Thursday, December 23, 2010

Some Notes from Chris Lehman's talk on the Educator's PLN: Progressive Schools Need Systemic Structures

In some quiet moments in my office this week with our students out for winter break, I have had the chance to listen to @chrislehman 's talk on the Educator's PLN and I picked up some interesting ideas that either validated what we are doing at Mary Carr Greer Elementary or challenged me to think about where we are as a school. Chris is the principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia which is a progressive, magnet high school. Our school is elementary and just plain regular public. We are in the midst of an overall change/improvement process using the core ideas of both Responsive Classroom and Expeditionary Learning. While I do not use the terms progressive or traditional very much, we are definitely on a path as a school to increase the level and spirit of community and the level of engagement with our students and our teachers.

So, here are the ideas or quotes from Chris:
  • "Progressive schools need systemic structures". It is a simple yet powerful quote. Greer right now is struggling with implementing learning expeditions, student led conferences, and new technology while maintaining our assessment model among other things. I firmly believe that we need systemic structures to flourish as a school but I am also realizing that we are not close to having them yet. We will have them but it will take time. We need to develop systemic structures for our planning of instruction, delivering it and also our assessing of our student learning.
  • "A common language of teaching and learning drills down to the process...The way we talk about project based learning and inquiry is the same across all teachers." With systemic structures comes a common language and vision for teaching and learning. I find myself hearing "common language bla bla bla" coming from many educators but I don't often see it. I don't often see it because I know how hard it is to accomplish in my own school. It takes a hell of a lot of work and is hard and maybe harder to do in a regular public school. I know it is worth every ounce of effort.
  • Grade levels have essential questions, the school uses a common lesson planning format, teachers work over the summer to develop these. We have made some amazing steps with this work at Greer but again have a long way to go. Our last summer retreat with our staff had each grade developing essential questions in social studies and science through some intensive work. We had that time because of the quirk of making up a vast amount of snow days. How do we find a way to do that this school year? An individual school will not grow without this intensive summer work.
  • A committee structure guides all of the work at the school. We are in our second year of a committee structure at Greer and again, have seen some amazing growth with it. I also feel that it is probably two or so more years away from getting really powerful. This work takes a long time!
  • The school requires a unit plan for teaching interviews. When a teacher is scheduled to come for an interview, they are given every piece of information about the school in advance so there are no surprises. They are also told to design a unit given what they know about what the school believes about teaching and learning. Hiring is always a consensus decision. I have generally been a good recruiter and hirer of teachers but I think this would be a great advance for us at Greer. It would be more in depth and more democratic.
  • "Our school is a hard place to work"- I love this quote. Greer is also a hard place to work. It used to be hard because we had the most students coming from poverty of any school in our entire district. It is now becoming a hard place to work because we have such high expectations of ourselves. We are getting there, but like everything else, we have a long way to go. And a hard place to work does not also mean fun, joyful, supportive and caring as I am sure it is at SLA.
So, I loved listening to the talk after the fact and it has me inspired for 2011! My main goal from the talk is to find ways to add and grow systemic structures for the kind of teaching and learning we want to take place in our school.

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