was collaboration. Now I have all these ideas floating around in my head and nobody to bounce things off of. Thank god for the wonderful world of blogging!
So Rebecca lead off with a brief discussion about closing the "learning gap". She stated that the general public feels that the learning gap exists because of social problems and not because of the educational system. However, the general public also feels that it is up to schools to solve this problem. In comes the need for us to create highly effective schools - PLC's being a vehicle for this process. This I get, this I understand and am excited about. For, as she explained, PLC's are not something you do every Wednesday morning. They are not something that you "did" last year, and they are not something that you change year to year. PLC's are an ethos, a collaborative culture that promotes betterment of staff and students. Being thrown into a group and being told to "go be collaborative" are counterproductive to this system and demonstrates a lack of understanding for what the true nature of PLC's really is. She stated that in addition to this, staff learning curves need to be steep, for staff and student learning go hand in hand.
As she made her presentation I had several revelations. One, it was a bit ironic that our discussion of collaboration consisted of us sitting and listening to a speaker. But then again, how are 1600 people supposed to be collaborative? Two: Rebecca asked us to think about what we had spent time discussing in our staff meetings. If topics consisted of dress code and field trips...well...does that stuff really have an impact on student learning? Bang on. We have spent a great deal of time on our dress code...is this really having an impact on student learning. Probably not. Three: everything she is talking about is very progressive and exciting. Imagine a school in which not only is student learning the absolute most important aspect, but everyone is on board in a collaborative way, and on board to such an extent that they are extremely hungry for new methods of progressive thinking, and on board to such an extent that they can't wait to share that new progressive thinking in their collaborative environment. Not such a stretch is it? After all, many schools look like this. But sometimes we get sidetracked.
Going to conferences such as this one is great for recharging the batteries and getting excited about innovative thinking. I am booked into a hotel full of people eager to learn as much as they can from some very innovative thinkers. Everyone is excited to go back to their learning cultures and share their enthusiasm. As a side not, 7 provinces, 46 states, and Singapore are attending this conference. PLC's are HUGE! And they are not going anywhere! However, that is not to say that we shouldn't think progressively about PLC's. They might not be the answer to all life's questions. But, just as we would expect our students to do, we can mold them into what works for our school. One aspect I am struggling with is the reappearing theme of data driven assessment and accountability. Although the American education system is different from our Canadian one these are themes I see emerging in our province as well. Data is an excellent thing, but it is expensive...and I don't think we're willing to spend the money. When our division is moving toward a certain student to teacher ration - even if this means decreasing the number of professional positions, I don't know if accurate data driven objectives are as easy to obtain. When I ask a teacher what mark does that student deserve and they reply: "75%" and I ask "how do you know" and they respond "I just know", that is the good data. That is the stuff that we need to be measuring. That teacher knows because he/she has spent a great deal of time with that student, he has done checklists (perhaps in his head), seen a huge sample of great variety. But that "good stuff" is expensive...as mentioned here (watch this video...this guy is awesome!!!).
As I was sitting listening to "how are we going to get students to learn" I thought of my own learning style. I am an active learner. I need to move, question, discuss, and share. And then I remembered a couple days earlier, when my Outdoor Ed class built snowshoes. I had a loose format we could follow. Instead, we moved around, asked each other what they did that worked, that didn't work, what ideas they had. We discussed what we wanted to learn, how we were going to learn it, and how would we know if we were successful (one student said: "we'll know if they work if we don't fall through the snow). The point is, we had our own PLC group right there in which everybody learned and shared in a collaborative environment centered on student learning (and my own). It was an exciting environment to be a part of.