Posts Tagged ‘Professional Learning Communities’

Capstone–Standards 06 & 07 Meta-Reflection: Communication and Collaboration

Standards 06 & 07 Meta-Reflection: Communication and Collaboration

Standard 06 Communication: Communicates regularly and effectively with colleagues, parents, and students through a variety of mediums.

Standard 07 Collaboration: Cooperates with other professionals to bridge gaps between schools and community and between departments/disciplines within schools.

Initial reflection during C & I Orientation:

In my role as a special education teacher “Communication” (with a capital C) is as necessary as breathing. In my nearly thirty years of teaching, I would have to say that communication continues to be the number one requirement for my job—and I always strive to keep it my priority. I find that most often, extra attention devoted to maintaining regular and effective communication with students, parents and colleagues—whether in person, by phone, via email, US mail, etc.—is well worth the time and energy.

Every IEP meeting is an example of the collaborative process at work. This process in designed to bring together the perspectives of the student, family, special educator, general educator(s) and the district–as well as any necessary outside agencies. In addition to the required annual IEP and triennial evaluation, I must facilitate any coordination and collaboration between any and all of the above noted members of the IEP Team—as needed. Beyond the specific realm of the IEP process, I am required to be an active participant of my special education team, professional learning community, POD team, and leadership team.

Reflection following EDU 6600 Communication and Collaboration:  Parents, Colleagues, and Community

Teacher Leadership—Past, Present, and Future~       Laurie James’  MetaReflection 12/8/11

As I reflect on the challenging endeavors I have engaged in throughout the Collaboration and Communication course during Autumn Quarter 2011, at Seattle Pacific University–words that come to mind are “victorious, energized, and committed.”  The victory had been personal, the energy–contagious, and the commitment is to those about me.

Near the beginning of the term when asked to respond to the following question: What are my strengths in terms of leading from my classroom and in my school? My initial response was, “I believe that among my greatest strengths as a leader in both my classroom and my school are; my dedication and strong personal commitment to students and education, my organizational skills, and my natural ability to work successfully with a wide range of people.”

At the end of the quarter, as I reflected, I still saw my strengths as noted above, however, noticed throughout the course, that a definite strength of mine is striving to bring a sense of integration from the “compartments” of my life. This is a relatively new strength that has emerged, I believe, as a survival skill in response to the ongoing demands of a busy schedule, as well as a response to grief and loss issues related to the deaths of various family members in the last few years. In this realm, I am victorious. Charlotte Danielson, in her article entitled, The Many Faces of Leadership, writes: “Effective teacher leaders are open-minded and respectful of others’ views. They display optimism and enthusiasm, confidence and decisiveness. They persevere and do not permit setbacks to derail an important initiative they are pursuing” (2011, p. 16).

My current endeavors in graduate school blend nicely with our district’s emphasis on supporting each teacher and school to actively participate in Professional Learning Communities. I am encouraged to realize that the dove-tailing of similar projects are supported by the research and readings in this particular course and are noted as “job-embedded” projects. In a wonderful way, this allows me to view myself and my profession in a truly more “integrated” fashion and deepens my appreciation for the rich benefits of both facets of my life.

Danielson cites Michael Fullan as saying, “The litmus test of all leadership is whether it mobilizes people’s commitment to putting their energy into actions designed to improve things. It is individual commitment, but above all it is collective mobilization” (2007, p. 16).

Although in times past, I strongly considered pursuing administrator’s credentials (and was often encouraged to do so), I am more comfortable and have a sense of peace with continuing my involvement as a member of my school’s leadership team and curriculum leader’s team—based on my role as curriculum leader for the special education department. Both positions allow me to provide direct input into discussions and the development of our school’s improvement plan. In past years special education in our district has traveled on sort of parallel but separate tracks with regard to school improvement. My goal has been to bring these two worlds together so that we can speak the same terminology and validate and incorporate the best of both perspectives into a stronger and more focused stated purpose for the future.

As written in An Introduction to Teacher Leadership, also by Danielson: “Teacher leaders see themselves, first as teachers; while they are not interested in becoming administrators, they are looking to extend their influence….Teacher leaders are “more” than teachers, yet different from administrators” (2007, p.1).

As cited within Angelle & DeHart’s article entitled, Teacher Perceptions of Teacher Leadership: Examining Differences by Experience, Degree, and Position:

Empowering teachers to share in school-wide decision making enhances teacher leadership throughout the school. The more teachers who are part of decision making, the greater the participation and commitment to carry out the goals of the organization (Barth, 2001).

My role as a special education teacher has always involved interacting with general education teachers and I have designed a number of systems over the years and have adapted these to incorporate new technologies as they have become available. In this course, the development of one of my required exhibits has prompted me to create a new system for tracking student progress and expand it to track teacher collaboration. My experience is similar to what authors Herzog and Abernathy refer to in their article entitled, Inch by Inch, Row by Row: Growing Capacity for Teacher Leadership (as cited by Hilty):

Both formal and informal leaders have often risen to their positions without any training in leadership skills. They learned on the job, through trial and error. Intuitive leaders can be effective, but they could be more successful with leadership training in facilitating group problem solving, team building, effecting school change, and curriculum development (p. 190).

Now that I have nearly completed my third quarter of my graduate work, and at times feel a little weary—my colleagues, who are now well acquainted with the “new and improved” alterations to our PLC work (based on my input from graduate courses!) are now–more than ever–“cheering me on”. More important, I believe that together, we have discovered the truth of what Zepeda states: “…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” (p.23).

I believe that teacher leadership involves having us as individual teachers putting our lives into action—being living examples of modeling “best practices” as we interact with students, colleagues and community members.


Angelle, P., & DeHart, C.. (2011, June). Teacher Perceptions of Teacher Leadership: Examining Differences by Experience, Degree, and Position. National Association of Secondary School Principals. NASSP Bulletin, 95(2), 141-160.  Retrieved December 8, 2011, from Research Library. (Document ID: 2461069711).

Danielson, C. (2007). The Many Faces of Leadership. Educational Leadership, 65(1), 14-19.

Danielson, C. (2010). Evaluations That Help Teachers Learn. Educational Leadership, 68(4), 35-39.

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.Readings.

Artifacts for Standards 6 and 7 are listed below and the background for their selection is explained within the following blogs, written and posted throughout this course, Autumn Quarter, 2011:

Exhibit 1: Educator Learning: Tracking Student Progress

Exhibit 1, Artifact 3–email to KHS faculty

Exhibit1, Artifact 2– COLLABORATION SHEET-1

Exhibit 1, Artifact 1–SMART Goals 2011-12

Exhibit 2: Educator Learning: Power Standards/Common Formative Assessments

Exhibit 2, Artifact 1 — KHS SE 11-12 Self eval

Exhibit 2, Artifact 2 — KHS Secondary Progress Report

Exhibit 3: Community Involvement: Parent Communication

Exhibit 4: Community Involvement: Self Advocacy and Post-School Outcome

James, L. G. (2011). EDU 6600 Communication and Collaboration, Seattle Pacific University. Module 1 Reflection: Introduction and Self-Assessment. Retrieved from

James, L. G. (2011). EDU 6600 Communication and Collaboration, Seattle Pacific University. Module 2 Reflection: Communication and Collaboration. Retrieved from

James, L. G. (2011). EDU 6600 Communication and Collaboration, Seattle Pacific University. Module 3 Reflection: Reflections on the Richness of Teamwork. Retrieved from

James, L. G. (2011). EDU 6600 Communication and Collaboration, Seattle Pacific University. Module 4 Reflection: True Collaboration in Action—“Shoulder to Shoulder”. Retrieved from

James, L. G. (2011). EDU 6600 Communication and Collaboration, Seattle Pacific University. Module 5 Reflection: Endeavoring to Strive for Excellence—With Critical Support. Retrieved from

James, L. G. (2011). EDU 6600 Communication and Collaboration, Seattle Pacific University. Module 6 Reflection: Reflections on Collaboration and Peer Review. Retrieved from

James, L.G. (2011). EDU 6600 Communication and Collaboration, Seattle Pacific University. Module 7 Reflection: Systems Thinking and Praying for Wisdom. Retrieved from

James, L. G. (2011). EDU 6600 Communication and Collaboration, Seattle Pacific University. Module 8 Reflection: Action Research, Right Before My Very Eyes. Retrieved from

James, L. G. (2011). EDU 6600 Communication and Collaboration, Seattle Pacific University. Module 9 Reflection: Growing into Leadership as a Teacher. Retrieved from


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.

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.