Why Parents Should Care About PLCs and #edpolicies

Let's start with another simple truth:  As Jerry Sternin proved in the rice paddies of Vietnam and as Joan Richardson demonstrated in school after school, the best solutions for local challenges rest in the hearts and minds of local experts. 

That should be great news if you're a parent, a teacher or a local policymaker, right?

Essentially what Sternin and Richardson PROVE is that at least some of the teachers in your schools have the answers to any #educhallenge that all y'all are facing

That's no surprise, though, is it.  Knowledgeable and active parents have been fighting to get their kids in the classrooms of THOSE teachers for as long as we've had schools.

If we really want to see our schools succeed, however, we've got to start caring about the kids in EVERY classroom.  It's not enough to know that there are a small handful of fantastic TEACHERS in every building. We've got to make sure that fantastic PRACTICES spread from one classroom to the next.

Here's the hitch:  NOTHING about current #edpolicy efforts—which are largely built around ranking teachers based on the standardized test scores produced by students—encourages teachers to share their practices with one another.

In fact, most of these competitive #edpolicy choices actively DISCOURAGE intellectual sharing between teachers.  Think about it:  If YOUR performance numbers were going to be splattered all over the front pages of the local newspaper, why in the Sam Hill would you want to help SOMEONE ELSE to look better?

Want a painfully honest example of what that looks like in action?

I'm currently working hard to perfect my classroom assessment and feedback practices simply because researchers have proven that heaping cheeseloads of feedback is one of the most important school-level factors influencing student achievement. My sixth grade science colleagues, however, aren't there yet professionally. 

Now, if my practices DO have a tangible impact on student achievement (translation: my kids start kicking a little sixth-grade science heiney), wouldn't you want me to share what I learn with YOUR child's teacher, too?

As it currently stands, there's NO WAY that I'd ever share what I'm learning, though.  Remember, I'm competing against YOUR child's teacher.  Policymakers have decided that publicly sorting and shaming teachers is a surefire way to Race to the Top.

Your kid loses. I win.


That's why I'm so excited about a recent #edpolicy proposal crafted by ten Seattle Metro area teachers known as the Washington New Millenium team.  Having spent the past year studying teacher evaluation and assessment models with the experts at the Center for Teaching Quality, the Washington NMI team has made a powerful recommendation:

Real change in schools depends on our commitment to developing and supporting results-oriented professional learning communities. 

For those of you who aren't professional educators, professional learning communities are nothing more than collaborative teams of teachers who are committed to studying student learning together.

They engage in an ongoing cycle of collective inquiry: Examining areas of weakness in student performance, researching potential solutions, implementing new strategies, collecting and studying results with one another, and planning new courses of action based on what they discover.

The entire process is transparent and public and shared.  Results don't belong to individual teachers; they belong to the entire team. 

The Washington NMI team recommends placing professional learning communities at the center of school accountability efforts because professional learning communities encourage responsible practices.  When collaboration is a priority, best practices are shared.

It makes sense, doesn't it?

Of course it does. 

It's high-time that we STOP thinking about teachers as individuals who are working against one another in isolation and START finding ways to incentivize the kinds of professional sharing that can lead to more productive learning spaces for EVERY child—instead of just those lucky enough to be assigned to the classrooms of our "best" teachers.

By recognizing this truth and arguing that professional learning teams should play a larger role in our #edpolicy choices, the Washington NMI team has given me something to believe in.

More importantly, by arguing that professional learning teams should play a larger role in our #edpolicy choices, the Washington NMI team has taken a step towards ensuring that YOUR children have access to the best instructional practices and professional know-how in your schools.

How can THAT be a bad thing?



Related Radical Reads:

Is Racing to the Top Even Possible, Arne?

The Power of Professional Learning Communities

Lessons Learned on Collaboration from One Fat Ox

Building a Professional Learning Community at Work



5 thoughts on “Why Parents Should Care About PLCs and #edpolicies

  1. Medicaid Eligibility NJ

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  2. Vanessa Johnson

    I agree that PLC’s are a great way for educators to collaborate ideas, and analyze data. I did not know that the information gathered in the PLC could be made public. Any suggestions on how to get administrators to buy in?

  3. Bill Ferriter

    Hey Hatch,
    Thanks for stopping by—and I think the truth behind failed #edupolicies rests in two realities: (1). Policy makers have way too many topics to care about to be experts in any one area and (2). Despite their lack of expertise in education, policymakers BELIEVE they know everything about schools simply because they went to one when they were kids.
    Theres a false transparency around education. Everyone has been to school. Everyone has sent kids to school. A ton of people have sent grand kids to school.
    That makes them experts, right?
    Of course not, but that doesnt stop policymakers from believing that they know more than they really do about what works in schools.
    Any of this make sense?

  4. Hatcherelli.wordpress.com

    Hi Bill,
    It is great to see another post from you. I don’t know how you do it…maybe in NC there is more than 24 hours in a day??
    Anyway, as I was reading your article, a thought ran through my head. I wonder if the #edpolicy makers work collaboratively or in isolation. I wonder if they feel the same competition with other policy makers that you feel as a teacher. Do they network with others as they create policies that affect so many people?
    Your thoughts?

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