So we’ve made it through Day 2 of our conversation on interventions with school change experts Rick and Becky DuFour—authors of Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap—and I continue to be blown away by the depth of knowledge of the Radical Nation.

Every time that I stop by the conversation, I have my own thinking challenged, that’s for sure.  And that’s what I love the most about the Web 2.0 world:  I get to learn from people that I’ve never even met.

Too cool.

What’s also cool is that Solution Tree has made a digital copy of the entire text of Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap available to Radical readers for the next two days!  You can download your copy after creating a free account at this website.

(Note:  Some readers have had trouble downloading their copy.  The link is working—checked it again this morning—so try signing in and then clicking it again.  That’s worked for a few people!)

If you haven’t had a chance to join us in Voicethread yet and you’re looking for a way to catch up on the conversation quickly, consider checking out this summary of yesterday’s interactions.  Also, here are some highlights from today’s discussion:

On Slide 3, Liz started a conversation that is bound to catch the eye of teachers that are new to professional learning communities and still value their instructional independence by asking:

“So, does anyone have any good strategies for aligning practices amongst teachers? If you get into even what seems like an “easy” topic such as late work you get a different philosophy on the concept from each teacher…How can we start to have alignment here? Is this a “tight” decision that comes from the top?”

For me, this topic is perhaps one of the trickiest for building support across faculties for professional learning communities simply because teachers feel so strongly about their practices.  Top-down decisions—especially in situations where professional choices need to be made—generally rub me the wrong way!

What’s more, I really believe that the process of developing common expectations—grading practices, late work policies, strategies for communicating with parents and students, remediation and enrichment plans—can lead to GREAT conversations between teachers about just what matters.

My biggest worry, though, is that “PLCs” are becoming synonymous with standardizing instructional practices across entire hallways.

I hear principals often extol the virtues of PLCs because they know that when they walk into any classroom on any hallway, that they’ll be seeing the same lessons delivered in the same way.  “It’s perfect,” they argue, “because we know that all of our students are learning the same content.”

What these principals don’t understand is that “learning the same content” doesn’t have to mean “delivering the same lessons.”

While standardization of best practices will be a natural part of a PLC’s journey together—I borrow lesson ideas from my peers all the time…especially when their students are outperforming mine on common assessments—-there always has to be room for instructional experimentation on a learning team.

Otherwise, there’s no real exploring or reflecting happening.  How can you identify “best practices” when your entire team is only using one practice?  Worse yet, how can you encourage innovation and creativity when your teachers are becoming nothing more than cogs in an instructional assembly line?

On Slide 4, Mary Anne started an interesting conversation when she wrote, “I find with the students in my class that they are in no position to learn or move forward if their social/emotional needs are not being met.”

That’s a great point, isn’t it?  And it’s one that I think we miss out on in conversations about interventions.  We’re so focused on academic interventions that we rarely consider systematic attempts to tackle the social and emotional needs of students.

Doesn’t that seem backwards?

Are academic interventions going to be successful with students who have social and emotional needs that haven’t been addressed?  How many of your schools focus as much on the social/emotional needs of your children as you to the academic needs?

On Slide 8, Matt Townsley starts an important strand of conversation when he asks, “My question for others that have been a part of the PLC process for a while – what is the fuel that *keeps your PLCs moving forward* on a year-to-year basis?”

As a longtime member of a professional learning team and a full-time classroom teacher, my gut reaction to Matt’s comments is that flexibility and forgiveness—paired with a healthy dose of reality—is the key to moving learning teams forward!

The pressure and urgency that surrounds schools multiplies the sense of failure that teams feel when things don’t go right.

Sadly, however, on innovative teams that are willing to experiment, failure is inevitable!  In order to keep moving forward, teams need to understand that progress is not always linear and that setbacks are not fatal.

Otherwise, they’ll perceive the work of interventions and professional learning communities as impossible tasks that aren’t even worth trying.

If you haven’t stopped by our conversation yet, you should!  Here’s the direct link.  I guarantee that you’ll learn something.

If you have stopped by already, here’s your day three challenge:  Rather than posting something new to the conversation today, go in and find a comment made by another participant to respond to.  It could be something that made you think.  It could be something you completely disagree with.  It could be something that you want to know more about.

Make tomorrow a day of interaction by interacting with an existing participant.  After all, that’s what good collaborative dialogue looks like in action, righat?


(Blogger’s Note:  Rick and Becky DuFour are good professional friends of mine and Solution Tree is paying me a bit o’ cash to moderate this here conversation with them even though I woulda done it for free.  You can learn more about my relationship with Solution Tree by reading my nifty new disclosure policy.)

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