Time and Support for Adults in a Professional Learning Community
We were recently asked if the concept of providing students additional time and support when they experience difficulty also applies to the adults in a school district. Virtually everyone agrees that students learn at different rates and in different ways. So, the idea that some students will need additional time and support strikes a cord with most educators. As one teacher put it, "It just makes sense." But, what about adults? Do the same principles apply?
We think the answer is an emphatic "yes." In fact, the same principle applies not only to individuals, but to groups of adults as well. Think of it like this - the school is really just a bigger classroom - a classroom of adults. The principal and the district office support staff are the "teachers" in this "bigger classroom", providing additional time and support for those who need it. (Additionally, these "teachers" are enhancing the learning of those who do "get it" and are publicly celebrating their accomplishments.)
If a school district is passionately and sincerely committed to the notion of improving the learning of all students, it is highly unlikely that each school within the district will progress at the same rate or in the same way. Each school will experience difficulty at one time or another and when they do the district office staff should work with the school personnel to develop a plan for "additional time and support." And, just like for students, the plan should be timely, systematic and directional.
The same is true for collaborative teams within a school. When a school is organized into collaborative teams it is unrealistic to think that each team is going to develop, mature and perform at the same rate and in the same way. Certainly, some teams are going to need more attention, time and support than others.
For some schools and districts the notion of ensuring high levels of learning for all is a lofty goal but one that is difficult to achieve. Here’s a suggestion; think about breaking it down and focusing on "one team at a time." It becomes doable when, for example - the science department - a department that has already aligned curriculum, and written their common assessments, is asked to assist the English department as they begin the process of writing common assessments. Another example is this; perhaps there is a third grade team in one building that has improved student learning by collaboratively analyzing student work. Wouldn’t it be helpful to have this team share their work with other teams within the district? Best practices come alive when they are modeled and shared by respected teachers. This is only one way of providing teams additional time and support. And, it’s also one way to improve student learning.
Successful schooling is a difficult and complex endeavor and everyone needs additional time and support from time to time. But, time and support must be tailored to fit each circumstance, since adults, like students, learn in different ways. Think of it as intentionally creating a roadmap - first making sure everyone knows where we are going and why. Second, identifying specific steps needed to reach the destination (i.e. benchmarks along the way). And, providing additional time and support to ensure everyone arrives. Perhaps everyone will not take the same route to the destination or even arrive at the same time, but with frequent monitoring, feedback and effective time and support everyone can get to where they should be.
We think this is an important aspect of successfully reculturing districts and schools into professional learning communities. What have been your experiences? We invite you to share your thoughts, ideas and experiences about this important and timely topic.