professional learning communities

Tonight we’re getting in deeper with Laney Sammons’ new book, Implementing Guided Math: Tools for Educational Leaders. The format of the book study makes it easy for you to jump in at any time. Large-scale changes take time to implement, so this is the perfect time of the year to begin planning for next year.

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Reading schedule

Join the slow Twitter chat

I hope you have had a chance to jump in to the slow Twitter chat.  We;ve been having some great conversations. Search on the hashtag #ImplementingGM now to catch up. I will be posting new questions this week and next over Chapters 2 & 3, and I plan to use some of the Review & Reflect questions from the book. We will use the standard Q & A format–questions will be tagged Q (Q1, Q2, etc.) and you tag your response with an A (A1, A2, etc.). Don’t forget to tag your response with #ImplementingGM so it will show up in the search. Remember to follow other participants to grow your professional learning community (PLN).

Chapter 2: Creating a Professional Education Community to Support Guided Math

Now we’re getting into the nuts and bolts of what it takes to lead an effective change. How appropriate that Sammons leads off with a chapter about the importance of professional education communities, also referred to as professional learning communities. In the early 2000s, I was powerfully moved when I read the work of Richard and Rebecca DuFour regarding professional learning communities. In particular, their book Whatever It Takes changed the way I look at teaching and learning and opened my eyes to the power of collaboration. Unfortunately, many teachers today still exist and operate in isolation. This does not benefit the teachers or the students. In this scenario, strong teachers continue to get stronger, and their students thrive, while the students in the classrooms of ineffective teachers are denied quality instruction. Sammons points out, “To significantly impact the academic achievement of students, members of the community must assume responsibility to work together to achieve their goals.” (pg. 39)

So what does it take to create a strong mathematics professional community? The graphic on page 41 outlines four key elements and the remainder of the chapter describes each element:

  1. Establishing trust
  2. Empowering community members
  3. Encouraging collaboration
  4. Building teams

The graphic represents the connected nature of these elements–take out one of the pieces of the puzzle, and the professional community is likely to falter, if not fail.

The ideas in this chapter are important because they underscore the idea that establishing and maintaining effective professional learning communities is no easy task. It takes time, careful planning, and an ongoing monitoring process.  We’ll learn much more about professional learning communities in Chapter 7.

 

Chapter 3, Embracing a Shared Vision and the Implementation of Guided Math

“While dream and visions are appealing, reality often gives them a swift jolt.”  Sammons (pg 59)

I could not love that quote more. In defining a shared vision Sammons states that it “…motivates members of the community and impacts all aspects of a classroom, school, or district.” In other words, you might say you have a shared vision, but how pervasive is it really? This chapter includes an amazing blueprint for developing and sustaining a shared vision.

I’m sure we’ve all been involved in a “shared” vision that was created for us and given to us. For teachers to truly embrace Guided Math, they must be part of the visioning process. Sammons presents several processes that can be used to develop a shared vision for mathematics instruction, the idea being that when educators are asked to contribute their thoughts on the essential elements of quality math instruction, Guided Math will be a logical way to achieve the vision. With a shared vision in place, leaders must continually take the pulse of the staff to ensure the vision is alive and well.

A vision without a plan has little chance of bringing about a change. On page 60, the quote from Reeves describes two very different versions of strategic planning, and I’m sure we’ve all experienced the latter (“…endless meetings, fact-free debates, three-ring binders…”) as often as the former (“…a disciplined and thoughtful process…”). This section goes on to outline a data-gathering process designed to identify strengths and needs. This data includes not only testing data, but also classroom observation data about the current state of mathematics instruction. The Mathematics Instruction Observation Form included in the appendix is perfect for recording observations, but it goes without saying that leaders must have developed a high level of trust with the staff and that teachers must feel ownership of the shared vision for this observation process to feel productive, rather than punitive.

With data in hand, it’s time to develop goals and finalize the improvement plan. Again, Sammons underscores the importance of including the entire educational community: “…this final consultation with teachers and staff demonstrates respect for them and for the importance of their contribution to the success of the plan.” (pg 71)

This past week on the Twitter chat, there were lots of comments about the need for leaders to provide educators with the resources necessary to implement a change, particularly in the form of training and time for collaboration. As Sammons points out, implementing a major change is a bumpy ride, and leaders need to be involved at every level or else the implementation plan risks becoming something “that is compiled and forgotten.” (pg 75)

Of course there will always be resistance to change, and Sammons closes the chapter with a great section outlining common reasons that changes are not successfully implemented.

Join the conversation by adding your comments to this post. Then head on over to Twitter for the next discussion question.


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