Improvement and Examination of Practice

Teachers need a safe place to examine their practice in order to improve. The safer the environment, the more professional the interactions amongst teachers and between teachers and administrators, the more likely teachers are to improve and by extension improve student learning and growth. But teachers have to be willing to try new methods, strategies and approaches to teaching and learning (Donohoo, 2017). They also have to have no fear of the consequences for becoming vulnerable. Teachers need the autonomy to give their kids autonomy. However, they need not individual but collective autonomy. Teacher teams need the freedom to try and fail together, to not always get it right or feel like they have to be perceived as getting it right all the time. They need collective freedom to practice. Improvement of practice assumes that one is always learning from failures, leading ultimately to success.

Improvement of Practice Assumptions

  • • Share strengths and weaknesses.
  • • Maximize each other's strengths and minimize each other's weaknesses.
  • • Use the team as an avenue to improve on weaknesses and implement strengths.
  • • Teamwork leads to improved individual and collective performance.
  • • Learn from each other's successes and failures.
  • • Drive fear out of the organization.

Case Study: Who Are Your Experts And Do They Have the Freedom And Influence To Make An Impact?

The best teachers did not have a voice at West Side High School. Mrs. James, the principal, knew she had to tap into the experts in the building to strengthen her departments. Mrs. James had in the past used the Teacher Learning Team Cycle from Stephanie Hirsch and Tracy Crow of "Learning Forward" in Becoming a Learning Team (2017). She was especially interested in the "Learn individually and collaboratively cycle" for use within the West Side academic departments.

Mrs. James started the year by engaging her department leads in the learning cycle. She led the department heads through the cycle for the first semester, thinking about the overall needs of the school, students and adults. Once the teacher leaders felt comfortable with the process, they were excited to take it back to their departments and begin the work of identifying student and adult needs and building learning agendas for both.

Through the work in the learning cycle the school was able to compile a list of student needs for every subject and the adult professional learning that would have to take place for them to accomplish their goals. The staff had never explored intentionally looking at data to identify student needs. Therefore, they needed a structured protocol for collecting the data, analyzing the data and planning action. The learning cycle was used as a guide to create collaboration protocols. The teams used those protocols to influence structured conversations, creation of new knowledge and action planning.

Needless to say, the end of the year and the start of the next year were exciting times for the staff at West Side High. Teachers were learning new skills and improving their classroom instruction in the process. Drawing on each other's strengths, learning from each other's failures, West Side High had their best graduation rate in years.