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Standards 6 and 7 Meta-Reflection: Communication and Collaboration June 2, 2012

As I reflect back on this course I notice that much of my most meaningful learning is related to improving collaboration with my colleagues and the school community and communicating the fruits of these collaborations with others in the profession.

Effective collaboration is not possible without sincere trust and transparency amongst educators within a system. Hirsh. & Hord (2010) state that trust and transparency foster a sense of mutual accountability by teachers to all students in a school, rather than just focusing solely on one’s own class for one year. One specific example of fostering a trusting relationship with other educators is establishing a lesson study group to explore a research question. This job embedded learning involves inviting peer teachers to observe teaching techniques and strategies, evaluate the student learning, and give and receive feedback. (Zepeda, 2012) In order for this to be an effective agent for increased teacher learning, educators must take the risk of opening up their classroom doors and letting their colleagues in. Sharing our collective expertise as well as accepting and honoring feedback are powerful tools we can utilize as we work towards school reform and increased student learning.

As a teacher in Texas during the 2006-2007 school year I participated in a lesson study group that included teachers across all grade levels. We focused our study on a series of 4th grade lessons that addressed the genre of biographies. I appreciated the discussions we had as they were from the perspective of many different grade levels. The lessons were rich as a result of our collective input. It was also helpful to engage in lesson planning and analysis for a different grade level.  I was able to gain new learning and apply it to vertical alignment.

As I combine my learning from my lesson study experience in 2007 with what I have learned about lesson study as presented in Zepeda, I believe that this type of professional development can have the greatest impact on teacher learning. In 2004, Lewis et al. (as cited in Zepeda, 2012, pp. 228-229) defined seven pathways to instructional improvement through lesson study as well as their related challenges. Benefits such as increased teacher knowledge in instruction and subject matter, improved collaboration skills, stronger motivation, and improved quality of lessons were referenced and create a strong case in support of lesson study. The challenges included trust, fear of failure, feelings of isolation, identifying oneself as a researcher, time, and resources. Probably the most daunting of these challenges is time and resources, as is the case with many worthwhile practices of professional development. I believe that as we gain momentum in effective teacher learning, such as lesson study, and practice efficient use of money and time, we can realize the full impact of our efforts on the ultimate goal of improving student learning.

There is no doubt that effective collaboration between educators and the greater community is a worthwhile endeavor, to say the least. One aspect of this practice that I had not considered prior to this course is the importance of sharing our collaborative learning with others in the profession. Learning in isolation or in small cohorts can stifle the potential growth of teachers. This was clearly illustrated in 2 case studies we read about in this course. Michelson  (2007) gave an account of a small group of teachers who were undergoing a series of literacy coaching sessions with significant success. This had been going on for two years before efforts were put forth to bring other teachers within the school on board. There was some resistance, mistrust, and resentment from the rest of the staff which was due, in large part, to inadequate communication between the “coached” group of teachers and their peers. Kane (2007) described a situation in which a district math specialist was leading a group of teachers in a process to refine the district math standards. This teacher leader was dismayed that the district curriculum director did not invite more math teacher specialists, who were already in place in area schools, to participate. She did not see the value in allowing all teachers to have a chance to experience this form of professional development, rather than just the “expert” teachers.

In order to achieve the ultimate goal of maximizing student learning, teacher leaders need to not only foster collaboration with other teachers but also help create a system that allows for the communication of these learning experiences to other teachers.  Zepeda (2012) consistently conveys this important step as he describes the culminating activities of professional development groups such as learning circles, lesson study, action research teams, and critical friends groups. These teams can share their learning through publishing findings in a professional journal or magazine, conducting a workshop, or even simply making it an agenda item on a staff meeting. We should not keep our new learning to ourselves.

Facilitating participation by other teachers in various professional development activities, especially those whose voices are not usually heard, is another way teacher leaders can broaden the scope of teacher learning. However, as Moore and Donaldson state (as cited in Hilty, 2011), this can be met with much resistance if teachers are overly concerned with protecting their autonomy, reinforcing their seniority, or ensuring egalitarianism. Moore and Donaldson went on to describe several coping strategies teacher leaders employ to deal with such resistance such as waiting to be asked before offering their expertise, only working with willing colleagues, emphasizing their role as supporter rather than supervisor, and seeking more support for their teacher leader roles. Moore and Donaldson’s essay offered many insights into how teacher leaders can respectfully and tactfully influence other teachers in an effort to further the cause of increased student learning. These strategies will be helpful to me as I continue to work on my role as teacher leader in the ever changing landscape of education.

I have crafted a portfolio that reflects my learning in support of Standards 6 and 7, Communication and Collaboration, and have created links to these artifacts below:

Standard 6 – Communication: Scenes of Educator Learning Exhibit A

Standard 7 – Collaboration: Scenes of Educator Learning Exhibit B

References

Hilty, E., (2011). Teacher leadership: The “new” foundations of teacher education. (pp. 211-217) New York, New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Hirsh, S. & Hord, S. (2010). Building hope, giving affirmation: Learning communities that address social justice issues bring equity to the classroom. Journal of Staff Development, 31(4), 10-17.

Kane, D., (2007) Considering all voices. Leadership Cases 2007 School Level Reform, Retrieved from https://learn.spu.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-755044-dt-content-rid-671379_1/courses/EDU6600_45677201123/CSTP.ConsideringAllVoices.pdf

Michelson, J, (2007) Filling a leadership vacuum. Leadership Cases 2007 School Level Reform, Retrieved from https://learn.spu.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-755044-dt-content-rid-671378_1/courses/EDU6600_45677201123/CSTP.FillingLeadershipVacuum.pdf

Zepeda, S.J. (2012) Professional development: What works. Larchmont, New York: Eye on Education.

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Contrasts and Parallels Between the Roles of Teacher Leading and Teacher Teaming June 1, 2012

Filed under: Standard 7. Collaboration — lkgale @ 10:17 pm
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During week 2 we read about the distinctions between teacher leading and teacher teaming. As I first considered these two terms, I assumed that they were two distinct and defined roles teachers take on in their school communities.  As we discussed this topic in class and read about it I have come to realize that these roles are fluid and the emphasis on leading or teaming ebbs and flows as teachers collaborate with each other. According to Conley & Muncey (as cited in Hilty, 2011) it is important to note that teachers tend to identify more often with one role over the other.

As I collaborate with my grade level team I notice that my particular role changes throughout the process. We each bring different experiences and expertise to the table so we will often assume leadership responsibilities according to these qualities. For example, my teammate has extensive experience in technology so she leads us in incorporating technology into our curriculum. Another teammate has had much success in partnering with our parent community so she takes on a leadership role in structuring our parent volunteer program. I have had positive outcomes in student writing so I tend to lead in this area.

Our discussions in class during week 2 helped me to understand that this type of leadership can be referred to as a type of “distributive leadership”. Distributive leadership is a good way to utilize the skills of all members of a team, whether the team is a grade level, a school, a community, or a district. Distributive leadership is an interactive process rather than a static one. The outcomes stemming from a team effort under distributive leadership reflect the talents of all, and are not due simply to the leadership of a great principal. This is encouraging to consider and empowers teachers to step up and take on more leadership responsibilities.

Hilty, E., (2011). Teacher leadership: The “new” foundations of teacher education. New York, New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

 

Teacher Leaders Set the Stage for Effective Collaboration May 30, 2012

I notice a commonality as we read about the teacher leader experiences in the materials for week 9.  Effective teacher leaders make good use of the resources and support that are available when they embark on a quest for reform. In addition, rather than steam rolling over opposition or turning around and calling it quits when faced with difficult circumstances or people, teacher leaders recognize the advantages, agreements, and common goals that ARE in place at a particular point in time and then work to build upon them.

In M. Colley’s “Preparing for the Future? Reliving the Past?” (2007), the teacher leader had to step back and focus on the one goal that both groups, the HiCap and AP teachers, had in common which was alignment, not rigor. This proved to be a turning point in the productivity of their meetings. Moore and Morgaen (2011) reference a teacher leader who chose to collaborate with teachers who sought her out, rather than deal with criticisms from teachers who were suspicious of her inexperience. These practices served to build strong groups  in the beginning, while shelving the more sticky issues for a time later in the process when all parties were better aligned in their goals. In both of these situations, the reader was left hopeful that these leaders eventually had even the naysayers on board. I am reminded that when facing a daunting challenge it is best to break it down into smaller parts and align these parts with the common goals of the team. This will strengthen and build rapport amongst the team members and better equip them to deal with the tougher issues down the road.

Moore, S. & Morgaen, L. (2011). Overcoming the obstacles to leadership. In E. Hilty, Teacher leadership: The “new” foundations of teacher education (pp. 211 – 217). New York, New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Colley, M. (2007) Preparing for the future? Reliving the past? Cases 2007 District-Level Reform, Retrieved from https://learn.spu.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-758919-dt-content-rid-671295_1/courses/EDU6600_45677201123/CSTP-teacher.leadership.cases.pdf

 

Thinking Like a Scientist Through Action Research May 23, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — lkgale @ 2:38 am
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In class during week 8 we discussed Zepeda’s (2012) chapter on Action Research. Action research is a logical step to take when an educator wishes to look deeply into his/her own practice and devise a plan to improve student learning. I like that it is systematic and cyclical. Action research calls us to identify an area of focus, collect data, analyze and interpret the data, and define an action plan.  This encompasses the planning part of action research. The next steps are to act on the plan, observe the effects, reflect, and then start the cycle over again, incorporating the new learning.

Kemmis and McTaggart (as cited in Zepeda, 2012, p. 249) emphasize that action research is not simply “the scientific method applied to teaching.” We do not create a hypothesis and then test it out to come to a conclusion. Rather, action research focuses on the researcher and on changing situations.

I am reminded of an event for teachers I attended at the Seattle Aquarium in 2010. The featured speaker was Dr. Bruce Alberts, Editor-in-Chief of Science Magazine. He was also former Head of the National Academy of Sciences. Much of his talk centered on how more science minded teachers are needed in education. Specifically, he would like to see teachers with Ph.Ds in the classroom. (How this would impact state resources is another topic!)The learning associated with graduate degree programs prepares teachers to think and plan in a systematic and scientific manner. This type of thinking becomes second nature. I found myself really intrigued by this notion. I had not considered how important it is for teachers to approach issues and their own learning in this way. Much of the professional development we study in this class falls in line with Dr. Albert’s views. Or, more appropriately, Dr. Albert’s views fall in line nicely with the subject matter of this class.

Zepeda, S.J. (2012) Professional development: What works. Larchmont, New York: Eye on Education.

 

Viewing the Big Picture Through Systems Thinking May 15, 2012

Viewing the Big Picture Through Systems Thinking

During week 7, we discussed how steps towards school reform need to be viewed from the perspective of all components of a school system. This is referred to as Systems Thinking.  Our discussions pointed out that there are multiple layers that will be impacted by change within a school system. These layers must be considered during the planning stages of any school reform in order to anticipate possible barriers along the way.

My interest in this issue was piqued so I researched the subject of systems thinking and came upon an informative article by the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (2000). The article, titled Asking the Right Questions: A Leader’s Guide to Systems Thinking about School Improvement, explored systems thinking in-depth and described three domains within the school system. The technical domain includes the nuts and bolts of instruction such as content, how instruction is delivered, and the assessment of knowledge and skills. Another domain is the personal domain and would include the attitudes and skills of the people within the system. Components of this domain would be professional development, internal communication, school leadership, and the climate and culture of the school. The third domain is the organizational domain. This domain involves the external environment, the stakeholders, resource allocation, technology, and accountability. Breaking a school system down into these 3 components makes for a somewhat simpler process when analyzing the impact of school reform.

It has been extremely helpful for me to view the big picture of school or district wide change through these lenses. I can appreciate the difficult task that everyone in a system must take on – be it a superintendent, a principal, a teacher, or a parent – when a plan for reform in underway. I think that teacher leaders are in a unique position to be close and personal to each of the domains listed above and therefore have much to offer when the “big picture” needs to be brought back into focus.

Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning. (2000). Asking the right questions: A leader’s guide to systems thinking about school improvement. Aurora, CO: Author.

 

Critical Friends Groups May 8, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — lkgale @ 3:47 am
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I had never heard of Critical Friends Groups (CFG) until the module 6 readings.  Just the name “Critical Friends” makes it a group I want to join! It implies support for each other during stressful times.  Who doesn’t need that as a teacher? The more I learn about CFGs I am more convinced that it would be a very worthwhile endeavor for me professionally, as well as for the improvement of student learning.

I was encouraged that the frequency of CFG meetings were on an average of once per month, albeit as long as 2 hours (Zepeda, 2012). This seems like a reasonable expectation and one that would be less likely to overwhelm teachers’ schedules. Teachers are already expected to participate in weekly PLC meetings (sometimes on more than one PLC group), PGE groups, and team meetings. I wonder if CFG groups could meet outside of the school day and accumulate professional development hours? I would think that this would save money and eliminate the need for subs.

I also see CFGs as an opportunity to collaborate with teachers across grade levels and gain insight into areas that I would not otherwise become familiar with. Such an experience would be rich with different perspectives. All of this is likely to result in increased student and teacher learning.

Zepeda (2012, p. 209) states that there are five stages of CFG development. These stages are 1. Forming; 2. Storming; 3. Norming; 4.Performing; and 5. Adjourning. I would like to know if CFG membership typically remains constant from stage 1 through to stage 5?  Are new members allowed or encouraged to join a CFG after it has already been established? If so, does this disrupt the flow of the work in which a group is involved? Are CFGs ever established around a specific interest such as ELL, technology, or gifted students?  I am interested enough in this topic that I will search out teachers who are familiar with this particular type of professional development and further consider my participation.

Zepeda, S.J. (2012) Professional development: What works. Larchmont, New York: Eye on Education.

 

Team Meetings as Professional Development May 1, 2012

As I read Zepeda’s chapter on Job-Embedded Learning (2012, Chapter 6), in  I was really struck by how much sense this concept makes for teachers. I consider the many times I have attended an offsite workshop and realize that, although I benefitted from interacting with colleagues and came back to campus with a notebook full of notes, I was then faced with the questions, How do I apply this to my classroom today? How will I know that students are learning more as a result of my training? Who can offer me support and help me be accountable?

With job embedded learning, teachers are applying new skills almost as soon as they are learning them. For example, the simple act of conferring with my grade level teachers about a formative assessment in creating patterns immediately revealed that my kindergarteners were weak in identifying similarities in patterns that are made up of different objects or pictures. My colleague shared a teaching strategy she uses that supports this skill. I used it that very day and noticed measurable improvement in student learning. This whole process took less than one hour and the application of my learning was almost immediate.

I think that we as teachers may need to see professional development in a whole new way. I will take seriously the collaboration meetings I engage in with my fellow teachers and strive to treat them as valuable opportunities for effective professional development. I know now, more than ever, that it is important to incorporate norms, agendas, action items, and data analysis to our team meetings in order to reap the benefits of this type of job-embedded learning.

Zepeda (2012, pp. 126-128) lists and describes seven positive outcomes from job embedded learning. They are: enhanced reflection, increased collegiality, less isolation, more relevant learning, increased transfer of learning, support of the refinement of practice, and a common lexicon. I can honestly say that even one effective and well executed team meeting accomplishes all of this. Imagine what meetings conducted in this manner on a weekly basis could do!

 

Zepeda, S.J. (2012) Professional development: What works. Larchmont, New York: Eye on Education.