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Let’s start with another simple truth: As Jerry Sternin proved in the rice paddies of Vietnam and as Joan Richardson demonstrated in school after school, the best solutions for local challenges rest in the hearts and minds of local experts.
That should be great news if you’re a parent, a teacher or a local policymaker, right?
Essentially what Sternin and Richardson PROVE is that at least some of the teachers in your schools have the answers to any #educhallenge that all y’all are facing.
That’s no surprise, though, is it. Knowledgeable and active parents have been fighting to get their kids in the classrooms of THOSE teachers for as long as we’ve had schools.
If we really want to see our schools succeed, however, we’ve got to start caring about the kids in EVERY classroom. It’s not enough to know that there are a small handful of fantastic TEACHERS in every building. We’ve got to make sure that fantastic PRACTICES spread from one classroom to the next.
Here’s the hitch: NOTHING about current #edpolicy efforts—which are largely built around ranking teachers based on the standardized test scores produced by students—encourages teachers to share their practices with one another.
In fact, most of these competitive #edpolicy choices actively DISCOURAGE intellectual sharing between teachers. Think about it: If YOUR performance numbers were going to be splattered all over the front pages of the local newspaper, why in the Sam Hill would you want to help SOMEONE ELSE to look better?
Want a painfully honest example of what that looks like in action?
I’m currently working hard to perfect my classroom assessment and feedback practices simply because researchers have proven that heaping cheeseloads of feedback is one of the most important school-level factors influencing student achievement. My sixth grade science colleagues, however, aren’t there yet professionally.
Now, if my practices DO have a tangible impact on student achievement (translation: my kids start kicking a little sixth-grade science heiney), wouldn’t you want me to share what I learn with YOUR child’s teacher, too?
As it currently stands, there’s NO WAY that I’d ever share what I’m learning, though. Remember, I’m competing against YOUR child’s teacher. Policymakers have decided that publicly sorting and shaming teachers is a surefire way to Race to the Top.
Your kid loses. I win.
That’s why I’m so excited about a recent #edpolicy proposal crafted by ten Seattle Metro area teachers known as the Washington New Millenium team. Having spent the past year studying teacher evaluation and assessment models with the experts at the Center for Teaching Quality, the Washington NMI team has made a powerful recommendation:
Real change in schools depends on our commitment to developing and supporting results-oriented professional learning communities.
For those of you who aren’t professional educators, professional learning communities are nothing more than collaborative teams of teachers who are committed to studying student learning together.
They engage in an ongoing cycle of collective inquiry: Examining areas of weakness in student performance, researching potential solutions, implementing new strategies, collecting and studying results with one another, and planning new courses of action based on what they discover.
The entire process is transparent and public and shared. Results don’t belong to individual teachers; they belong to the entire team.
The Washington NMI team recommends placing professional learning communities at the center of school accountability efforts because professional learning communities encourage responsible practices. When collaboration is a priority, best practices are shared.
It makes sense, doesn’t it?
Of course it does.
It’s high-time that we STOP thinking about teachers as individuals who are working against one another in isolation and START finding ways to incentivize the kinds of professional sharing that can lead to more productive learning spaces for EVERY child—instead of just those lucky enough to be assigned to the classrooms of our “best” teachers.
By recognizing this truth and arguing that professional learning teams should play a larger role in our #edpolicy choices, the Washington NMI team has given me something to believe in.
More importantly, by arguing that professional learning teams should play a larger role in our #edpolicy choices, the Washington NMI team has taken a step towards ensuring that YOUR children have access to the best instructional practices and professional know-how in your schools.
How can THAT be a bad thing?