Archive for October, 2011

Endeavoring to Strive for Excellence–With Critical Support~

EDU 6600–Communication and Collaboration Blog for Week 5:
This week’s topics of Professional Learning Communities and Critical Friends provided timely “food for thought” for me—both within my role as a teacher in a public high school as well as my role as a graduate student at Seattle Pacific University. As a teacher whose district is fully embracing the implementation of PLCs—I feel greatly supported in my work at school as I continue to collaborate with colleagues on behalf of the students we jointly serve. It is reassuring to note that my district, endorsed by our superintendent, school board president, and union president and our district’s entire PLC Guiding Coalition (including teachers and administrators from across the district) provided each team leader a binder of PLC materials with the following statement:
Many of these documents were created by blending ideas that are currently in used at buildings in our district. We combined ideas to make the best documents possible in order to help PLC teams. Some ideas and documents in this binder were found at  and others were adapted from books about Professional Learning Communities….(in support of) Our vision: Every school in NKSD will begin the 2011-2012 school year with common protocols to help facilitate regular and productive PLC team meetings in their content areas (NKSD, 2011).

Within the screencast shared by fellow EDU 6600 student, Cindy Legley, she refers to what is supported in the Critical Friends Group literature to remedy a lack of balance in responsibility. Specifically: shared norms and values which remind teacher teams of the shared responsibility of focusing on student learning and the fact that “all students are the responsibility of all teachers”. I find this particularly important in my work with special education students as we (SE teachers) collaborate with the general education teachers. I remember the “old days” when unfortunately special education students were referred to by some gen education teachers as “your students”. From my perspective, we have come a LONG way!

One of the strategies that stood out most clearly to me as a tool that might enable me to more fully enlist my peers in the collaborative process is Daniel Baron’s Success Analysis Protocol, described on page 240 in Chapter 8 of Zepeda: “1) Reflect on and write a short description of the “Best Practice” of your CFG. Note what it is about the practice that makes it so successful…”.  I see an immediate application for use of this protocol as our high school’s special education PLC prepares to have a “brainstorming” meeting with the special education PLC of the other high school within our district. This “teaming of our PLCs” is strongly supported by research by Joyce and Showers (1982) referenced in Dr. Williams’ screencast where she notes:  “teacher coaching of other teachers (peer coaching) being more powerful than other inputs for implementation of new practices” (Williams, 2011, screen 3).

One of my EDU 6600 classmates, Nick West, cited the following in the discussion link for this week from Zepeda, chapter 9.  “A critical friend can be defined as a trusted person who asks provocative questions, provides data to be examined through another lens, and offers critiques of a person’s work as a friend.” (Zepeda, p. 225)  Nick went on to state, “I really liked this idea of a group of people coming together to help foster meaningful professional development by helping to keep each other accountable through honest and direct communication”.  I am hopeful that as a SPU graduate student embarking on my first experience of participating in a formal “peer-review” opportunity, I will find this “Critical Friends” experience to be both positive and beneficial to my work with students.

In response to the discussion question: Where can adopting a learning stance most benefit your work for the students in your care? I would have to say that keeping the “long-range view” in mind provides the greatest benefit for my work with students. I believe that balancing between the immediate steps–and the readjusting along to way to stay “on course” toward the desired goal, are both essential for making progress. The idea of learning to “adjust” vs. “focus” is paramount to success in life. This has been my experience, both personally—and in my work with students. Hilty, in chapter 15, refers to work from Collins (2001) in the following statement: “In his study of organizations that made the leap from ‘good to great’….Greatness required persistence, fierce resolve, and consistent, coherent effort over the long haul. There were no shortcuts” (Hilty, p. 162). This week, with extra deadlines in both “my world as a teacher” and my “world as a student” has truly been a week of stopping to “adjust” and “refocus” as I endeavor to strive for excellence.

Hilty, E. (2011) Teacher Leadership: The “new” foundations of teacher education. New York: Peter Lang.

Legley, C. (2011) Screencast—Critical Friends Group, retrieved Octover 29, 2011 from:

North Kitsap School District. (2011). Collaboration Team Protocol Binder.

Williams, T. (2011) Screencast—Book Groups and Protocols,  retrieved from SPU Blackboard, October 24, 2011 from:

Zepeda, S. (2008). Professional Development: What Works. New York: Eye on Education.


Learning Theories that “Ring a Bell”~

EDU 6655: Human Development & Principles of Learning–Blog  for Week 5

Reading this week’s Chapter 8: Learning Theory: Pavlov, Watson, and Skinner,  in William Crain’s book entitled, Theories of Development—prompted (or shall I say “elicited”) a bit of a
trip down memory lane for me, being that thirty years ago—I completed B.A. degrees in Psychology and Special Education. Additionally, the year-long teaching internship did that same year was conducted within a district and program which fully embraced the behaviorist model of teaching and learning. A review of the material truly did “ring a bell” for me~ 🙂

Just for fun—(as a mom whose daughter recently gave birth to our third grandchild, and is still in the middle of that “newborn fog”)—I chose to read the article by McMullen (2010), Confronting the baby blues: A social constructivist reflects on time spent in a behaviorist infant classroom.  The author describes her experience of observing four different “sites in laboratory schools or university-affiliated programs that had reputations for excellence in their communities and for which there was evidence that the caregivers engaged in the field’s “best,”
“recommended,” or research-based practices with infants”(McMullen,  p.1).  Within her journals, the author records her observations of one particular setting which focused on “training and entertaining” infants as the “caregivers” “taught” the basic milestones of child development. McMullen very clearly conveys in the article, her bias against such a strongly
behaviorist setting. Babies are left to cry without being held—until they have stopped crying on their own for 2-3 minutes. Only then are these children picked up and “reinforced” for their good behavior. Each day—five days a week, for eight hours a day—time is broken down into 15 minute increments of mandatory activities as the infants are systematically rotated around the room to the different mats with corresponding bins of toys. On schedule, babies are fed, changed, and “rotated” throughout each day, every day.

As I read through the article, I too, was appalled at the lack of balance present in that setting and agreed with the author who stated, “In my opinion, the behaviorist environment did not contribute to their social-emotional growth or to their rights to be happy and enjoy their lives as productive, contributing members of the classroom. Now that is something to cry about” (McMullen).

The saddest thing for me personally, however, was that—although to a much lesser degree—it reminded me of my internship in a highly behavioristic preschool, working with 3-5 year-olds. We were instructed to take DATA on everything, all day long. Data is wonderful and useful, although an over-emphasis without a sense of balance can lead to a highly stressful environment for teachers, students and parents. I recall one particular preschool student and his parent really “bonding” with me, presumably because I instinctively chose to deviate a bit from the rigid expectations of his “program goals” and be “real” in my interactions. Years later, I had the privilege of having this young man in my high school Learning Strategies class,
and then attending his graduation.  Balance, I believe, is vital.

Throughout this week, there seemed to be few other colleagues who selected the same article to read, however, the those who submitted responses to my post, seemed to agree that “data is indeed necessary” and that it can be challenging to find ways to collect data in an “authentic”
manner that is useful to the teacher without taking away from forming a positive teacher/student relationship.


Crain, W. C. (2011). Theories of development: Concepts and
applications. Boston, MA: Prentice Hall.

McMullen, M. (2010). Confronting the baby blues: A social
constructivist reflects on time spent in a behaviorist infant classroom. Early
Childhood Research & Practice, 12(1), Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

True Collaboration in Action—“Shoulder to Shoulder”

EDU 6600: Communication and Collaboration: BLOG for WEEK 4

While listening to this week’s screencast, reading the assigned articles, and interacting with classmates via the Blackboard discussion site, I have made every effort to carefully examine my district’s approach to supporting professional learning communities, as well as to objectively evaluate the functioning of my specific department’s PLC within my high school. Even with this scrutiny, I still find myself honestly believing that in my teaching position, I am fortunate to have opportunities for true collaboration.

As special educators, the very nature of our work with students—along with the legal requirement of maintaining compliant individual education programs (IEPs)– involves analyzing data, establishing appropriate goals, assessing progress, making adjustments to address individual needs, and collaborating with the various members of each student’s IEP team. We are currently focusing on particular student self-advocacy skills in effort to accomplish the following: “teachers identify a specific and narrow inquiry focus…make changes in classroom practices, and collect and analyze classroom-based data to examine impacts on student learning…” (Nelson et al, pp. 175-176).

A few of the characteristics of sustaining a collaborative culture evident both in my school and specifically, my special education PLC, I see noted by Zepeda in chapter 4.  These characteristics include (but are not limited to): 1) “a clear focus to sustain learning and to keep everything moving in the same direction” (p. 81), 2) “an inclusive environment (that) focuses ongoing dialogue among its participants” (p. 84), 3) “Connectedness….accepting people in a non-judgmental manner; promoting a willingness in others to listen and share ideas; and ‘lighting fires’ by valuing growth and finding relevance in the work (we) do” (p. 85), and above all, “relational trust (which) rests on a foundation of respect, competence, personal regard, and integrity” (p. 88).

Even with the presence of the above noted characteristics, one of the critical elements needed to foster the type of collaboration is TIME. Although lack of time is generally the greatest barrier to moving forward with collaboration, even a relatively small, yet consistent amount can go a long way toward the development of collaborative efforts. Of the “Three dimensions of coherence (that) are critical to the successful implementation of PLCs” as referred to by author, David Jacobson, I believe my district most prominently provides backing to, “Supporting each team’s use of common planning time so that meetings build on previous meetings rather than unfold in a haphazard, scattershot manner…” (p. 40).

This year, through the joint efforts of our superintendent, school board, and education association president, our district has approved a school calendar that includes an early release schedule in order to create consistent, dedicated time for teacher collaboration on a weekly basis. This time is to be used exclusively for the work of PLC teams, however, buildings have the flexibility to decide whether the time will be used for grade level teams, content/task specific teams, or as an entire building. The early release provides 50 minutes every Wednesday afternoon—for all teachers.

Even though this allocation of time is “brief”–as a teacher leader, I continue to make every effort to provide guidance and encouragement to my team—offering ways to “dovetail”, align, and focus our departmental goals, with legal IEP requirements, and district PLC requirements—and keep the reminder in the forefront that our concerted efforts DO benefit our students. As a teacher leader, I endeavor to promote what seems at times to be our team’s “incremental” progress toward the following:

• Analyze state assessments, national and state standards,

• Identify priority learning goals….set priority team goals aligned with school goals.

• Develop common assessments of priority ….

• Collaborate on designing lessons that prepare students for the common assessments, (p. 4)

• Teach…lessons, formatively assessing student progress along the way.

• Analyze student work from the common assessments and brainstorm the instructional adjustments that are necessary, including interventions for struggling students… (Jacobson, p. 41)

Admittedly, a great deal of “behind the scenes” work is still required, however, my belief is that these efforts will not be wasted. A number of years ago, I found the following passage from The Message (Bible) to be applicable to my work with others:

“The best thing you can do right now is to finish what you started last year and not let those good intentions grow stale. Your heart’s been in the right place all along. You’ve got what it takes to finish up, so go to it. Once the commitment is clear, you do what you can, not what you can’t. The heart regulates the hands. This isn’t so others can take it easy while you sweat it out. No, you’re shoulder to shoulder with them all the way, your surplus matching their deficit, their surplus matching your deficit. In the end you come out even”.   II Corinthians 8:14


Deuel, A. Holmlund Nelson, T., Slavit, D., and Kennedy, A.  (2009). Looking at Student Work: How can teacher groups assess student work productively? By focusing on improving teaching, not on proving students “got it.” ACSD, Educational Leadership, NOVEMBER 2009, Retrieved:  October 16, 2011, from: 73771_1/courses/EDU6600_9479201121/Duel%20et%20al_Looking%20at%20student%20work.pdf

Henrikson, R. (2011). Collaborative Work, Module 4 Lecture @ SPU Blackboard.

Jacobson, D. (2010). Coherent Instructional Improvement and PLCs: Is It Possible to Do Both? A synthesis that draws on two common approaches to PLCs produces a more coherent way to tap the power of teacher teams to improve curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, March 2010. Retrieved October 16, 2011, from:

Nelson, T. Deuel, A. Slavit, D, Kennedy, A., (2010).  Leading Deep Conversations in Collaborative Inquiry Groups. The Clearing House, 83: 175–179, 2010 Retreived October 16, 2011, from: 73773_1/courses/EDU6600_9479201121/Neson%2C%20Deuel%2C%20Slavit%20and%20Kennedy_Leading%20Deep%20Conversations.pdf

Zepeda, S. (2008). Professional Development: What Works. New York: Eye on Education.Readings.

EDU 6655: Mind and Brain….Techniques–backed by research?

EDU 6655: Human Development: Week  4 Blog

I found this week’s, Mind and Brain: Chapter 7 in the Jossey-Bass reader, to be clarifying and enlightening—not only with regard to my role as an educator, but also as a parent and grandparent. Highlighting research findings from both neuroscience and cognitive science, authors, Bransford, Brown and Cocking discuss three main points: (1) Learning changes the physical structure of the brain. (2) …learning organizes and reorganizes the brain. (3) Different parts of the brain may be ready to learn at different times (Jossey-Bass, 2008, p. 90). Many intriguing studies were described. Of particular note was the finding that, “People “remember” words that are implied but not stated with the same probability as learned  words” (p.100) Additionally, “…neuroscience research confirms the important role that experience plays in building the structure of the mind by modifying the structures of the brain…”(p.100).

While reading the article entitled, Brain gym ®: Building stronger brains or wishful thinking? I found myself reflecting on a variety of situations I have encountered throughout the years—many of which involved a rather remote perspective with very little direct personal experience. In each situation, the person promoting what I now understand to be related to the Brain Gym ® activities spoke of the techniques with conviction—and yet at the time, I personally felt an underlying sense of skepticism.

In my undergraduate work in special education in the late 1970’s, I recall references to perceptual-motor exercises and neurological repatterning, etc., however, my training did not involve the use of these techniques—nor has my work in the field.  Within the past decade, I have attended a number of workshops which included references to brain based activities. I often thought to myself that I should investigate the research and theories behind the suggestions, however, time and energy were limiting.

I have often felt “out of the loop” regarding my knowledge of brain research and appreciate the opportunity in this course to read of the ongoing debates in this field of study. I tend to agree with the author, Hyatt, who suggests “that much of the rush by educators to provide “brain-based” learning opportunities for children is based on information that is selective, oversimplified, or incorrectly interpreted, and he strongly urged that educators and the public exercise great caution when trying to apply findings from brain science to educational interventions” (Hyatt, 2007, p. 120).

Throughout the article, numerous references were made to studies which refuted statements made by proponents of the Brain Gym ® principles. It would seem that these views can be summed up by the following statement: “In essence, this study contained so many methodological problems that the results cannot be interpreted with any level of certainty” (Hyatt, p. 122).

As suggested within both the Hyatt and Spaulding articles, I agree that as educators we should exercise caution when considering techniques for student use and should implement best practices backed by research. However, as with so many situations, I think moderation is the key.  Although I tend to like and appreciate consistency–I think a “steady diet” of even the most strongly research-based (curriculum, food, etc.) without a spontaneous and beneficial “change of pace” can become monotonous.

I certainly am interested in learning more–and often wonder what the research of the future might say regarding some of these “effective” practices not currently substantiated. In the meantime, however, I will most likely rely primarily on “tried and true” methods.


Brain Gym ®

Jossey-Bass Inc. (2008). The Jossey-Bass reader on the brain and learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hyatt, K. J. (2007). Brain gym[R]: Building stronger brains or wishful thinking?. Remedial and Special Education, 28(2), 117-124.

Spaulding, L. S., Mostert, M. P., & Beam, A. P. (2010). Is brain gym[R] an effective educational intervention?. Exceptionality, 18(1), 18-30.

EDU 6600: Communication and Collaboration–Week 3

Reflections on the Richness of Teamwork~

Throughout the course of this week, the readings and
discussions within Module 3: Adults as Learners– have caused me to recognize
the wealth of opportunities for teamwork I have had, and continue to have–in
the context of my school settings. The topics addressed have included
professional development efforts, adult learning, and various forms of coaching
relative to the teaching profession. I can personally speak to the importance
of strong leadership and to the richness of team experiences as they offer both
inspiration and renewal and are particularly necessary in a helping profession
that at times can be extremely exhausting as we endeavor to improve student

The article written by Joanna Michelson, entitled,
Filling a leadership vacuum, reminded me of an especially strenuous time period
in my career that caused me to wonder if I had “taken a wrong turn” somewhere
along the way. Even though the “vacuum” in my situation–created by an
administrator’s “fuzzy” leadership qualities–was not directly observable by
student, I believe that the effects of such leadership and her lack of being
fully “present” and attentive to our concerns as a staff– set an unsettling tone
for us as teachers. This in turn, detracted from our ability to fully provide
services to our students and their parents. Thankfully, this situation (including
her manner of operation) eventually improved, however, I must admit there was a
time when I identified with the sentiment expressed in the article, “Maybe I
should stop my work at this school. But if I stop trying to improve the school
culture — and students’ learning —who will take over? Who’s in charge here? Can
teachers reform a school without the principal’s (administrator’s) support?

Although my school does not have a formal coaching
program currently in operation, we are now in our third year of implementing
Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s). From my perspective, based on what I
observe within our special education team’s PLC, I would have to agree with the
findings cited within the Joyce and Showers article,  “Results of our early studies showed that
teachers who had a coaching relationship – that is, who shared aspects of teaching,
planned together, and pooled their experiences – practiced new skills and
strategies more frequently and applied them more appropriately than did their
counterparts who worked alone to expand their repertoires (p.3). Within this
team setting, I realize the truth of what Zepeda speaks of in chapter 5
regarding principles of adult learning. Specifically, “…adults seek knowledge
that applies to their current life situation; they want to know how this new
information will help them in their development, (p. 123).

Reading the various posts this week in our online class,
I have noted many references to situations where, “… teachers learn from one
another while planning instruction, developing support materials, watching one
another work with students, and thinking together about the impact of their
behavior on their students’ learning (Joyce and Showers, p.5).  Additionally, posts have reflected information
presented by Zepeda regarding how coaches can positively engage others in
conversations about teaching:  “Suspend
judgment…Listen more, speak less…Avoid trust blocking responses (such as):
Evaluating…Advice-giving…Topping…Diagnosing…Warning…Lecturing…Devaluing…” ( p.

One again, although my personal experience with coaching
(both as a coach and the coached) continues to be informal, I can attest to the
statement that, “Effective coaches know the strengths and concerns of the
teachers they are working with, and effective coaches are able to keep in the
game of supporting the attainment of individual short and long-term learning
goals, (Zepeda, p. 165).

As authors Joyce and Showers note, “A skillful staff
development program results in a self-perpetuating process for change as well
as new knowledge and skills for teachers and increased learning for students.
(p. 7). Last week during our school’s leadership team meeting, our principal
passed out copies of a document which listed our school at the top of the list
of 10 neighboring high schools with regard to results on last spring’s state
assessments. Clearly, something is “working” within our building, and as a
large team of educators, we are inspired to continue moving forward to an even
brighter future.


Joyce, B. & Showers, B. Re-printed from Joyce, B. and
Showers, B. (1996) The Evolution of Peer Coaching. Educational Leadership, 53
(6): 12–16

Michelson, J. (2007). Filling a leadership vacuum (page
20 in .pdf) CASE STUDIES @CSTP, Teacher to Leader, Dilemmas in Teacher
Leadership, Leadership Cases 2007

Zepeda, S. (2008). Professional Development: What Works.
New York: Eye on Education.Readings. (Ch. 3, 5, 7).

EDU 6655: Human Development & Principles of Learning Week 3

Human Development–Week 3: Brain Debates
I found this week’s readings in Chapters, 4, 5, and 6 from the Jossey-Bass Reader to be at once enlightening and surprising. Over the years, I have taken many classes and workshops I have been especially intrigued with the topic of of learning styles as it relates to differences in individuals of all ages—both in and out of the classroom. In the process, I have naturally come across materials addressing the idea of “right hemisphere vs. left hemisphere brain functioning” as well as “global vs. analytic” thinking, etc. Additionally, having earned each of my undergraduate degrees in special education and psychology thirty years ago, having two family members who have sustained traumatic brain injuries, and a variety of extended family members being diagnosed with ADD and “spectrum” disorders—I have been eager to take a course addressing some of the latest “brain research” ideas. I couldn’t wait to read Chapter 5, In Search of Brain Based Education by John T. Bruer, however, I was somewhat disheartened to learn that many of my previous understandings are now being referred to as “folk theories”.

It took me more than a few minutes to reframe my thinking and to realize the truth of the not-so-surprising statement later in chapter 5:
The fundamental problem with the right-brain versus left brain claims that one finds in the education literature is that they rely on our intuitions and folk theories about the brain, rather than on what brain science is actually able to tell us. Our folk theories are too crude and imprecise to have any scientific, predictive, or instructional value. What modern science is telling us—and what brain-based educators fail to appreciate—is that it makes no scientific sense to map gross, unanalyzed behaviors and skills—reading, arithmetic, spatial reasoning—onto one brain hemisphere or the other (Jossey-Bass, p. 61).
Truly, as the Psalmist says, “We are fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14)

Currently, in my position as a special education teacher in a high school that is largely “inclusive” in terms of service delivery, much of my work with students is conducted in the context of individual appointments in my office. One of the tools that I regularly use with my students is a self-evaluation process—involving both written and verbal responses to a weekly progress report which includes detailed listings of assignments, scores, current grade-to-date, attendance, etc. for each of their six classes. An overarching purpose of the use of this tool is to assist students with developing self-advocacy skills as they strive to succeed in high school as well as prepare for post-secondary endeavors. The exercise guides the students through the process of reading information that is pertinent to their day-to-day life as a student, requires analysis of their current progress as well as the development of strategies for establishing and reaching both short and long-term goals, and encourages students to take ownership, responsibility, (and credit) for their actions and efforts.

If I were to build a bridge of “connection” to a “brain research bandwagon trail master”—I would begin with the concept that many teenagers (in my experience) are self-absorbed and live with an on-going, high degree of stress surrounding issues pertaining to their grades, performance in school, and interactions with teachers. Undoubtedly, he/she would agree. As stated within the Jossey-Bass Reader in Chapter 4, “It is increasingly recognized that efficient learning does not take place when the learner is experiencing fear or stress….inappropriate stress has a significant effect on both physiological and cognitive functioning….stress or fear also affect social judgment, and responses to reward and risk (p. 44).
(At least this is what I would have emphasized—before reading on within the same paragraph where the authors state, “To date, however, neuroimaging studies of the developmental effects of stress on cognitive function are sparse or non-existent”.)

Still, however– based on my informal, anecdotal research, I would maintain that in my weekly appointments with students, I am often able to establish a connection with my students where we can together examine their academic progress, problem-solve as needed, and create plans for success. In my office (which is specifically set with incandescent lamps rather than harsh fluorescent lighting) I offer a calm setting in which students can “desensitize” so to speak, with regard to their grades. I discover that this is often a very different approach what many of them experience at home.

Not always, but often, these fifteen, sixteen, seventeen-year-olds are motivated to improve and are surprisingly “teachable” in this context. As cited in the Jossey-Bass reader, “As the developmental neurobiologist Patricia Goldman-Rakic told educators, ‘While children’s brains acquire a tremendous amount of information during the early years, most learning takes place after synaptic formation stabilizes.’ That is, a great deal, if not most learning takes place after age 10…(p. 68).

I believe a discussion along these lines would open the door to further discussion and investigation for myself and my principal as we together find the balance between “what the research supports” and “what works” to improve student motivation and performance. “Call this …’Brain based’ if you like; the key factor is motivation”…While the activities in my office may not be “fun, interesting, (or) even exciting to a child (student)”, they do “provide challenge and stimulation while requiring active involvement (Jossey-Bass, p. 87).

I would additionally note that, “The CRISS training introduces teachers to the CRISS Strategic Learning Plan, which is intended to guide selection of content, setting of learning goals and objectives, assessment of student learning, and planning of instruction….The training also addresses ways teachers can help students become more reflective (metacognitive) about their learning processes” p. 2-3.

Jossey-Bass Inc. (2008). The Jossey-Bass reader on the brain and learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

EDU 6600: Communication and Collaboration

EDU 6600: Module 2

How do you see
teacher leadership emerging around improving student learning?  Where have issues of resistance
appeared?  What aspect of the research
bolsters you to move forward?

Throughout the week, I have appreciated reading the postings of other students in this course. It has been encouraging to hear of the positive interactions and collaboration taking place in the districts represented within this class—even in the midst of the budget challenges. Additionally, while reading and responding to one of the posts this week, I was reminded of situation which required tremendous courage a few years ago—involving intervening within our department when communication was less than optimal. Over time, the risk-taking communication required—was beneficial for all.

While listening to this week’s screencasts and reading the
assigned chapters and articles, I could not help but reflect on how fortunate I
am to be part of a school district which actively and strategically implements
what I believe to be a successful “service delivery model” for professional
development. Certainly, like most districts during this time of budget crises,
we have our significant challenges to contend with, however, I am particularly
thankful for new commitment our district has made this year to teachers by
supporting a K-12 weekly early release day.
Each Wednesday, students throughout the district are released one hour
early to allow time for previously formed Professional Learning Community (PLC)
teams to meet together for purposes of collaboration.

Within my high school setting, I see teacher leadership emerging around improving student learning
in a variety of levels including, teacher teams organized at the
departmental/curriculum level as well as in geographical teams.

In my particular department, I believe our team of four
special education teachers would all agree with Zepeda’s statements in in her
book, Professional Development: What Works: “Feasibility….Teachers want to know
if they are making progress toward the end-goal, and teachers need to feel a
sense that what they are being asked to do makes sense—that the work is
doable—that they can achieve what they set out to do (p.4). In keeping with our
school’s improvement plan, we have created “power standards” for each student
with an Individual Education Program (IEP) and have woven these into their
individual academic goals. Additionally, we continue to craft quarterly,
formative student assessments, which we analyze and evaluate together as a
team, allowing us to experience what Zepada describes: “When teachers examine
student work together, they can share ideas, approaches, and instructional
materials; they can co-develop curricular materials and they can make
comparisons about which materials or approaches appeared to work (p.10).

Geographically, our school is divided into four “pods” which
are designed in such a way as to allow 9th and 10th
graders to have their “core” classes of English, math, science, and social
studies—with the same team of teachers. The teacher leaders for each pod meet
regularly to discuss any needed issues related to the “nuts and bolts” of our
day-to-day operations of our school at the classroom level–however, their primary
purpose is to actively “lead” at a level that is as close as possible to the
needs of students. The pod leaders—and the other teachers within each pod—are
obviously the same teachers who serve as the general education teacher within
each student’s IEP team. Naturally, there is a built-in expectation and
mechanism for collaboration between general and special educators—with the
common goal(s) centered on improving student learning.

I must say that by nature, I tend to be a bit
“PollyAnnish”—(looking at situations optimistically, for those of you
“youngsters” in this course who may have no idea who PollyAnna was!)—so my reflections
on this week’s readings (in relationship to practices within my district) may
not entirely match those that my teaching colleagues might write.  Issues
of resistance that I currently observe in my setting are related to “lack of
sufficient time” and “redundancy of tasks”.
The very nature of a special
educator’s job involves—student goals (and data), student objectives (and
data), evaluation of student progress (and data) as well as collaboration and teamwork
(and data)—and did I mention data? Our team is continuing to experience the
addition of state and federal requirements related to documentation along every
step of the way in the IEP process. Many of these requirements relate to the
same and requirements of our PLC work.

My goal as the curriculum leader for our department is to
facilitate our weekly team discussions and dovetail or blend these
expectations– from both IEP and PLC perspectives– in a manner which provides collective
encouragement to my team, as we together work with students and aim for meeting
our school improvement goals. Unfortunately, a “resistance issue” which directly impacts my at a very personal
level is that for the first time in my memory, as a veteran teacher of thirty
years—the district has completely cut the stipends for individuals serving as
leadership team members and curriculum leaders. I currently serve my school in
both of these positions.  The dilemma, of
course, involves time. How much additional time am I expected to continue to
give—outside my school day?—and still reserve time for my family and time
necessary to engage as a full-time graduate student?  (The flip side of a “dedicated teacher” in my
case can be a “compulsive workaholic”. Having lived through burn-out in past
years, this issue is a very real occupational hazard that I must guard
against.) The Teacher Leadership Skills Framework article supports this notion:
“The natural curiosity of teacher leaders makes them life-long learners who are
open to new experiences and challenges. Juggling many important and personal
roles, they effectively prioritize their work to maintain a sense of balance

The aspect of
research that bolsters me to move forward
is as follows:

Hilty states, “Leadership in public education is a matter of
guiding a community to realize its potential to do the best job it can for its
children. There are many priorities but only limited resources with which to
succeed….(p.100). My experience continues to lead me to believe that what I read
in this course is supported by current research.  As Zepada describes, “…relationships with
others, builds cohesion and this “connective leadership” is what will help to
bind people and their values to the work they do in the process of working with
one another (Zepada, p.23). It is in the context of a collaborative team that I
continue to find encouragement to persevere on behalf of my students.

Hilty, E. (2011) Teacher Leadership: The “new” foundations
of teacher education. New York: Peter Lang.

Zepeda, S. (2008). Professional Development: What Works. New
York: Eye on Education.

Teacher Leadership Skills Framework: pdf retrieved October
5, 2011 from