Regina Stephens Owens

Regina Stephens Owens is the first administrator of the online program for Spring ISD Virtual School. With more than 20 years of experience, she is a consultant in both the United States and Canada.

PLCs and HIP HOP

Have you ever heard the reason for lackluster performance at a school is because the clientele has changed?

This is a phrase, a reason, an excuse that is increasingly used by educators or the educational system to explain or justify stagnant or low performance of students. It has been my privilege to serve as an educational leader in rich and poor, rural and urban, as well as brick-and-mortar and virtual schools. During my tenure, it has become common to hear administrators, teachers, parents, and even students lament over the quality of the schooling. Presently serving in an urban district that is majority minority and economically disadvantaged, I have become increasingly aware of the helplessness and hopelessness that can enter, invade, and take over the school culture when faced with great challenges and a changing and increasing accountability system. Without fail, on a weekly basis I consistently hear educators stating, “It wasn’t always like this. The students have changed.

After reading The Pedagogy of Confidence by Yvette Jackson, I am even more grateful for the professional learning community philosophy. Mrs. Jackson is a champion of HIP HOP: High Intellectual Performances of students produced by High Operational Practices of skilled educators. You see, I don’t just believe in professional learning communities. I know them to be places of hope and restoration where dreams and aspirations for both teachers and students are renewed, defined, and dared to live again.

Why? Because a PLC is where HIP HOP thrives. It is where professionals examine their behaviors and set goals that are driven by data to ensure not just academic success but student success. The High Operational Practices include:

  1. Identifying and Activating Strengths (of students and teachers)
  2. Building Relationships
  3. Nurturing High Intellectual Performances
  4. Providing Enrichment Experiences
  5. Incorporating Prerequisites for Learning
  6. Situating Learning in the Lives of Students
  7. Amplifying Student Voice

Because the professional learning community philosophy is a continuous improvement process, it allows educators to work collaboratively and interdependently on common goals sharing accountability for the outcomes. This is exactly what we need in a time of fewer resources and higher demands. We cannot continue to work at a deficit. We must have systems and structures that allow us to come together and work on any and all things that may impede learning for the adults or students. We must have a system that promotes strengths and celebrates improvement. For those of us who truly embrace the professional learning community philosophy, it does not matter the change or expectation we are faced with. We understand the power in which we operate.

All is not lost.  There is hope.

Comments

Bridget

This article was such a relief to read and just what I needed. Thank you for pointing out the truth about how we need to approach these difficult to teach students and how we need to have a clear perspective on the purpose behind what it is we are meant to do as teachers. I am tired of hearing excuses for why it is hard for students today to learn. I have never heard this term HIP HOP used in any other way than a genre of musical style and enjoyed the reference to it, very refreshing and motivating.

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megcothran

Amen! I, too, believe the importance of a HIP-HOP professional learning community. It is so easy to resort to excuses when conversing with others (such as in PLCs) when addressing low performances. However, just as you said, we must keep our focus on hope and restoration. Our world is ever-changing - resources, strategies, students, etc. are not going to be same every year. We have to realize this and teach accordingly because regardless of tradition, our goal is student success.

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mrsharwood

I really enjoyed reading about HIP-HOP! All seven points are positive and reinforce pro-activity in teachers and students. It is so important for us to incorporate students' interests into our subject matter and to meet them where they are so that they can be comfortable to learn and grow, and be themselves. Also, I agree that the more student led discussions take place the better. In relation to PLC', I believe teachers should also build relationships/communities in which everyone is appreciated for their strenghts! Thanks for the motivating and inspiring article!

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April

As a new educator, I, too, have heard from many veteran teachers how the students have changed, even from the teachers who I feel are excellent teachers. I feel that teachers need to work together, share ideas and use each other as resources to ensure that the students are learning to their fullest potential. All students can learn, it takes the right teacher to see that though. By working in a low income/low socioeconomic school district, I see how students may come to school unmotivated, but by having teachers that spark that motivation, they will achieve great things. PLCs are a great resource and time for teachers to come together and collaborate, but they also need to be used properly. Thank you for the great insight in this blog posting!

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JohnEWilliams

I also work in a school district where the population of students I serve are majority minorities who come from disadvantaged low-income communities. Many of our students show signs of hopelessness and seem to be unmotivated. Our school culture is catered to combat such things as we strive for ways to reach our students. I thought that you did a great job at adressing the reality of what we are up against as teachers servicing our students in the community today. I think that professional learning communities can be very effective for our students success and we as teachers cannot resort to mediocracy teaching because of the lack of commitment from students.

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dpresswood

I teach in a school where half of the student population is considered to be economically disadvantaged. Sadly, with this type of student population comes the thought that these students are also unmotivated to learn, these students have too many problems that prevent them from learning, and/or classroom management issues are more of the focus than the student actually learning. The focus should on what we plan for the students to learn. I believe in the power of professional learning communities. When designed and implemented properly, PLC's make a tremendous difference in schools. I plan to read this book and present the idea of HIP HOP to my school's PLC team.

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mermer99

I have heard this phrase so many times!! It is so easy to believe that our first line of defense when faced with academic failure is that the students are the problem. I do believe that the general attitude towards teachers has changed though. People view teachers very differently than they did years ago. A sweet, quiet, little, old nun once told me that when she taught she had 50 students in a classroom and never had to raise her voice. Obviously her students respected her, and that doesn't just happen. They learned that respect at home. However - not sure how much they actually learned in the classroom . . . .

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ms.delvecchio531

The students should be our first priority. I feel that burned out teachers have resources and colleagues who are more than willing to lend a helping hand. Truthfully, as a new teacher who can't find anything more than subbing, I have less to contribute. However, I hear plenty of the negative talk and it is quite upsetting. HIP HOP seems to be a great strategy and I would tend to think it would be helpful in many ways.

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Adrian McBride

Hello Regina, I really enjoyed reading your post. I really do believe that some teachers have really started to believe that the problem with education is kids and their lack of motivation. Being a new teacher I have heard this negative talk, but personally I don't buy it. I believe that teachers that are burned out and feel hopeless should reach out to collegues that might can offer some type of insight that can help them regain their positive spirit and ability to teach kids at a high level. The world is ever changing and as teachers we must learn to adapt to the way kids want to be taught. Teachers have to realize that it's not about them, but the success of the students that we educate. We have to believe that everyday that we walk in our classrooms that the day is going to be positive and we are helping kids become productive citzens.

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cale miller

Teachers use the excuse all the time about how students have changed and it really isn't our fault as teachers. I think deep down students still want to be heard, and need to know that they are cared about. Students who understand that their teachers are there for them on a personal level, and not just academic really know give maximum effort because they know they have support. Building relationships is such a key element in teaching, and I think it is more important than ever before.

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tyherrona

Our students are depending on us to provide for them educationally in as much the same way that their parents do emotionally. It means that we cannot excuse mediocre teaching and learning by giving excuses for our lack of commitment. Teachers are vital in ensuring the success of the students that they teach and Yvette has done an exceptional job of showing another way that we can successfully accomplish the educational needs of our students.

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Shannon.B

I agree that excuses are not acceptable when directed toward the lack of molding a student. As educators and leaders within districts, schools, and classrooms we have to remember our responsibility to be as such. I believe that the goal set forth to develop performance regardless of the circumstances can be attainable through PLCs, by enriching educators and those that we educate.

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katelyn.balunek

This blog was very insightful. Teaching is so personal. We put our heart and soul into our jobs. When it doesn't produce the fruits that we expect, we are quick to find an excuse and point blame away from our performance. Like akbanks426 said, we are too testing focused. We need to focus our attention back on student learning and student need.

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akbanks426

I really appreciate the insight from this blog. I am just starting my teaching career at a school where there is not much interaction amongst teachers and where standardized testing takes precedence over actually teaching the students. I am always worried about deadlines rather than focusing on the goals I set for myself and my students. This blog has encouraged me to refocus on my goals and my students

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busadrki

Hello Regina, I most definitely agree with your ideas about where educators should be focusing their attention. As educators, we should not be focusing on the negative, but trying to always create positive situations that are conducive to kids learning. If we believe that kids are different and we can't teach them then they we have failed them. We have also failed ourselves because we entered this profession hopefully to provide a quality education for tomorrow's future. Teachers must continue to work together and forge new ideas that will accomplish our goals as educators, and that should be to educate the students in our schools. Teachers should always crave new insight and knowledge in their careers, and you do that by collaborating and becoming life learners. Regina I really enjoyed this read and I encourage you to keep thinking in these terms. Education needs this positive energy.

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dpal

I definitely agree that it is of utmost importance for educators to make the philosophical and cultural shift from teaching to learning. It is only when we take on the role of facilitator and emphasize a high level of learning for all students, that we truly make educational meaningful for the students entrusted in our care. For this massive goal to be accomplished, however, we must first of all develop a student-centric structure in our schools. In this manner, students will take ownership of their education. Secondly, we need to embrace the idea of professional learning communities. Teachers cannot work in isolation. I concur that they must work in collaborative teams with the main objective being enhanced student learning. Consequently, as a school leader, I see the need to work on developing a high functioning professional learning community at my school. While we do practice teamwork, I must admit that collaboration is not at its best.

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Lohrmann

I agree... when reading that was all I could keep thinking. I feel that in a testing environment the important issues often get lost with the ultimate goal being percents of a whole instead of the needs of individuals.

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gaviigirl

I am new to this blog (and blogging in general), but this topic (PLCs )is of interest to me. I love the idea. In fact, my first ten years teaching had this in place, although we did not label it PLC. Now I am in a small private elementary school, with only six teachers. We all teach different grades,so coming together as a group would need a focus that would be relevant to all. I am curious to know, how do you get a PLC started in your school?

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cmboles

I agree, bettiesblog! The acronym HIP HOP and what is stands for fits beautifully when pieced with the concept of a PLC. It is so easy to get sidetracked with scheduling and testing but the bottom line is that we as educators need to reach and teach our students so that they can experience (and celebrate in their) success. Like Regina wrote, a PLC gives us an opportunity to improve our practice for the benefit of the student. If we can keep that as our shared focus, hopefully the aloof and prideful attitudes can be put aside and the true collaboration can begin.

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kelsey

I can totally relate to this Regina. I also teach in an urban school with a large number of ecomonically disadvantaged students. Last year the average IQ of my regular ed class was 85. It makes it difficult not to make excuses some days. The teacher's lounge was so full of negative talk and reasons why our students CANT pass a state test, that now I pick a couple of students a day to each lunch with me in the room. This has become a source of encouragement for me and motivation for the students. I would love to see more collaboration with colleagues to come up with what strategies will best reach our students and help them become life long learners. I think it needs to start from administration. Perhaps I can have a talk with my principal soon!

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ulbania123

My school just started implementing PLC time with faculty during 2 periods every 5 days. Any suggestions how to maximize time together with other teachers? Thanks!

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bateach

All is not lost...well put. Some days feel tougher than others. I enjoyed reading your post and all those that followed. I sometimes feel weighed down by gripes and grumbles of colleagues in the lunch room and at staff meetings. The negative attitudes and the blame placed on students, parents, and previous teachers is overwhelming. I agree wholeheartedly that we as educators need to come together and be accountable for the students' success...and not just academic success. Sometimes, we are the only positive light for these children. Collaboration is key to problem solving...and there are many many problems to solve. I want to work together with my colleagues to make school a safe and happy place for the children. How can we get past the gripes and grumbles as a staff and come together?

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bettiesblog

I think that the acronym HIP HOP and what it stands for is ideal for the framework of professional learning communities. Teachers should be life-long learners and PLCs are an excellent tool to accomplish this. Sharing ideas, strategies, and techniques based on research will enhance how we instruct our children. Sharing, analyzing, and comparing data will help us to meet our children where they are and scaffold them to where they need to be and beyond. I am certain in today's classrooms, there are melting pots of diverse learners. I am so amazed at the large percentage of students who are not reading at grade level. When I was in elementary school, we learned how to read from the Dick and Jane books, I think I need to order some of those books to teach my children how to read.

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bettiesblog

I concur. In my short eight years as a teacher, I can honestly say that the complaining and making excuses just do not go away. I am have indicated to some of my colleagues that if you are not going to be part of the solution, please do not be a part of the problem. I would love to see the day when educators become empowered and are able to take risks and establish a collaboration that is second to none. I love to share ideas and strategies that have worked well with my students, but sometimes you cannot win for losing, because some teachers are not willing to share and they do not want you sharing with them. Some teachers have such an aloof attitude that they feel when you share, that the person sharing is telling them what to do. Or implying that you think that what you are sharing is a better strategy.

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tnd

I agree. It's easy to make excuses about everything that is changing in the field of education or about how our students just don't get it. However, we need to step back and evaluate ourselves as educators, as collaborators, and as life long learners. Through partnership and teamwork, more is able to be accomplished. Collaboration allows for shared data, methods, strategies, advice, materials, and so forth. It helps teachers to discuss what is best for their students and what resources are available to reach those unique students. Effective educators understand that they need to adapt to the changes in education as well as learn to change with them (rather than complain and make excuses).

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Cathy

I love the idea of an on-site PLC! I am a first year teacher at an urban school very similar to the one Regina described. Daily I feel as if I learned nothing in college about how to teach in a school with so many issues. The teachers I work with feel pressured as well and I am sure that we could support each other more if we utilized our professional development time in a more constructive way. We spend more time talking about testing and preparing for testing than we do learning how to improve our skills or how to reach our at-risk students. It can be very frustrating. I think it is time I make copies of articles about what a PLC CAN be and load up the mailboxes at work.

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Kamisah1

This blog is speaking to me. I'm now teaching at the high school I graduated from. I was so excited to be working at the school that was known for their school pride and close community partnership. When I came here it was nothing like it use to be; it was down right depressiong to be honest. I had to step back and evaluate myself because I realized I was part of the problem. All staff members have to be on board for change, pride and partnership with each other before change can take place.I love what HIP-HOP stands for. It is so true that real teaching really begin with collaberation with others. It not only helps you as a teacher, it helps the students in the long run.

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Siphiwe Langa

It is true that as educators we tend to find so many excuses about why our performance in the classroom does not yield much fruit. In his article,'What is a professional Learning Community', Richard DuFor points out that academic success may be attributed largely to team work, that is, when teachers collaborate in their teaching. They "clarify the essential outcomes for their grades" I too, believe that if we work in partnership,with clear objectives, there is a higher success opportunity.

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sweary

I agree Regina. It is about the student success. We as teachers understand the power in which we operate and we should imply it to make sure our students are succeeding.

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nparker

well said Regina. This is a hope we all have as educators that truly embrace the PLC philosophy. We learned to make lemonade out the lemons given to us, and we are good at it. My concern is, how can we accomplish these goals and educate others on the importance of reaching these goals for the betterment of the students? there are too many variances that play a big role in the decision making process when it comes to the rules and policies established in education. What should we do?

nparker

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