Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Professional Learning Communities… really…


The idea of Professional Learning Communities, appealing in the abstract, has suffered during the NCLB decade by its connection to tedious and frustrating review of NCLB-mandated measures of academic achievement. For many educators the term ‘PLC’ has come to mean torturous sessions in which the participants mutually expose their inability to ensure that all children will do well on state tests.

But there is another way.

In Colorado’s St. Vrain Valley School District, 35 miles north of Denver, teachers join the district's Digital Learning Collaborative (DLC) for blended professional learning that’s truly collegial, contextual, and continuous — and, most amazingly, actually helps them learn things they really want to know in order to support the learning of their students. The “digital” part of DLC isn’t really what makes it different from PLCs as they’ve generally come to be experienced — although the use of collaborative digital tools is both substantial and effective. Holding for the moment the impact of superb guidance by St. Vrain professional development leaders Michelle Bourgeois and Bud Hunt, the big difference between this and most PLCs is its focus on authentic professional inquiry. As if teachers were still learners… Imagine that…

The theme for this professional inquiry is effective use of edtech to support students’ learning. But what edtech? What student learning? What effective use? The participants decide. In fact, each participant decides. As they pursue their various explorations, each and all participants get support from their building teammates, from other DLC members, and, of course, from Michelle and Bud.

My excellent colleague, Dixie Good, and I have had the marvelous opportunity to observe these teacher/learners closely over the past two years. We have watched them grow, not merely in their ability to use educational tools but in their ability to work and learn together. Here, for example, are what a couple of teachers have said about the DLC experience:
  • “I began to look at this work as being more integrated with my thinking about learning as a whole rather than as a way to incorporate the bright shiny objects.”
  • “Belief about technology use itself did not change, but my existing belief about the importance of collaboration and continual professional growth is stronger than ever, particularly with regard to using technology in our professional practice with students.”
I’ll have more to say about the DLC -- why it works and why it matters -- in my next post. In the meantime, if you want to know more about the DLC, follow the links below.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Since Last We Met…

The 2010-11 school year was a busy one for C21L, which might help (though not really) to explain why this blog bogged after October of 2010. The opening of a new school year brings new resolve.

Let’s start with some catching up:

Promising Practices Videos
Partnering with eight school districts, C21L is preparing more than 60 video segments to document the work of teachers in learning In and For the 21st century. The video segments (each 3-5 minutes in length) capture the rationale and strategies these educators are using to implement 21st century learning. The videos are being posted to C21L's Vimeo website during Fall 2011.

Some of the teachers involved in this project presented information about their promising practices during the Colorado TIE (Technology in Education) Conference in June. Their session — Promising Practitioners of 21st Century Learning — was also captured on video and will also be posted soon.

One promising practitioner has received national attention for his work. Phil Hutcherson, featured on the C21L Promising Practice video Differentiation and Innovation*, was named a national Math Hero by Raytheon Corporation in Fall 2010. Phil teaches math at West Middle School in Colorado Springs School District 11. It pays to be a hero… sort of. In addition to a personal award, our Math Hero scored $2,500 for West MS. The funds support a schoolwide subscription to ePals, a secure platform for collaboration across cultures. Phil’s larger goal? "I just want to change the world," he says. He might do it too.

At the TIE Conference, and again at the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) National Conference (ISTE 2011: Unlocking Potential), C21L presented three tools for helping educators analyze their progress in implementing 21st century learning. The primary tool is C21L’s rubric for Assessing Learning For the 21st Century, which provides thumbnail descriptions in four areas of practice (targets, assessments, experiences, environments). The supporting tools are C21L’s Classroom Observation and Building Walk-through forms, which help educators collect data on their practices. Using the rubric to the guide and analyze practices, educators can meaningfully apply data to planning and professional learning.

* FYI - eSchool News has featured the C21L Promising Practices video of Phil Hutcherson at least twice.