February 25, 2009

Random Ramblings after Too Little Sleep

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.  

Final thoughts:
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. 


  1. I agree with your blog about Plcs especially the "Bang on" part with staff meetings...How much of our staff meeting time is focused on student learning, rather than nit picking one another and worrying about other staff members are wearing and doing? Also, throwing people into groups and saying, "ok be collabrative" is kind of a shot in the dark and also very unproductive...I beleive some staff are gung ho for the group they are put in where others feel it is irrelavent to their own personal agendas and don't really understand how it fits into their every-day teaching. If our entire being is to be focused on students and student learning then don't we really need to be involving our students and getting their input and ideas as well? Maybe it will help focus our group discussions into a focal point that can be agreed upon, and in return, measured. I also like the point that you mentioned about the push for more accountability and driven data. With cut backs, lack of funding and staff being housed into various positions, is it really feasable? Why can`t our word and time spent with each student and the knowledge we have as a professional be enough....We are all pushing for a stronger move toward student centered, student learning, differentiated learning, etc but I find it ironic that people say they are buying into it, but then I hear comments like, `why should the students have a say, its not their school`....But technically, isn`t it shared between all of us...Who, or what are we really here for then

  2. Palaniuk, you make some good points. Your point about some people being gung ho for the group they are in and others feeling their group is irrelevant is interesting because I am sitting in a session with Thomas Many and he is talking about how to successfully implement PLC's...and he is, at this moment, talking about the same thing.

  3. cool, I'm curious to hear what his ideas and solutions are...It's great to hear from others that are experiencing similar frustrations. Keep us posted

  4. Your post is exactly what I hoped you would be saying after the conference ... "PLC's are not going away" ... "excited" ... "mold into what works for our school" ... "EXCITED about collaboration"!

    I have so many things to say! However, I'm still at the school and you know how my days go here! So I will post more later tonight. I'm looking forward to hearing about the rest of your day.

  5. They had a map of North America which illustrated all the states and provinces that are doing PLC's...it is virtually everywhere. This afternoon I got to hear about what some groups are doing...exciting stuff. I am just heading to the panel discussion now so hopefully that brings even more insight and ideas.