The Educator's PLN

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Transforming our Educational System-There is a Silver Bullet!

Why this topic?

I recently received a tweet highlighting a contest sponsored by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt called “The Global Education Challenge,” and immediately clicked on the link to learn more. The sponsors declare that “through the Global Education Challenge, we hope to find truly original ideas that can become tangible tools to improve student outcomes across the globe—both inside and outside the classroom. We’re building a community of innovators who share our goal, and together we’ll discuss ideas for groundbreaking solutions to help transform student learning, foster family engagement, and enhance teacher effectiveness.” The link was filled with amazing ideas by extremely bright and innovative people. But after viewing every entry, I found no Silver Bullet. I set out to find the Silver Bullet that will improve global education.

If you are like me, you are tired of well-intentioned philanthropists with huge bank accounts and politicians (none of which have spent time in a classroom) dictatating what, why, when and how we educate our children. I decided that I will no longer sit on my hands as an educator and continue to verbally vent to other like minded people about our woes, it is time to take action. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” I have taken this to heart and decided to DO!

I realize this post is extremely lengthy, please take the time to read it, think about it and share your opinions with me. This is a living and evolving document that will continue to improve with the valued input of my PLN. Whether you agree with all, some, or none of the following school transformation model, please voice your opinion and act alongside me. President Lincoln stated that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Let us unite as educators and demand a voice in the transformation of our schools. Please visit the above link if interested in viewing comments about my Silver Bullet model as part of the Global Education Challenge competition. 

Polishing the Revolver

I will first admit that I don’t believe our Educational System is broken! This is divisive rhetoric that has done nothing to improve our institutions of education. I do believe, however, that the world’s education system has the responsibility of embracing change, while working relentlessly towards improvement. Indiana University's Jonathan Plucker and David Rutkowski point out that "most policymakers act as though all aspects of our education system are failing, and they continually propose reforms that will fix 'the problem' for all of our schools, and yet these reforms never stand a chance because their aim is too broad." 

My plan supports the philosophy of educational scholar, historian and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, who stated in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, “the fundamentals of good education are to be found in the classroom, the home, the community, and the culture, but reformers in our time continue to look for shortcuts and quick answers.” Michael Schmoker, in his book FOCUS, emphasizes “simplicity” as the key to educational reform. He states “if we chose to take just a few well-known, straightforward actions, in every subject area, we can make swift, dramatic improvements in schools.” And finally, from the 2011 McGraw-Hill Research Foundation policy paper: Lessons from PISA, What the U.S. can Learn from the World’s Most Successful Education Reform Efforts, authors point out that one of the world’s most successful school’s, Finland, has little government intervention where there are “few attempts made to enforce performance, nor are many measures taken to ensure accountability. Government education leaders TRUST (my emphasis with capitals) their teachers to do their jobs well.” We need to ENTRUST school improvement ideas to the real professionals…the EDUCATORS.

The SILVER BULLET – This idea has TEETH!

The Silver Bullet that will transform student learning, foster family engagement, and enhance teacher effectiveness is PEOPLE, more specifically, EDUCATORS! I attempt to lay out in this document the importance of empowering Educators the “opportunity” to improve education from the ground up, in a least restrictive environment. The core of my “Silver Bullet theory” will not focus on hit or miss political dictums, spectacular technological breakthroughs, or ideas from the ivory towers of think tanks-it will present itself in an organized system that allows PEOPLE (EDUCATORS) to collaborate, communicate, innovate and implement proven educational practice that will allow ALL children equal opportunity to be successful in school. It is hard work that will take time. Thomas Edison once said “opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Now is the time to give EDUCATORS that opportunity. 

Please view this video by Richard DuFour, whose research and experience show “our best hope for school improvement is by developing capacity of people within the school.” Mr. DuFour was a public school educator for 34 years. Mr. DuFour is a celebrated principal, superintendent and author.


This plan focuses on 4 key parameters to ensure success:

1. Teaching profession promoted as a “High Status” Occupation
2. Laser sharp focus on Principal as Instructional Leader
3. Students and parents taking ownership of learning
4. Technology integration in schools as a non-negotiable. 

For all of this to happen, the student school year will consist of 200-6 hour days, education of our children is too important to continue as a part time endeavor. Students will still have 11 weeks off under this model. 

Teaching becomes a year round profession with comparable salaries and respect offered other valued professions. The teaching year will consist of 215-8 hour days.
Teachers’ 15 extra days without students will be in the summer and used for collaboration, communication, innovation, and advocacy for the profession. The two extra hours each day after students leave will be spent on teacher planning time, tutoring, support, and enrichment activities for students in the first hour and the development of a Professional Learning Community (PLC) in the second – detailed explanation to follow. Teacher salaries will range from $60,000 to $100,000. 

Although there will be flexibility with the full year model, based on district and school needs, I suggest the following:

• 185-190 academic school year for students: End of September-June
• Remaining 10-15 days scheduled over the summer with teacher as advisor/facilitator for a set number of students. This time can be scheduled anytime during the day and doesn’t have to be the full 6 hours. 
• The teachers’ remaining 15 days will consist of Professional Learning Time- explained below. 

1. Teaching Profession Promoted as “High Status” Occupation

The life of a teacher is rushed. Teachers spend the majority of their days in class with students, after school with students and at home correcting papers or preparing lessons. Most schools jam all professional development, curriculum, instruction, assessment, innovation, communication and implementation into monthly staff, team and department meetings. We need to streamline this across all schools to provide educators with the most precious commodity…TIME. Renowned educational author Dr. Douglas Reeves states “when the number of initiatives increases, while time, resources and emotional energy are constant, then each new initiative…will receive fewer minutes, dollars and ounces of emotional energy than its predecessors.” This is what is happening in education today. Educators are inundated with initiatives from the National, State and local level, without ever having the time to discuss, offer input, debate, or receive proper training and resources for implementation. It is like putting together a life sized puzzle, not having the biggest piece and saying it’s complete. 

What can teachers do with 2 extra hours Per Day?

First hour: Planning, Support & Enrichment 

• Teacher’s time: for lesson planning, correcting, preparation *this will alleviate the burden of teacher’s spending several hours at home
• Each department will schedule at least 1 teacher after school daily for student support (tutoring/extra help) - *now students don’t have to wait a certain day of the week to get help, every day there is support!
• Enrichment classes may be offered by PE, HE, Music, Art, Technology and Vocational programs *the subjects most adversely affected by state mandated testing
• Guidance can work with students and parents on college and job preparation and planning 

Second hour: Professional Learning Community Time

In an article cited by the Master Teacher ( researchers studied 64 schools with staff members who had attended professional learning community (PLC) workshops and were implementing PLCs. The staffs had been using PLCs for 2.5 years. During that period, 90.6% of these schools reported an increase in standardized math scores; 81.3% reported an increase of between 5 and 26 points in English/language arts scores. In another study of three elementary schools over a five-year period, students from minority and low-income families improved their scores on state achievement tests from less than 50% proficient to 75% proficient. Researchers found that staff working collaboratively in PLCs was a characteristic of these schools.

PLC advocates DuFour, DuFour, Eaker and Many point out in their 2006 book Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work, the importance of teachers working in teams, in true “professional learning communities” where curriculum and lessons are continuously developed, tested, and refined on the basis of assessment results. This can best be done by providing teachers the daily opportunity to collaborate. 

Collaboration on Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment (CIA)

• These are the fundamentals of school improvement - Schmoker believed 3 simple things were “essential” for school improvement: “reasonably coherent curriculum (what we teach), sound lessons (how we teach); and far more purposeful reading and writing in every discipline, or authentic literacy.”
• Teachers may now meet regularly with peers and administration to discuss their lessons, share student work, devise common assessments and assist each other


• Educators would now have the time to discuss educational priorities within their school, district and profession. 
• Advocacy: we don’t do this enough in education-educators share with community great things going on at school. Also, have time to invite local, state and national politicians in to discuss hot topics in our profession.
• Time to meet and discuss our students and their needs
• Time to connect home with parents and guardians


• The best ideas in education come from educators! Now we will have time to innovate
• Allow teachers Fed-Ex Days: A great method to implement this comes from Daniel Pink, in his book Drive: to spark greater creativity among his team, and to make sure Atlassian’s programmers were having fun at work, he [Mike Cannon-Brookes] decided to encourage them to spend a day working on any problem they wanted… Atlassian calls these twenty-four hour bursts of freedom and creativity “FedEx Days” – because people have to deliver something overnight. (p.92-93)
• Allow teachers time to discuss laws and mandates that affect them, sharing possible solutions and new ideas with administration and politicians, who attend 1 meeting with educators over the summer. 

What can teachers do with 15 extra days over the summer?

• The principal, will prepare a shared vision of Profession Learning for teachers, which will consist of: student/parent goal setting meetings, teacher/administrator goal setting meeting, Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment review, classroom preparation for new school year, professional learning, research and development (innovation) and advocacy.

Professional Learning:

• Time needs to be allotted teachers for ongoing Professional Learning
• Technology will be a major component of this learning-Teachers will no longer be given a new technology to teach without proper training first
• Time to meet with district schools: elementary with middle, middle with high school and high school with college. Let’s stop blaming our feeder programs for our student’s problems and provide time to sit together and solve them.
• Unconferences held throughout the year and over the summer. An Unconference is a participant driven professional learning experience. 

please watch this brief video that explains the Unconference experience

2. Students and Parents take Ownership of Learning

• Students are to attend 10-15 days (decided by district) over the summer in school. This time can be flexibly scheduled. 
• Each student will be assigned a teacher who will act as their facilitator/advisor for Project Based Learning (PBL), where each student in grades 5-12 will be responsible for submitting a project of interest to him/her. Grades 1-4 (and again, this is flexible) will work on class/team projects to benefit the school and/or community (i.e. service learning projects). 
• Community involvement is highly recommended on these projects
• Each student must have a parent/guardian or adult oversee and sign off on their project. These adults will be invited to final day presentations.
• Parents/Guardians will also meet with educators for a goal setting meeting for their child over the summer. Parental, teacher and student roles will be explained clearly. These goals will be shared with teachers, administration and counselors as resources to assist students. Each summer goals will be reviewed and updated. 

3. Laser sharp Focus on Principal as Instructional Leader

• Implements, Evaluates and Supervises the school Professional Learning Plan (notice I didn’t say Professional Development Plan). The principal, inline with the district vision and goals, will establish a plan for yearly PLC work by teachers (as detailed above) and 15 days over the summer. 
• All administration will teach or co-teach at least 1 term per year. To be a true instructional leader administration must model good teaching. 
• Each summer administration holds yearly goal setting meetings with teachers and school staff. This may, or may not be part of an evaluation system. The goal is professional growth for the teacher. 
• Over the summer administration will conduct one town hall meeting with local and state politicians to discuss educators vision of what is working in schools and what is needed for continued improvement. This will give educators a VOICE in education transformation, something not included in most reform ideas.

4. Technology integration as a non-negotiable –WHY?

This is Why:
please click on link to watch this very important short video
• Technology integration mindset changed from Why, to How
• All administration and teachers must be willing to learn, teach and use technology in this educational model. Those who do not will no longer have a job. 
• Educators will now have the time for professional learning, innovation and research and development in technology. They will also have a voice in its implementation into the curriculum. 
• All educators and students will have their own electronic device
• All students will have access to the internet at school and at home


How to proceed with this model:


• Educators unite: We need a UNIFIED “Educator’s” alternative solution to run of the mill “Ed Reform” ideas dictated to us. We need to act in unison and put our collective weight behind 1 concept or idea. If this is not that concept/idea, I at least hope this document will get more educators to ACT!

• This model can be adopted by:

1. Philanthropies: I would like to see the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, or the Walton Family Foundation invest in this model. These two foundations have generously donated funds for new educational initiatives; however, little investment has gone into the transformation of traditional public schools. 

2. Government/Politicians: Let’s redirect our focus and funding into a plan that holds educators directly responsible for the vision, direction and planning of school transformation. If we are going to (and I think we should) hold educators accountable for student learning, they should have a seat at the table. As former NFL coach Bill Parcell’s says "they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”


• This model is a 4 year plan: assess students entering as freshman and follow them through graduation. With proper formative and summative assessments you will see student growth and lower drop out rates. You will see educators defining the vision of school and doing so successfully. Communication between politicians and educators in the trenches will allow for healthy conversation about what is best for kids. Teaching will be an honored profession that our best and brightest will want to pursue as a career. 

• If there is someone out there willing to back this plan, I will make myself available to run the school. I believe in accountability, if after 4 years students and teachers are not excelling under this model-Fire me!

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Comment by Bill Burkhead on September 19, 2011 at 9:35pm
Hi Karla, thank you so much for taking the time to read my post and respond with some terrific questions and thoughts.  I consider this plan an outline, or roadmap.  Certainly there are many unanswered questions, which you do an excellent job of raising.  Before moving forward with the plan, I would surround myself with people much smarter than me; who have experience, passion and drive to help me answer your questions and others.
Comment by Karla O'Donald on September 19, 2011 at 9:07pm
Another taught provoking blog. I really don’t enjoy the silver bullet metaphor, because it gives me a negative picture, but what you suggest is a good plan. The question is that if your plan is targeted to a specific environment, with specific teachers and students that could make this idea work? Where and who do you see using this model? Do you really believe that a philanthropist is going to give you money when your emphasis is not as detail as the rest of your plan? How can you ensure that students and teacher will be able to have technology outside of school? There are still many students that are not able economically to meet this aspect that you make a requirement. How about foreign language as an enrichment course? What do you have in mind as vocational courses? There is no mention on instruction of students with special needs. Again, very interesting post. I enjoy reading your entries.


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