Principal Sinclair's Think-Spot

A Place for my Reflections and Thoughts as a School Administrator

What will we do when students do not learn?

This was a question recently posed to our school’s instructional leadership team (ILT) during our work with our school system’s Professional Learning Community Institute (PLCI) as we work on becoming a PLC.  As our ILT worked through our answer to this question it became clear that while we do quite a bit to support our students in learning, for the most part we are doing it as “independent contractors”.  We do have some students who are getting support at the team level or via the work of a couple of colleagues collaboratively, but it is not happening as standard practice for every student who is struggling.  One of our goals in building our PLC, is to have a consistent and common answer to the critical question of what we are doing when students do not learn what we are expecting them to learn.

Our ILT has taken on this challenge head on.  We have started our work by looking at and evaluating our current state as a school.  We began, through the PLCI by listing all of the “interventions” we have in place to assist students.  Through our work with the PLCI we have identified areas from growth and we have developed a plan to work through those areas.  Through our work we are looking to:

  • Develop a clear understanding of the importance of being able to answer the critical question of what we are doing when students are not learning consistently across the board,
  • Evaluate our current state and looking at what we are doing that is working, what we are doing that is not working and how what we are doing aligns with a PLC approach and aligns with the supports and strategies supported by our school system,
  • Exploring best practices and literature that will help us to develop a common understanding of what tiered interventions are, what they look like when implemented, how to match interventions to areas of need,
  • Develop a common, tiered, approach to addressing students who are struggling,
  • Providing our ILT and our staff with the support and guidance needed to implement those interventions to best meet the needs of our students on a consistent basis.

In order to make sure that we are working in the right direction we are now in the process of reviewing the research on how effective PLCs have best addressed the issues of students who are not learning in a systematic fashion as a PLC.  We will be looking at the key components of effective systems and which of those components may or may not work for us and what they would look like in our school.  One of the main resources we have begun to work with is the book Whatever It Takes: How Professional Learning Communities Respond When Kids Don’t Learnby Rebecca DuFour, Robert Eaker, Gayle Karhanek, and Richard DuFour( http://www.amazon.com/Whatever-It-Takes-Professional-Communities/dp/1932127283 ).  We are currently working through this book to help our team evaluate our beliefs, build our background knowledge, and explore best practices from other schools.

In addition to looking at external resources we are also reviewing the tools and processes provided through our school system through our collaborative problems solving (CPS) process (http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/departments/development/resources/Problem_Solving/index.shtm).  Our CPS was rolled out a couple of years ago and outlined a process for supporting students who are struggling and provides us with a great starting point.

Our goal is to work together as a PLC to create a clear and consistent hierarchy ( ideally a customized pyramid of interventions ) of interventions that we implement consistently across all three grade levels.  While this work will take us a while, we have committed to this work and we know that this work will ultimately help us as a PLC to better meet the needs of all of our students who struggle in our classes.  As we work through the process of developing our PLC I will be using this blog to update our progress.

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