Week 1 – Reflective Teaching

Choose five activities for job-embedded professional development according to Figure 3.1 (p. 70) in Ch. 3 of Schools as Professional Learning Communities.

Write a 350- to 700-word essay explaining how each activity supports reflective teaching.

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Include at least five sources, including this week’s readings and videos, to justify how each supports reflective practice.

Format your essay according to APA guidelines.

Figure 3.1 Activities for Job-Embedded Professional Development

  1. Observe other teachers teach
  2. Plan lessons and units with other teachers
  3. Give and receive feedback on instructional behaviors from peers
  4. Conduct action research projets
  5. Mentor new teachers
  6. Coach one another 
  7. Keep a reflective log.
  8. Develop and maintain a professional portfolio
  9. Look at student work together
  10. Become part of a study group

Weeks Reading

The Professional Learning Community: An OverviewPreview of the ChapterToday, a great deal is known about what leads to school improvement and about the change process in schools. In the current literature, there is extensive discussion of the learning community as an effective model for fostering school improvement and general consensus about high-quality learning activities as essential factors in the improvement of teaching and learning. This chapter provides the theoretical basis for an understanding of the learning community as a metaphor for schools and the rationale for the strategies that lead to schools characterized by collaboration, shared leadership, and ongoing learning. The evolution of the learning community in the research literature is explored and an in-depth discussion of the characteristics and impact of the learning community on students, teachers, and staff is provided. The chapter specifically addresses the following questions:What is a learning community?What are the characteristics of a learning community?What is the role of the learning community in an age of accountability?What are the key elements of the school improvement framework for learning community schools?How is student achievement affected by the learning community model?How are teachers affected by the learning community?How do reflection and reflective practice contribute to the building of learning communities?What is a Learning Community?Dr. Karla Brownstone is just beginning her tenure as the superintendent of the Merlo School District, an urban/suburban-type district where achievement scores and teacher morale have been on the decline for several years. The former superintendent had a highly directive leadership style that limited his ability to improve the schools and resulted in a high turnover in the administrative staff. In her initial meetings with the board of education, teachers, and other staff and community members, Dr. Brownstone had shared her vision of providing the kind of leadership that would facilitate the transformation of each of the district’s schools into learning communities. Her ideas had generated some interest among the district’s building principals and supervisors.When she initially toured the schools in the district, the superintendent observed that the teachers in the elementary and middle schools all taught in self-contained classrooms in which the children were homogeneously grouped. In a survey conducted by the district staff, the teachers had overwhelmingly indicated their approval of the manner in which students were assigned to their classes.Superintendent Brownstone found that most curriculum and instruction decisions were made by a curriculum-planning committee composed of central office staff and chaired by Jack Carson, the director of curriculum and instruction. The declining achievement scores in mathematics had recently led the planning committee to implement a new mathematics program in the district. The central office personnel were ready for a change that would lead to an improvement in school climate, more effective teaching, and higher academic achievement in their schools. The achievement data had led them to realize that the strategy they were using had not improved teaching and learning in Merlo’s schools. Dr. Brownstone is now planning a series of meetings with the teachers and staff in each school to share with them the meaning of a school as a community of learners. What information should she include in her presentation?Over the past several decades, the research literature on school improvement and school reform has focused on the characteristics of effective schools and the importance of the principal’s leadership role and behavior (Leithwood, Seashore-Louis, Anderson, & Wahlstrom, 2004; Purkey & Smith, 1983; Sergiovanni, 1992). The metaphor for schools that dominated the literature during this period was the notion of schools as formal organizations. The 1990 publication of Peter Senge’s work The Fifth Discipline led members of the education community to explore new ways of improving how schools operated and the professionalism of teachers and administrators.Senge’s Learning OrganizationSenge (1990), whose focus was on corporations rather than schools, argued that if corporations are to survive, they must change themselves into learning organizations that recognize the threats to their survival and the opportunities for their continued growth. Senge described five learning disciplines that must effectively be employed to build a learning organization: (1) personal mastery, (2) mental models, (3) team learning, (4) building shared vision, and (5) systems thinking. In implementing these principles, people learn from each other and develop more effective ways of doing things. Practical ideas and tools that can be used to help educators apply the five learning disciplines in schools can be found in Schools That Learn (Senge, Cambron-McCabe, Lucas, Smith, Dutton, & Kleiner, 2000).In recent years the school reform literature reflected a view of schools as communities of learners (Blankstein, Alan, Houston, & Cole, 2008; Hord & Sommers, 2008). Transforming a school into a learning community, however, can pose some significant challenges for educators. Building a learning organization requires organizational members to have access to such resources as time to collaborate, ongoing leadership support, information, and ready access to colleagues (Senge, 1994). A lack of meaningful opportunities to engage in learning activities can limit the capacity of schools to become learning organizations (Ingram, Louis, & Schroeder, 2004; Lashway, 1997). In our experience schools typically do not encourage shared thinking; rather, teachers are generally free to make their own instructional decisions.The views stated earlier on schools as learning communities beg the question, what does a learning community school look like? A snapshot of such a school, in which one of the authors served as the college supervisor of administrative interns, follows.Online Resources 1.1Do you want to know more about Senge’s ideas on the learning organization? Read the article Peter Senge and the Learning Organization at http://www.omahaodn.org/Articles/July%202005.pdf. Information is provided on the five disciplines (systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, building shared vision, and team learning) that Senge identifies as the core disciplines in shaping a learning organization.A Snapshot of a Learning Community SchoolWalking about the halls of a New York City high school, I noticed that in many ways this school was different from others. The four-year-old school, which was housed in an older school building, lacked many of the facilities of other newly founded schools in the city. However, I was struck by the fact that the doors to the classrooms were always open and the students and teachers were all deeply involved in learning activities. During my twice-a-month visits to the school, as I freely moved from classroom to classroom, it struck me that an unusual amount of student talk took place in the classrooms. Students felt comfortable in probing for understanding. They freely entered into dialogue with their teachers; students and teachers alike challenged one another’s thinking with their questions. The environment was exciting, and I came to the realization that the students in this school were continually searching for meaning and accepting responsibility for their own learning. I rarely saw this level of student engagement in the other high schools I visited. More often, students were treated as receptacles for information, and instruction was more likely to be teacher-centered and narrowly planned around the state testing program.When this school first opened, the teachers had been permitted to make their own decisions collaboratively about the kind of programs they wanted to implement. The faculty had decided to utilize a thematic interdisciplinary curriculum incorporating a team-teaching approach. Each team of teachers decided on the norms that specified how the teams would work together.The program had been implemented after a year of training. The teachers had selected key staff from another well-regarded school that used a collaborative approach to providing professional development. During the period of training, as they interacted with teachers from the other school, made interschool visits, and learned more about team teaching and thematic curriculum development and implementation, faculty members had come to realize that they had mutual responsibility for their own learning as well as the learning of the all the students on their teams. Over time this approach to teaching and learning resulted in a level of interdependence among the faculty that fostered collaboration within and among the teaching teams. Additionally, faculty members discovered that reflecting on their ideas and activities and making and carrying out decisions were intellectually stimulating and motivating. The decisions they made affected the breadth and depth of their students’ learning as well as how they felt about themselves as educators.A visit to the teachers’ room revealed the same level of interest in learning as I found when visiting classrooms. The conversations of the teachers were invariably concerned with the plans being made for their classes. A bulletin board in the teachers’ room announced various activities planned around teaching and learning issues. Reminders were posted about regularly scheduled school leadership team meetings, study groups meetings, activities for new teachers, meetings of the peer coaching team, and purely social events. With the support of the principal, all of these activities were collaboratively planned and led by teachers.One of the building principal’s priorities is to provide the instructional support that the teachers felt they needed. At the recommendation of the faculty, positions for half-time coordinators of technology, science, and audiovisual and instructional materials have been carved out of the available teaching positions. The coordinators are available to support teachers in all content areas and to provide for or arrange learning resources as requested by the teaching team.The entire faculty keeps its focus on student learning by taking advantage of the available opportunities to talk about and learn about teaching strategies and students’ needs. The principal provides the teachers with available achievement data, which the teams use to plan for instruction. On a regular basis, teachers collaboratively analyze the data from tests developed by the teams to make plans for instruction. The teachers have become socialized to the extent that they maintain open classrooms, which other teachers can enter and observe on an informal basis.All activities are built around the school’s core mission, which is focused on advancing student achievement. Plans have been made for a small group of teachers to meet to reexamine and update the existing mission statement. They will share it with the teachers at a faculty meeting. The faculty will discuss and modify it, if necessary, before moving to adopt the statement. The principal plans to carry this process out every two years, as she believes the mission as stated helps some of the faculty focus.Clearly, the school described in this snapshot has learning as its focus. How, though, do we define a learning community? And what learning community characteristics have become embedded in the culture of this school?Defining Learning CommunityThe term learning community has taken on a variety of meanings in the literature. In Improving Schools From Within, Roland Barth (1990) described a community of learners as “a place where students and adults alike are engaged as active learners in matters of special importance to them and where everyone is thereby encouraging everyone else’s learning” (p. 9). He also explored the role of teachers and principals as learners and the importance of cooperative and collegial relationships as important aspects of community.In Recreating Schools, Myers and Simpson (1998) described learning communities as “cultural settings in which everyone learns, in which every individual is an integral part, and in which every participant is responsible for both the learning and the overall well-being of everyone else” (p. 2). Collay and her associates (Collay, Dunlap, Enloe, & Gagnon, 1998) noted that not only are individual and collective growth cherished in a learning community but also the processes for attaining that growth are valued.Speck (1999), who asserted that shaping a learning community is the most pressing task of the building principal, defined a learning community as follows:A school learning community is one that promotes and values learning as an ongoing, active collaborative process with dynamic dialogue by teachers, students, staff, principal, parents, and the school community to improve the quality of learning and life within the school. Developing schools where every aspect of the community nourishes learning and helping everyone who comes into contact with the school to contribute to that learning community are important concepts. (p. 8)As defined earlier by Speck, members of a learning community are mutually responsible for building the community. Thus building a school learning community becomes the collective pursuit of the principal, teachers, students, parents, and all other community members. To accomplish their goals, community members must carry on conversations about the fundamental issues that influence the quality of the available learning opportunities offered to all members of the school community.In a more recent study, Seashore (2003) and colleagues stated:By using the term professional learning community we signify our interest not only in discrete acts of teacher sharing, but in the establishment of a school-wide culture that makes collaboration expected, inclusive, genuine, ongoing, and focused on critically examining practice to improve student outcomes. (p. 3)They further noted that, with respect to advancing student outcomes and teacher professional learning, how teachers connect with one another outside the walls of their classrooms may possibly be as important as their classroom practices and behavior. The model offers an environment in which all teachers come to assume responsibility for the learning of all students (McLaughlin & Talbert, 2006).What are the Characteristics of a Learning Community?The literature identifies characteristics that are associated with the development and maintenance of communities of learners. Our discussion in this section is based on the work of Kruse, Louis, and Bryk (1995) in Professionalism and Community: Perspectives on Reforming Urban Schools. The characteristics that they identified (Figure 1.1) serve as the theoretical basis for the ideas and activities described throughout this book.A professional community, as identified by Kruse, Louis, and Bryk (1995), has as its focus the cultivation of learning and interaction among teachers and administrators so as to improve teaching and learning outcomes for students and for the school community at large. As a result of extensive research, they cited five elements of a professional community: (1) reflective dialogue, (2) focus on student learning, (3) interaction among teacher colleagues, (4) collaboration, and (5) shared values and norms. Each element is briefly defined here.Figure 1.1 Kruse, Louis, and Bryk (1995) Formulation of the Professional Community



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