We began working with the PLC model about 10-12 years ago in Weber School District. Initially, the focus of our work within PLC’s was curriculum design. We posed a series of four questions:
Although we have begun to use PLC time successfully for things other than curriculum design (e.g., child study teams, lesson study, collaborative analysis of student work, etc.) I would like to revisit those original questions and share several suggestions.
With each unit, teachers should be able to answer the first question with absolute clarity. Rather than simply defaulting to the standard or objective in the core as the answer to question one, teachers can work together to “unpack” the standard in such a way that they are able to clearly articulate the big ideas or enduring understandings that get right at the heart of the unit. Sometimes, we erroneously substitute the topic under study for the actual learning goal. For instance, a social studies teacher might say, “I’m teaching the Civil War.” Or, an English teacher might say, “I’m teaching A Tale of Two Cities. In actuality, those are the topics we’re teaching but they are not the learning goals. The learning goals for teaching a Civil War unit might include: 1) Students are able to identify key social, political and economic issues that Americans confronted during the Civil War era; and, 2) Students are able to describe opposing views on the issue of states’ rights and how those disputes contributed to the Civil War. Similarly, the learning goals for the English teacher would be much more specific in nature and could get at analysis of theme or describing character development through conflict resolution.
As it relates to the learning goal, there should be consistency among grade level teams or in a department. That consistency is established as teams of teachers collaboratively identify what is most important for students to know and understand. Please note, that for a language arts team or grade level team, it is not even necessary that they read the same novel! A team of teachers might read different novels (or short stories, poetry, or drama for that matter) and yet have consistent learning goals dealing with character development, analysis of theme, resolution of conflict, etc.
The second question gets us thinking like assessors. We’re looking for reliable, robust evidence that students have really learned. The easy default on question two is to utilize a publisher-produced test or quiz. I’m going to give a caution here. There has been talk of “common assessments” and some have falsely assumed that the goal is simply to have every teacher giving the same test or quiz. This assumes that merely giving the same test achieves the expectation. Not true! The real litmus test of a quality assessment strategy is whether it permits a student to authentically demonstrate what he/she really knows and understands. Publisher-produced tests generally don’t achieve that high standard. Rather, they tend to measure surface-level knowledge only. Therefore, it’s quite possible for a student with relatively deep understanding to score poorly on a multiple choice test. Similarly, it’s possible for a student with shallow knowledge to score average or above through guessing on a multiple choice quiz.
Once again, as it relates to evidence supporting student learning on a specific goal or objective there should be consistency among grade-level teams or subject area teachers. There is great value in coming together as a team to discuss those assessment strategies which will best yield authentic feedback on student learning. Collaboration at this stage is valuable because developing assessment strategies that permit students to genuinely demonstrate what they know and understand is not easy work. And, we don’t do our best work in isolation! Frankly speaking, we’re usually smarter together.
The third question gets at pedagogy and strategy. Here we strongly encourage teachers to use their creativity in planning teaching strategies and learning experiences that will capture students’ hearts and imaginations in ways that excite learning. We value teachers’ expertise and innovative spirit. Teachers know their students. They know what their interests, strengths and deficiencies are and understand how to adapt instruction to meet their students’ unique needs. Under no circumstances would we encourage every teacher to teach the same lesson on the same day using the same methodology. In implementing the PLC model, some make this false assumption. But it goes against best practice. We know that each student learns at a different pace and in different ways. Suggesting that every teacher teach the same thing on the same day and in the same way contradicts that reality.
The final question implies that students are different and adjusting instruction around those differences is appropriate. Some students may already know the content we’re teaching. With these students, teachers are able to design learning experiences that permit them to go deeper in their understanding. Others may require additional instructional support to successfully acquire knowledge. Skilled teachers are capable of providing students with different avenues to learning so that all students can learn effectively, regardless of differences in ability.
I once read an article titled, “Teaching is Rocket Science!” I agree. It’s not easy to plan and deliver instruction around so many variables. A framework for curriculum design assists in that process. Collaboration in PLC’s with productive, meaningful dialogue is crucial to bringing out the best in both teachers and students.
Although our schools are only nearing the half-way point of the school year, according to the calendar, it’s a new year! And with the new year, come New Year's resolutions. One suggestion that you might consider as a parent is to make the resolution this year to help your kids do well in school. A study from the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory states, “When schools and families work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer and like school more.” Multiple other studies show that kids whose parents are involved in their education have better grades, more appropriate school behavior and a better attitude toward school than those with less involved parents.
When schools and parents work together to engage families in ways that improve learning and support parent involvement at home and school, students make great gains.
Here are some ideas from www.colorincolorado.org to help parents resolve to be more involved in their children’s education in new ways this year.
As a parent, you are your child’s first and most important teacher. When parents and families are involved in their children’s education, children perform better and have positive feelings about attending and participating in their own education.
"How Are the Children?"
In my office hangs a beautiful painting done by Chase Dahl, a student at Weber High School. I selected it this past spring as the "Superintendent's Choice Award" at our district art show. I love to look into the children's faces and see their hopes and aspirations. The painting is titled, "Children of Maasai." Among the many fabled and accomplished tribes of Africa, no tribe is considered more fearsome or more intelligent than the mighty Maasai. It's interesting to learn that the traditional greeting among the Maasi warriors is "Kasserian Ingeri," which interpreted means, "How are the children?" Not "How are you?" or "How do you do?" but "How are the children?" It provides a wonderfully revealing insight into the values of the Maasai culture! Their first concern is for the next generation.
In fact, it is still the traditional greeting of the Maasai, acknowledging the high value the Maasai place upon the well-being of young people. Even the fiercest warriors give the traditional response, "All the children are well." Note that it is not "My children are well," or "Some of the children are well," but all the children are well. Society can't be well unless all the children are well. This also means, of course, that peace and safety prevail, that the priorities of protecting the young and powerless are in place, and that the Maasai people have not forgotten their reason for being, their proper function and their responsibilities.
"All the children are well" means life is good. It means that the daily struggles of existence—even among the poor, include the proper care of the young and defenseless. I wonder how it might affect our consciousness for all children's welfare if we greeted one another each day by asking, "And, how are the children?" The question cuts right to the heart of the health of our society.
Dr. Jeff Stephens
The most important thing for teachers to teach their students is how to think, not what to think. Critical thinking is integral to deep learning and understanding. It is the mental process of analyzing or evaluating information that leads to a problem solving mindset.
One of Aesop’s fables, “The Man, the Boy and the Donkey” is a good illustration of how not utilizing the skills of critical thinking can be detrimental to allowing individuals to problem solve effectively. As the story goes, a man and his son who lived in the mountains had the objective to take their donkey to the city marketplace in order to sell the donkey so they would have money to buy the provisions they needed to survive the upcoming winter. As they began their journey, the boy rode the donkey and the man walked. They passed through the first village on their way to the marketplace where several villagers scoffed at them saying, “How inconsiderate that the boy would ride the donkey and make his father walk.” After hearing this critique, the man rode the donkey and the boy walked. Then as they traveled through the next little hamlet, the people pointed their fingers and shouted, “How inconsiderate that the man would be so selfish and ride the donkey and make the boy walk.” So, again listening to the opinions of the people, the man and the boy rode the donkey together. When passing through the next village on their way to the marketplace, the people gathered and mocked the travelers saying, “How inhuman for the man and the boy to both ride the donkey and overburden this poor animal.” Hearing these dissenting voices, the man and the boy both walked alongside the donkey. Then, while traveling through the last small town on their way to the marketplace, the onlookers laughed, “How stupid for the man and the boy to walk and not ride the donkey and use this beast of burden for which it was created. Finally, in total frustration, trying to please all the people who offered advice, the man and the boy rode the donkey together until it collapsed. The donkey had to be carried into the city where the people in the marketplace sneered, “Who wants to buy a worthless donkey that cannot even walk into the marketplace?” The man and the boy failed in their objective to sell the donkey and acquire provisions for the winter.
When excellent teachers teach their students how to think critically, it helps them deal with current and future challenges in their lives more skillfully. It broadens life experiences and helps students gain a more meaningful perspective. Here are some suggested steps to critical thinking as it relates to problem solving:
In the fable, “The Man, the Boy and the Donkey,” if the man and the boy would have acquired the skills that accompany critical thinking, they would have been better equipped to solve the problem they faced. Before their journey, the man and the boy could have decided that the man would ride the donkey for the first third of the journey. The boy would ride the donkey the second third of the way and they would both walk the final third of their trek. That way the donkey would arrived in the marketplace fresh and strong and ready to be sold. Then on their journey, as the man and the boy received conflicting advice, they could have given each other a reassuring wink of the eye and said, “we have a plan.”
A.E. Mander wrote, “Critical thinking is skilled work. It is not true that we are naturally endowed with the ability to think clearly and logically without learning how or without practicing. People with untrained minds should no more expect to think clearly and logically than people who have never learned and never practiced can expect to find themselves good carpenters, golfers, bridge builders, or pianists.”
Along with teaching specific curriculum content, we applaud our excellent teachers who teach students the importance of gaining skills associated with critical thinking and problem solving.
Lex L. Puffer
As we prepare for a new school year, I think it is important to momentarily step back from the stressful demands that come with opening school and consider what our overall educational aims entail. If I may, I'd like to share some of those broad goals from my perspective. First, I want each teacher, administrator and support professional to keep in mind that we are here to help in the balanced development of the whole child. In the current climate, it's so easy to fall into the trap of a narrowly defined school mission that simply prepares students to succeed on core tests. However, our vision must encompass a commitment to excellence that exceeds proficiency in basic knowledge and skills and strives toward the realization of each child's full potential.
I value classrooms that are intellectually enlarging and lead to sound thinking, effective communication and skill in quantitative reasoning. Such classrooms engage students in critical thinking and creative imagination. These students then become capable of understanding and solving a wide variety of problems. They develop a depth of knowledge, which allows them to recognize what is genuinely meaningful as opposed to knowledge which is merely peripheral. Depth certainly requires sustained inquiry and persistent effort. Ultimately, the chief result of depth is competence.
Along their learning journey, students should enjoy a breadth of study in history, the arts, science and relevant global issues. We want our students to gain an understanding of human civilization, appreciation for the unique contributions of America to our modern world, and a general historical perspective. All students should have a solid understanding of the physical, biological and social sciences, as well as a recognition of the power (and limits) of the scientific method. Our global economy is currently in tremendous need of leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). We also want each student to develop a keen appreciation for the arts. The arts promote innovation and collaboration, and positively impact student learning and cultural understanding. Perhaps most importantly, creative endeavor in the arts can inspire and transform minds, hearts and lives!
Obviously, the vision I have briefly described represents a broader, richer, and more comprehensive learning experience than one found in a "test-prep" school. Sharing this vision is not meant to overwhelm those with already full plates. Rather, it is intended to bring perspective to the fundamental goal of public education—assisting students to be successful in life. I honor each of you for your tremendous dedication to children and wish you the best as you impact those privileged to fall under your influence this year!
The summer months provide a wonderful opportunity for all to get some much needed rest! Summer is also a time to reflect, discover and prepare. For our students, faculty and employees it's a great time to enjoy family and friends. We also encourage each one of you (young people and adults alike) to read and learn. Find a good book and take time each day to read. You'll enjoy the quiet and you'll find a relaxing joy thick enough to hold!
Not long ago, I read about a fascinating man named "Buck" Fuller who requested the following epitaph be carved on his gravestone, "Call Me Trim Tab." Richard Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) was an American architect, author, inventor and futurist. Fuller published more than 30 books and coined several popular terms, including the word "synergy." Fuller often used "trim tabs" as a metaphor for how seemingly small, well-focused actions can produce significant, enduring outcomes.
A trim tab is a small lever on a boat or plane rudder that moves independent of the whole rudder. Modest movements of the trim tab can change the direction of a massively heavy boat or plane producing results far out of all proportion to the actual size of the trim tab. Fuller once said:, "Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary—the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there's a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It's like a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab adjusts the entire rudder. It takes almost no effort at all. I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. So I say call me trim tab."
In the Weber School District, we have hundreds of "trim tabs." People who work diligently to make a big difference! We have just completed a successful school year. That could never happen in such a large organization without the combined efforts of many dedicated individuals. I thank each one of you for your contribution—for being a "trim tab" that helps to successfully guide our school district as we strive to inspire, build and teach children. And, to our many students, parents and partners, we thank you for your great efforts. It's a marvelous thing to watch our entire community come together to provide for the education of our next generation.
Recently, I was invited to teach a poetry lesson in Mrs. Oliva's 4th grade class at Lakeview Elementary. One poem that we read and discussed was titled, "On the Other Side of the Door." This poem describes the endless possibilities for students when they enter a classroom led by a caring, dedicated teacher. One student, Kayla, talked about her teacher, Mrs. Oliva, and how much she loved her. Kayla later wrote to me, "I feel like I can do anything with my teacher's help if I work hard for it." I would like to thank every employee within the Weber School District for your hard work and dedication this school year. Just as Kayla so beautifully expressed, great teachers empower students to attain remarkable performance levels!
I recognize that today's political climate often demands that we do more and more—usually with less and less. And, I'm proud to say that, while we will always have room for improvement, we are meeting the challenge. That fact is reflected in a review of data. For example, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Utah scores in 8th grade reading rose from 267 in 2011 to 270 in 2013. Nationally, scores rose from 264 to 266 during the same time period. Among racial and ethnic groups in Utah for whom scores were reported, white student scores went from 272 to 274 between 2011 and 2013 while Hispanic student scores went from 247 to 256. Students eligible for free or reduced lunch saw their scores increase from 254 to 260. These larger gains by students in various ethnic groups demonstrate a closing of the achievement gap. I love to point to the 8th grade achievement because success there reflects great work by every teacher all the way back to kindergarten!
Utah's public students achieved an educational equivalent of the "Triple Crown" in Advanced Placement (AP) results by increasing overall participation in AP exams by more than 8 percent, increasing minority participation in those same exams between 11 and 23 percent, and increasing the overall success rate on the exams by more than 7 percent. A total of 20,638 Utah public school students took 33,217 AP exams during the 2012-13 school year with 22,398 of those exams earning a passing score—which translates into college credit. This represents an increase of 8.4 percent students taking exams, an 8.7 percent increase in number of exams taken, and a 7.1 percent increase in exams with passing scores, according to the College Board. Utah minority student population also increased its participation rates—American Indian participation increased 21.1 percent, Black participation increased 22.5 percent, and Hispanic participation increased 23.3 percent. Normally, one would think that with a significant increase in participation rates, the success rate on the exam would decrease; however, as noted earlier, the Utah success rate on the AP exams increased by more than 7 percent.
Utah's high school graduation rate rose 3 percent in 2013 to 81 percent. Using the new four-year calculations, Utah's high school graduation rate has risen from 69 percent in 2008 to its current level of 81 percent—an increase of 12 percent in five years. At the same time, Utah's dropout rate has declined from 29 percent in 2008 to 16 percent in 2013. As in most categories, Weber School District's data is even better than the state average. The same is true in graduation rates. Weber School District's graduation rate increased by 4.55 percent from 2012 to 2013 and now stands at 82%.
None of this happens without the untiring efforts of more than 3,000 committed and highly professional teachers and staff members working together for the best interest of young people! I thank each of you as you inspire students to achieve great things as they enter your classroom and give their very best. You're true professionals and it is a privilege to work with you. With Highest Regards,
It has become a tradition in certain universities across the land, for retiring professors to deliver their “last lecture”. This title was made famous by Randy Pausch, who in 2007 delivered a “last lecture” speech at Carnegie Mellon University, shortly before passing away from terminal cancer.
Fortunately, for most who deliver a last lecture upon retirement they live long productive lives after their speech. The common denominator among all their ‘last lectures’ is that they are asked to think deeply about what matters most and what wisdom they would impart to the world if they knew it was their last chance. Please know that I don’t profess to have the knowledge or ability of these noted scholars but for me this is my last lecture in terms of penning a message for this website. With that frame of mind my ‘last lecture’ is simple.
Love the children you serve. The best determining factor for a successful adult is a happy childhood. They only get one shot at being a child, they only get one second grade experience, one chance to be an eighth grader or one chance to have a childhood with people that genuinely care and love them. We must give it our all, we can’t recoup it for them and they cannot do it over. We can’t afford to waste opportunities to lift them to higher ground, to make this world a better and safer place. Don’t stay in education if you cannot do this, the price is too high to pay.
Love what you do. Love your job, love the people you serve. For over thirty years I have cherished arriving at work each morning knowing that I will see incredible things happening for children. Each day there were smiles, small talk, caring people and new ideas. Daily there have been people serving, giving of their time and talents unselfishly to improve the quality of life for students, employees and parents. I have been the benefactor of kindness by individuals who have been genuinely concerned about my weekend, how my family was doing, what I thought about a particular subject and last but not least expressions of gratitude. Thank you for taking an interest in my life, my career and the important work of educating children. I express a sincere and humble thank you to all of you that smiled, that understood, that spoke kind words and performed your labors with zeal.
Love to be the difference. Each day I have been exposed to the heart and soul of education, the people on the front lines that give it their all to make a difference. Your passion, dedication and determination to improve society through education has always inspired me to want to do better, be better and hope for better. All our roles are important in serving children, we need clean buildings, nurturing secretaries, helpful school nurses, safe bus drivers, prepared teachers, supporting paraprofessionals, organized and visionary administrators, dedicated maintenance workers, committed counselors and caring cooks. We need each and every one of you. Education is such an essential work, perhaps the greatest work that we can accomplish for future generations. Through education lives are enriched, ideas are shared, health improved and a greater understanding of humanity is acquired. Thanks to you all, you are great!
Lastly I would tell you to ask yourself the question, “is this really a problem?” I write this because of a life changing experience I had. Two years ago my husband and I went to Africa with some friends. We had a fabulous time seeing the wonders of nature. While in Nairobi, Kenya, I met a gentleman named Steven. Steven ran an orphanage and sold wood carving to help sustain the orphanage. He had over 150 children that were (and are) dependent on him for food, clothing, housing and education. His task is daunting and overwhelming. His carvings are beautiful and priceless. When I returned home I made arrangements to have him ship me some so I could sell them to help the orphanage out in a very small way.
Due to some unique circumstances last fall, a kind friend brought Steven to Utah for a short visit to help him try and acquire some funding for his orphanage. Here is where the life changing event occurred…after he had been here a few days his host took him to Costco. Steven was so overwhelmed by seeing so many items, so much food and such abundance of goods that he literally could not walk down the aisle. He had to sit in front of the store and just watch the people come and go because he did not know where to put it in his mind, he could not wrap his arms around such a scene. He truly was overcome with such opulence. While on the ride back to where he was staying he was extremely quiet, he could not talk, he was processing so much in his mind. Finally when they pulled into the driveway he said to his friend in earnest sincerity, “What do you consider to be a problem?” In other words, do you know what your life is like? I know in his mind he was saying, “I worry every day about a child dying for lack of nutrition, I worry about rain because the children sleep on slabs of cement, I worry about disease, I worry about finding one text book for fifty students to share, what do you worry about, is it really a problem?”
Since that day I have asked myself that question often and it has caused me to have a better perspective on the big picture of life. In always asking, “Is this really a problem?” the small minor inconveniences don’t have nearly the impact they once did. I have not been nearly as concerned if the traffic is heavy; I at least have a car and a road on which to drive. I have not been quite as upset if something I ordered did not arrive on time, nor has the day been ruined if there was a blizzard, at least I stayed warm.
In closing, keep serving, keep loving, keep a passion for education. Keep the perspective of what is really important in your life. Realize how blessed we are to live and work where we do. Enjoy the journey, it goes by swiftly.
My best always,
Linda K. Carver
I was educated in Weber School District schools. Municipal Elementary School, Roy Junior High School (the Redskins not the Razorbacks) and Roy High School (Home of the Royals!). I suppose my experiences in school were similar to most others. I have wonderful memories of my school days including painting with water colors, recess, science fair projects, wood shop, cooking classes, poetry writing, playing sports, great friends and many influential teachers. But, like most people, I have retained a couple of not-so-wonderful memories. I never really learned how to write in cursive. That was taught in the 3rd grade and I wasn’t in school much. My teacher told my parents that I was mischievous. I’m not sure what that word meant but I knew it wasn’t good. I don’t remember acting up in class but I do remember being sent to the principal’s office often. He would call my mother and I would walk home. I’m not sure it was called suspension back then. It was just, “you need to go home.” “Honest mom, I didn’t do anything.” “Well,” she would reply, “the principal said you were being mischievous in class again.” There it was. That word again. She would then give me a prepared list of chores around the house to accomplish. Soon, my trips to the principal’s office became so frequent that I would just walk by his office and wave to him. He’d wave back and I’d head out the front door and walk home only to be greeted by a stern look, a shaking head and a new list of chores. Not realizing it, I was apparently on a path to what they called juvenile delinquency.
Somehow, I was allowed to attend 4th grade. My teacher was Mrs. Green. Obviously, she didn’t get the memo about my past “mischievousness” because she took me under her wing and showed a special interest in me. She taught the class how to write creative stories. It was fun! She told me I was a great writer and poet. “I am?” “In fact,” she said, “I’m going to have you read your stories in front of the whole class because they are so good.” “Wow! Xanadu!” In that year that went by too quickly, I gained a bundle of self-worth and confidence. I discovered I could be really smart if I tried. Perhaps, maybe, by chance, I really wasn’t mischievous.
The rest of my public education experience was enjoyable, rigorous, gratifying and demanding. My teachers were absolutely fantastic. They taught me how to study and how to enjoy learning. They taught me to have a deep desire to be a life-long learner. I will always have the utmost respect and appreciation for what my teachers did for me in helping me become the person I am today.
We are extremely fortunate to have literally thousands of caring, competent teachers just like Mrs. Green in Weber School District. Leonard Pellicer wrote, “Our teachers could have chosen to be medical supply sales-people, astronauts, country singers or any other noble profession. Instead, they chose the teaching profession where they can shape lives in ways so special and unique that great teachers are irreplaceable. They acknowledge dignity in children. I believe that teachers, more than any other professionals touch lives in significant and lasting ways.” Henry Adams stated, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence ends.
Nearly five decades later, I stay in close contact with Mrs. Green. Our paths have brought us back together. We are actually neighbors. She is a little bit older and slower now but her mind is still as sharp as ever. She has the same smile, the same caring attitude and the exact same laugh. She walks several miles every day with a friend, not necessarily to stay in shape but to engage in good conversation and enjoy the beauties of earth. Several nights ago, I visited with her and her good husband. We reminisced about the “good old days” and as I have done at least a hundred times before, I told her how much I loved and appreciated her as my teacher so many years ago and what a great influence she has had on my life. I thanked her for giving me confidence in myself. I have since realized that I’m really not a very good writer or poet but she instilled in me the joy of writing. That night, I asked her, “So, what do you remember about me?” She smiled, laughed and said, “You were so mischievous!”
Lex L. Puffer