Geri Parscale

Geri Parscale is deputy superintendent of Fort Leavenworth Schools, USD 207. She has been in education for more than 20 years, and is a former classroom teacher, building principal, and central office administrator.

Solving the Puzzle of Success

When I was growing up, Rubik’s Cubes were popular. The toy had colored sides, and you were to mix up the colors by turning the sides over and over again. Once the colors had been mixed up, the object was to turn the sides again and again until the colors looked like they had at the beginning. In the same way as many others, I struggled with the toy because the task at hand was not simple. One time, I became so frustrated that I took the stickers off the sides and faked a completed cube. Although on the surface I had met the challenge, I knew what I had created was a false sense of success, and I ultimately learned little.

When I think about changing a school’s culture from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning, I am reminded of that kind of frustration. It is not easy to dig in and change what has been going on for a long time. Focusing on teaching rather than learning, caring about lesson delivery more than student mastery, and accepting the status quo rather than helping all students realize their goals can be the “fake” way for schools. However, the future we are preparing our students for can’t be fake, and PLC teams can and do dig in deeply, transforming the way that schools operate.

Focusing on the four critical questions helps PLC teams transform thoughts into actions and helps to create an authentic learning experience for kids. When we gather data and analyze where students are so that our instruction can be tailored to meet their needs, when we are able to develop strategies based on those needs, and when we have implemented the ideas and strategies that have a purpose, we can look at the changes we have made and move forward. We are no longer guessing about what is needed, but applying authentic ideas that are focused, not faked. These strategies, unlike the one I used to fake a completed cube, will work because they are designed to meet the needs of each child.

Comments

Cherry Crandon

Hi Geri,

I can associate with what you have said. PLCs are communities that is well structured and knowing how they worked is the only way we would achieve they objectives with pure honesty. We can no longer fool our way out as you point out with your experience with the Rubik’s Cubes. Educating young people as Tomlinson beckoned that "Failure is no excuse". As educators of the 21st century we are called to bring success to all our students.

Posted on

Kristy Brammer

Dear Mrs. Parscale,
I can relate to you on your Rubik's Cube frustration. I am a firm believer in PLC's. However, I feel as though my administration is only half way on board. It's hard to fit all the puzzle pieces together when we don't have the proper tools and time. Having limited time to meet can not detour us from our goal of student achievement. It's comforting to know that, although now I am frustrated (tempted to peel the stickers off) there is a solution.

Posted on

Guadalupe Bolanos

Geri,

I enjoyed reading your analogy of the Rubik's Cubes. Frustration can sometimes make us feel that the shortcut will give us the results we desire. Your analogy is a great example of how that is not quite true.

I just completed my third year of teaching and in those three years I have seen very little efforts among my colleagues to to create a PLC. According to DuFour (2004), a PLC's focus should be on student learning, collaboration, and accountability. Collaboration has not been a priority among my colleagues. I can honestly say that during my first two years of teaching I really felt like I was alone and isolated. As a result, I found myself taking the short cuts guided by a pacing calendar. It wasn't my intention, but it felt like that was only way I would survive the year since no one else was open to collaboration. With no disrespect intended at all, I felt that my district (like I'm sure many other districts have as well) placed a great focus on standardized testing and how we delivered instruction once they adopted the Explicit Direct Instruction (EDI) method. I truly felt that I was on robot mode: plan, teach (EDI), test, plan, teach (EDI), test. Although I see the benefits of EDI, collaboration among students was very limited, and I felt that we lacked focus on student learning. I felt something needed to be different. However, I just knew collaboration to improve on this monotonous routine with my colleagues was not an option because they were not open to the idea.

I still wanted to experiment with collaboration, so last year I began implementing collaborative groups in my classroom. The results I saw in my student's discussions amazed me. I truly felt that they were sharing their deep knowledge rather than just making a choice on a test. When working together on problems, they shared different methods of obtaining answers. The learning environment was more pleasant for them. Collaboration worked with my students. They saw the value of it as well.

I value PLC, and see the need for collaboration and focus on student learning. Now that common core is coming into place, our district is turning toward collaboration among students and collaboration among staff. However, some of my colleagues avoid engaging in collaboration at all cost, this includes my grade level team. Do you have any suggestions on how I can encourage my team and plant the seed to work more collaboratively to benefit our students? We all have weakness and strengths, but working together would only help us bring the best out.

Posted on

Traci McCoy

You are so right; I agree. We have to be very focused and intentional with our PLC meetings.

Posted on