Wednesday, April 30, 2014

5 Reasons School Teams Should Study Together

If a school leader wants teachers and support staff to adopt a new initiative or to embed a proven practice in any meaningful way, the best way to start is to study together. When we try to take short cuts to improving instruction or school-wide policies, we end up with lots of people acting like they are complying but with no significant change in practice.

When I was teaching, I would have been highly frustrated by a leader's insistence on jumping through a hoop to satisfy a mandated practice, so I try to make sure that any implementation requirement for my teachers is grounded in a convincing rationale for helping kids learn. Whenever possible, my leadership team finds an article or a book chapter, sometimes an entire book, that addresses the need for the initiative or required practice. 

We engage in study for the following purposes:

As the leader of a high-needs school in the poorest section of our district, I realized that my faculty and staff were divided on issues related to race and economic class. Most of us acknowledged that we needed to engage in dialog about conflicting perceptions and disparate experiences, but that didn't mean it was comfortable. Reading and discussing a book makes a difficult topic a little less personal, although we all made plenty of personal connections while studying Jawanza Kunjufu's Black Students, Middle Class Teachers.

As our immigrant population grew, we had to learn to support and teach students who did not know English. We spent our weekly inservice sessions in study groups, facilitated by a college professor and a district professional developer. We read, wrote about, and discussed the text, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners. We practiced components of the Sheltered Observation Protocol (SIOP) presented in the book, an approach that teaches planning and delivery techniques that best serve ESL (and all) students.

In the second school I led, my faculty and leadership read Rick Wormeli's book on Summarization and, more recently, Mike Schmoker's book called Focus. As individual classroom teachers began implementing the strategies we studied, we asked them to share their thought process and experience in our inservice times, including the effect of their practice on student learning. 

When their peers saw what these teachers were accomplishing with our shared student population, they were more motivated to experiment and share about their own attempts to improve instructional practices. Studying together almost always results in self-directed motivation to grow and change in our practice, and that brings energy and enthusiasm to our professional interactions.

A few years ago, our grade level teams spent one team planning time per week reading and discussing Doug Lemov's  extraordinarily helpful book Teach Like a Champion. One teacher on each team facilitated the study. This book provides specific, brief descriptions of highly effective techniques for managing the classroom and for engaging all learners. 

Every technique is presented with a one- or two-minute video of a real teacher demonstrating the technique in a real classroom. At the end of each meeting, the team members planned to practice the technique, reflect on their practice, and share with one another at their next meeting. 

Here's a sample of the technique called "100 Percent." 

One of my veteran teachers exclaimed, "Every new teacher should have a copy of The First Days of School and Teach Like a Champion!"

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