The Strategic Teacher:
Harvey F. Silver, Richard W. Strong, and Matthew J. Perini
Grades K-12 $27.95
By Karen E. Branham firstname.lastname@example.org
(Reprinted with permission from Kentucky Teacher)
Prior to working in the Highly Skilled Educator Program with the Kentucky Department of Education, I was assistant principal of academics at Elizabethtown (Independent) High School. Student learning, academic rigor, the sense of pride in athletic teams, as well as thriving clubs and activities, were evident in student conversations, in displays of student work, in daily announcements, but most importantly in the hearts of the young men and women who walk the halls.
This “tradition of success” does not develop overnight, nor is it sustained without a systemic plan for continuous improvement. Schools across the country are looking for methods to improve classroom instruction and the means to boost student learning on a continuous basis.
Many schools are finding success when they begin to function as professional learning communities (PLCs). Richard DuFour, Ed.D., author of “Learning By Doing – A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work,” describes a professional learning community as collaborative teams of teachers who work interdependently to improve instructional practices that will positively impact student learning.
I believe one of the reasons behind the success of Elizabethtown High School is the existence of a professional learning community at work.
Several years ago, district leadership had the foresight to organize its teachers in small groups or teams, called “Learning Clubs.” School and district leadership selected a teacher leader in each of the six content areas.
Each lead teacher learns and implements research-based instructional practices, such as “Thoughtful Classroom” strategies and tools, in his or her classroom. The lead teacher teaches the strategies and tools to the team so members can implement the strategies as well.
These small groups of teachers frequently share lessons, discuss student work and continuously seek to improve classroom instruction. The end result, of course, is better learning for all.
As teachers gather to discuss new strategies, they are constantly asking, “Is this helping my students learn?”
The teams are systematically analyzing their instructional practices to determine how they can better reach every student. When they determine what worked and what didn’t, they apply this new knowledge to the next cycle of continuous improvement.
A professional learning community at work is clearly in place and thriving at Elizabethtown High School. The six lead teachers, Kim Black (science), Jennifer Fulford (social studies), Helen Wheatley (English), Paula Crabtree (mathematics), Janie Pennington (practical living and vocational studies) and Belinda Stark (arts and humanities) serve as an extension of the instructional leadership in the school. They are focused on improving student learning. Clearly the professional learning community is one of the reasons the high school’s Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS) results consistently are among the highest high school results in the state. The imbedded professional development that occurs in the school’s learning teams is not only contributing to the development of strong teams of teachers but it is also helping all students learn at high levels.