Friday, December 28, 2012

Classroom Learning Communities: Mission Statement

There is a quote that states, "If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there." Having a strong sense of purpose, vision and mission is researched to lead to increased student achievement and systems alignment. 

Developing a classroom mission statement is based on answering three pinnacle questions: Who are we? What are we here to do? How/Why are we going to do it?  This is done at each level in the district, starting at the district level through the individual student. Each mission statement aligns to the district mission statement, but is individualized to meet the differentiated needs of each school, class, and student. 

 Seeking stakeholder input during the development of the mission and vision of the school building and classroom is vital. Using quality tools to elicit feedback is an important part of the process. In addition, communication of the mission statement and basing decisions on the mission and vision of the district will ensure that the mission statement becomes the focus that drives improvement efforts. 

Classroom Learning Communities: Establishing Ground Rules

 Classroom Learning Communities should begin to be developed on the first day of school. Traditionally, teachers have posted rules, reviewed their expectations, and students sit back as passive listeners processing the same rules over the year. This tradition process fosters little accountability and student ownership. In a classroom learning community, establishing ground rules is a collaborative process that involves all students. 

Using the affinity and nominal grouping techniques, students individually write their thoughts on what the ground rules should be on post-it notes. All ideas are posted and reviewed by the class. Students agree on common themes and place the ideas in groups. These groups eventually become the ground rules for the class. Once students agree on the ground rules, they are typed or written and signed by the students and teacher. The rules are then posted in the classroom data center. As the year progresses and ground rules are not followed, students and the teacher can refer to the ground rules and remind each other of the agreed-upon expectations.

In Dunlap, we have a saying that "No one escapes continuous improvement." Ground rules are established in classrooms, but also are developed by adults in Professional Learning Communities, as a faculty and in departments. The professionals hold each other accountable to these agreed upon "staff norms." These norms aren't just for teachers, but also extend to food service, custodial staff, and the transportation department as well. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Classroom Learning Communities: Overview

   Classroom Learning Communities are created on the basis of 8 key components. These key strategies, when executed congruently, create an environment that fosters student collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, and effective communication at all academic levels and across all content areas.
   Engaging in continuous improvement efforts at the classroom level begins on "Day 1" of the school year as students develop their own classroom ground rules and mission statement. This process, sets the stage for dynamic classroom collaboration, student engagement, and student ownership and accountability.
  As the school year progresses, students and teachers collaboratively write classroom SMART goals and individual student goals. These goals are displayed in classroom data centers and student data binders. These goals align to building goals and are communicated through the district, building and classroom plan-on-a-page. These goals are monitored through professional learning communities with teachers and during classroom meetings facilitated by students. The power of the conversations that occur in professional learning communities and classroom meetings drive continuous improvement efforts through the use of quality tools and the Plan-Do-Study-Act process. Students communicate this progress to families during student-led conferences.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Plan-on-a-Page: Systems Alignment from the Boardroom to the Classroom

We have a saying in Dunlap School District #323, "Nobody escapes continuous improvement." This means that all staff members and students engage in quality processes to ensure continued growth and organizational success and development. There are several strategies that we employ to align our systems and ensure that continuous improvement is embedded in all areas of our school systems. A key strategy is the deployment of the Strategic Plan-on-a-Page.

The Plan-on-a-Page serves as a guiding document for district level goals, building level goals, and classroom level goals. This plan is also incorporated into support services, including; transportation, maintenance, and food services. See, "Nobody Escapes Continuous Improvement."
The development of the plan-on-a-page begins at the district level by a district leadership team comprised of stakeholders from all sectors of the school environment. Parents, teachers, and administrators sat around a table immersed in collaboration to arrive at the key vision, values, beliefs and goals of the district. These draft plans were shared through a variety of modalities to multiple groups of stakeholders to develop consensus moving forward. What results in the district strategic plan is a succinct plan focused on mission, vision, values, beliefs and goals for the district.

Building Leadership Teams are developed at each building in the district. These building leadership teams review building level data to determine goal areas aligned to the district plan that are meaningful to the building based on the data collected. These goals are articulated to the PLCs through the vehicle of the plan-on-a-page. The building plan-on-a-page mirrors the district plan, but with a focused mission and goals pertinent to the individual building.
Are we seeing the connection and alignment piece yet? We from district to building... from District Leadership Team to Building Leadership Team to Professional Learning Community... There is one vital piece to this alignment model that can make our break the impact of the continuous improvement system and that is the connection to the classroom and individual students.

PLCs review data weekly to determine goal areas for grade levels or content areas. These goals are articulated to the Classroom Learning Community and its students. Students interact during classroom meetings and problem solving sessions to determine goal areas and set direction. The power of the systematic alignment is in the classroom! Teachers and classrooms develop their plans-on-a-page to articulate their classroom mission and goals. What results is alignment from the boardroom to the classroom.

Sounds relatively easy, right? It is important to remember that the success of this alignment is that the plan-on-a-page drives improvements and sets and communicates direction at every level of the system. The document, at every level, should be monitored and revisited. Data Centers, Data Binders, and district level balanced scorecards are used to track metrics and ensure that "What gets measured, gets done."

Learn more about the Dunlap School District alignment model by reviewing the slideshow presented by Mandy Ellis and Dr. Jay Marino at the 2012 National Quality in Education Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.