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24 February 2008

PLC's? Puh-leaze! (Part II)

You may have deduced by now that I have some heavy guns loaded and aimed at PLC-nation, but actually my only major qualms have to do with smaller, laughable annoyances, so I'll save that for my next/last/most enjoyable of three posts on the subject. Before being a little unfair and snarky, I thought I should give an account here of some of the positives that I've witnessed, or see the potential for, in a school that goes PLC.

1) The regular "collaborative meetings" we have probably help provide firmer accountability for teachers, since it would be fairly easy to figure out which teachers aren't doing jack in their classrooms when they have to give an account of activities each week. After all, no one wants to look like a slacker.

Now, no one has come off as a slacker in the meetings I've been in, but at my old school, I can picture a couple of bad teachers squirming mightlily under this system. Of course, even then, I don't know that it would have mattered if the principal didn't feel he could get rid of them to begin with.

2) Considering the fracturing that has occured in so many American communities, striving to give public schools a more communal feel is a worthwile goal, I believe, and this may be one way to accomplish that goal. One key in this, however is that the faculty turnover needs to be at a minimal, acceptable rate, which is something many schools have trouble with.

Another facet of this involves the now boiler-plate mantra of "meeting every student where they are" in life. Well, this if fine, but part accepting "where they are" and fostering a communal school also means having due respect for the local community you serve, and laying off the heavy-handed approach of many that goes something like, "These provincial yokels need to think like the rest of the world (i.e., urban Northeasterners and Southern Californians), and it's my job to lead them there."

Not that I'm necessarily thinking about both the New Yorker and the Californian on my hall that I've heard implying such things...

3) From what I read, PLC-mania has been a bottom-up phenomenan which has grown out of schools looking to change their approaches and then reached academicians, and not the other way around. Something that bloomed from the seeds of actual practice, and wasn't invented by some fool with a Phd. Ed. must have something to recommend it.

4) For this all to work well, administrations have to allow teachers more flexibility in the classroom, and not scratch the micro-managing itch too often.

So, really I'm on board if we are going doing these things, with the understanding that there are parts of the PLC approach which will bother me. One of the biggest annoyances is that it seems we've done nothing but talk about the damn things for the last month, and I just want to get on with them. You may feel the same by the time I finish my next, and last, PLC post for a while. Please bear with me until then!

22 February 2008

PLC's? Puh-leaze! (Part 1)

Last year, at almost this exact same time, I blogged about the introduction of the term PLC into the lingo at my old school, and poked fun at the the jargoned-up description that my principal handed out to us about said Professional Learning Communities. Little did I know, from my lofty perch at the top of Mt. Smarmy, that in less than I year I would be working at a high school that had gone whole-hog PLC-ing. I have refrained from blogging about it so far this school year partially because the topic is so overwhelming, partially because it is kind of boring "inside baseball" school talk, and partially because it has taken this long to form some views that are in any way insightful. Now, however, the topic is unavoidable at work, and things seem to be reaching a new level of intensity over the whole matter.

In this post, I'm going to try and give you a short PLC primer, and then in subsequent posts I'll give more specific accounts of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Hope it's not too dull.

Essentially, PLC's are a new label for what used to be called "team-teaching", with a few other cherries on top. The centerpiece is that teachers of the same or similar subjects meet at least once a week and discuss their curriculum and what they are doing, and as their subject allows they try to come up with a few tests or assignments that they can all give, perhaps followed by a comparison of results. [Oh, did I say "tests or assignments"? Sorry, the prevailing jargon won't allow that denomination anymore - I mean common assessments. However, I'm jumping ahead of myself here, as I will spend more time ripping the jargon later.] During these meetings there is also supposed to be lots of sharing and supporting and affirming, and there are even fancy mechanisms for how to catch failing students early on and find more inventive ways to get them interested in their own educations and back on track.

A corollary benefit of PLC's is, ideally, that a the entire school and faculty will have more cohesion - that schools might, I suppose, have more of the community feel that has disappeared from so many of them. But there is only nostalgia for that one aspect of the schools of the past, because PLC-acolytes like to denounce "older school models" where the teacher was "an independent contractor who closed his or her door, took care of his or her own business, and rarely made contact with the rest of the school."

Some departments at my school have been doing their own PLC's for a couple of years, but sometime last spring our School Improvement Team (SIT)decided to forge ahead with PLC's for the entire school, starting the next (now current) year. So, most all of us have been dutifully showing up early on Monday mornings all year for our collaborative meetings. But the high majority of us have had little to no training in what we were actually supposed to be doing, and eventually this became a very apparent wart.

In response, the SIT decided all our staff development days this semester needed to be redirected so that we are only talking about PLC's (something that should have happened last spring). As a result, I've sat through about 10 butt-numbing hours of PLC talk in the last month, with four more hours to come in a couple of weeks.

Yes, kind patron, you should feel my pain.

Just as a preview, I'll tell you my feelings and opinions on the whole experiment are quite mixed, and I'll go into that in detail next post.

17 February 2008

Sorry People!

I've got a couple of posts in me that are just dying to burst out like gestating aliens in a body-snatcher B-movie, but I'm just completely jammed with paper grading right now. Be patient, please.

The good news is that our writing test is fast approaching, and the crush of major essay instruction will soon pass. In any case, I promise I'll get something substantial to you later in the week.

11 February 2008

You Know You Have A Non-Serious Student When...

The opening for an essay on responsibility goes thusly:

Recently, I just became president, and it was cool. I had lots of responsibilities and things I had to do. Then I wanted to become a police officer, and then I had even more responsibilities.

Well, at least she didn't spell it "kool."

07 February 2008

Bizarro World

As expected, our 66 year-old principal has decided to retire, though oddly in March instead of the end of the year. He's been the head of my school for 12 years, and has hired all but 15 of the 136 teachers there. Understandably, there is much anxiety about who will take over, and what that might mean.

So I guess that might explain why nerves are a bit frayed, or why the scene at yesterday's staff development session was so bizarre. First, the teacher in charge of the session, just before it started, was barked at by a tall staff member after she said, "M_ _ _, I need you to stick this poster up high on that wall." Apparently he felt he was being bossed around, and screamed about it. Then, another member of my department was chastised by a history teacher when she accidentally cut in line for pizza (it was virtually the end of the rather amorphous line, and she had just spent 30 minutes helping set up the session).

And then, the saga's climax. Let's just say that a teacher was asked to give a testimonial about how her department's collaborative planning sessions over the last three years have begun to yield amazing fruits, and that her talk had been just wonderful. But she should have stopped before her final point, which was supposed to be, I think, that these sessions help one bond with colleagues who one might not normally bond with. Let's also hope that her story was not meant to come out quite this way:
Well, first let me say that I cleared this with D_ _ _ _, and he gave me permission to tell this story. A couple of years ago, he and I shared a grading folder on the server. Well, one day he accidentally deleted my entire electronic gradebook, and I was really mad. I mean, I didn't speak to him for an entire year, and really I just had no respect for him at all. But once we started these colloborative sessions, I started seeing how good his test scores were, and how high his kids scored in certain areas, and so then I decided that I could respect him after all.

02 February 2008

Gotta Hand It To Her

If you missed this shot across the humanities' bow on the Wyfe's blog the other day, you should check it out.