Sunday, June 7, 2015

Collaborative learning is the preferred platform for educators who are interested in augmenting their professional development programs.  In this regard, the objective is to create a cooperative, inclusive, and community-based meeting of minds.  The PD groups in our school fall into line when it comes to collaboration.  They are generally comprised of teachers, teaching assistants, and counselors. They create goals, allow all members to air their views and collect and examine examples student work to inform their decisions.  There is however, room for improvement. We can strengthen these collaborative venues in the following ways.  First and foremost, the facilitator should establish a trusting and safe environment which ensures mutual respect and support for all (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013).  Members should then create and share a common purpose and goal.  Further, they can establish a set of agreements in which they decide who does what and why (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013).  Each constituent is accountable to each other, to the group, and to the designated outcomes (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013).  Importantly, these set of agreements, while flexible, should serve as guidelines for the entire process. Next, the facilitator creates a practical schedule and identifies individual roles and responsibilities (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013).  Finally, everyone shares leadership.  This allows each member to promote diverse perspectives and enables the group to tap into a communal pool of expertise. 
During the first week of this course we were asked to create a school-based team.  It was to be comprised of at least three individuals.  Furthermore, we were expected to collaborate, consult, and share ideas about the professional development efforts and needs at our school.  Finally, we were asked to evaluate our school’s progress in incorporating effective professional development practices.
My team is comprised of a reading curriculum specialist, a librarian, and a fifth grade teacher with many years of experience.   Initially we all had questions about the goal of meeting our school’s professional development needs. We also wondered about the merits of our personal contributions.  We soon found common school-wide PD issues on which we could agree. Three issues caught our attention.  First, there was a need to carve out more time for professional development. Next, we need to access outside expertise to help further develop the facilitators’ skills.  Finally, workshops that stress the learning of social skills such as impulse control, strategic listening and speaking were deemed desirable.   As to this last point, the resulting enhanced social abilities would ensure a smoother flowing dialogue, as well as cue members when to self- assert and when to align their views with others. This, in turn, would abet consensus building which is an important step in problem solving.
I found the team members to be patient with my requests for time and willing to speak openly about their concerns. I just wish there was more time in the day to explore these issues.
My hopes for the team are aligned with the list of recommendations we made to improve the professional development program in our school.  I believe they are meritorious since we need expanded opportunities for PD as well as inculcating outside expertise to further facilitate our meetings. My concern is that budgetary and scheduling constraints will hamper our efforts.
Garmston, R. J., & Wellman, B. M. (2013). The adaptive school: A sourcebook for developing
         collaborative groups (Rev. 2nd ed.). Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

 Information that will support my school's growth as a professional learning community.
The purpose of professional development programs is to increase the teaching capacity of educators with the intended result of enhancing student learning (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013).  Professional development is most expeditiously formulated when it is has a compelling purpose, is job-embedded, evidence-based, and results-oriented (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013).  Moreover, it must be collaborative and systematic and align its activities with district goals and state learning standards (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013).  Finally, there should be a sense of shared authority where each member of staff is empowered to lead when called upon.  Importantly, PD teams must be afforded the time, place, and resources to actualize their efforts.
Three key questions should guide the professional learning community.  These are: “What is the current reality at our school?” “What do we know about best practices?”  “How are we applying these to solve the current problem?” (Laureate Education, 2012).
In order to address these prompts we must be familiar not only with the school-wide practices of our particular domain but we must also be cognizant of Learning Forward’s seven professional learning standards.  This set of valuable resources contains a list of best practices that are at once comprehensive, quantifiable, and qualitative.  Accordingly, staff should share and discuss their dictates in a collaborative manner when applying them to specific academic circumstances.
More specifically, addressing the needs of students is the central concern of any PD program.  Consequently, at each appropriate meeting the collaborative team should share a common vision, state a specific goal, and used their communal expertise to scrutinize student-based evidence.  Finally, they need to assess their efforts periodically and render constructive feedback for continual improvement.
Garmston, R. J., & Wellman, B. M. (2013). The adaptive school: A sourcebook for developing
         collaborative groups (Rev. 2nd ed.). Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010). Qualities of effective professional
       development: Introduction to professional learning communities. Baltimore, MD: Author.

A Few Key Ideas
A few key ides from this week’s artifact are as follows.  Standards are an essential component of the professional development structure.  They delineate specific characteristics of essential categories of professional learning.  Each of the qualities described in these subsets contribute to efficacious teaching practices, supportive leadership, and improved results for all students (Learning Forward, 2011).  These benchmark exemplars are further refined into components and levels of achievement.  Correlating rubrics are created to further illustrate specific qualities inherent in the components.  They detail criteria that must be met in order to indicate proficiency at a particular level.
Secondly, professional learning standards, as well as the innovative configuration maps will enable educators to utilize uniform benchmarks that are described in abstract terms as well as how they should look when actuated in the classroom. 
Lastly, since the overarching goal of any PD undertaking is to increase student learning the use of student-generated data must be seen as foundational.  Data is one of Learning Forwards more prominent standards.   Properly using data will take schools from a modality that emphasizes a generalized, template-restricted practice of teaching to a culture that collects, analyzes, and celebrates authentic evidence. This authentic information will describe in real terms how students perform in our classrooms.  Resultantly, we can use this knowledge to create individualized lesson plans that tap into the interests and learning preferences of our students.

Learning Forward. (2011). Learning Forward Crosswalk with Previous Standards.  Retrieved from: