Characteristics of the System Trump Picking the Right Model When it Comes to Student Learning

Dr. Jon Sheldahl, Chief Administrator

Teacher helping elementary school pupilIn his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell writes, “The organizations that are the most successful are the ones where the system is the star.  The talent myth assumes that people make organizations smart.  More often than not, it’s the other way around.”  Nowhere is this better illustrated than in school organizations that build social capital through teacher collaboration in the forms of data teams or professional learning communities.  Data teams and professional learning communities (PLC’s) are common terms used interchangeably in our area, but some districts also use terms like instructional improvement teams or teacher learning teams.  All of these terms describe a collaborative process that involves teachers in professional learning and instructional decision-making.

What separates schools that have continued to make consistent achievement gains in recent years from those that have plateaued or declined?  According to recent research out of the University of Pittsburgh by Dr. Carrie Leana, et al, the difference is in no small part the extent to which schools are deliberately facilitating strong teacher relationships as they build professional development plans.  Instead of focusing purely on human capital by relying on individual teachers to “get smarter” through receiving more professional development around some new set of strategies, they structure professional development time and protocols in a way that also lets the system be the star. They recognize that teacher relationships are an asset to professional learning.  They still use professional development to build individual human capital, but they also recognize the power embedded in teacher relationships that develop during collaborative problem solving.

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