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Teaching and Learning Needs Strong Teamwork: Ways to Create Time and Space for Teacher Learning

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Topics: Helping Teachers, Vision and Culture

How might we trust teachers more to do the bold, courageous work of personalizing competency-based learning for students? I’m often asked this by leaders who want to let go, but find it hard to do so.

To be a system of personalized, competency-based learning – to be a system of anything really – requires that our shared vision, values and common frameworks exist at all levels. It asks of us that we trust each other; that when I am teaching ELA, I know that my colleagues down the hall have my back because they are operating from the same frameworks. It means that when the district leadership team is meeting, they are operating from the same vision that they generated with me. But how do you actually get that? You have to start with culture first, and the instrument of change is voice.

Some guiding questions that you might ask for developing your culture first:

  • Where are we as a systemic culture?
  • How do we know?
  • To what degree do we trust each other? Where do we have it, and where is it lacking?
  • What norms do we need to make improvements?
  • What common and shared frameworks already exist? Which areas still need frameworks? (vision, norms, instructional, strategic plan, learning continuum, profile of a graduate, etc.)
  • How might we measure how our culture is doing?

When thinking about building the culture, start by building trust across the adults, which will give you a strong foundation for moving forward. Know your people. Consider whether you’re putting your energy into the nay-sayers or those who are advocates and champions of the work. You need the right people building the group up because they will apply positive peer pressure to those who aren’t completely on board yet. When you encounter resistance, remind them to consider how their decisions or assessments are aligned to the guaranteed and viable curriculum. This will cause them to reflect about their practice automatically, and even if they don’t follow through on the discussion, you planted a seed. Continue to nudge teachers that are questioning by focusing on them reflecting on their professional practice.

Another tactic for building culture is through professional learning communities (PLCs). Use teacher voice to begin to grow systemic structures and processes that build consistency yet allows for some creative autonomy. Protocols help participants build their own agency. After putting some consistency in place, look for how a third grade professional learning community compares to a ninth grade one, and collect data on the systemic behaviors to inform improvement cycles.

  • What structures are in place?
  • What is the data?
  • Is it working?
  • How do teachers feel about it?
  • How might we expand the time/consistency of the meetings?

As you’re building the systemic culture through PLCs, there are many ways to leverage them for professional development to grow personalized competency-based learning:

  • Use cross-grade level PLCs to build the learning continuum
  • Form them based on the building or district goals
  • For professional development, have teachers organize themselves into professional learning communities that are based on self-assessments on the instructional framework

Not everyone will love PLC time. Perform an analysis of the district to see what you are offering and how it can evolve and chance to best meet the needs of everyone:

  • What are the modes of learning that are there for adults? Analyze them for impact.
  • Which ones do the teachers say they want more of?
  • Which ones are really the leverage actions that are causing impact on professional practices?

Teaching and learning needs strong teamwork and requires time and space. Once we begin to empower teacher teams to drive their own learning, it becomes easier and easier to let go, trust the processes, and most importantly, trust that we are all nourishing the vision.

In Visioning Toolkit: Laying the Groundwork for a Community-Wide Vision for Personalized Learning, you will find resources to help you begin and sustain the work of implementing personalized learning.