Friday, November 19, 2010

Administrators’ Role in Establishing Successful PLCs, Proficiency 1 of 5: Developing Instructional Expertise

This post if from guest blogger Amy Chamberlain, a content producer at School Improvement Network.

Note: This is part one of five in a series that discusses how administrators can support and sustain the growth of professional learning communities (PLCs) in their jurisdiction.

In my role as researcher and writer for School Improvement Network’s PD 360 content, I’ve been working with the talented educators from Sanger, California. This is an area of high diversity and rapid demographic change—and one that is experiencing a tremendous amount of student success. Much of this they credit to the widespread use of professional learning communities, or PLCs.

When they are well established, PLCs have a measurable and immediate effect on the quality of teaching and student success. Every educator I talked to in the Sanger Unified School District told me that their PLCs played a key role in the tremendous turn-around they and their students enjoyed (in seven years, the Sanger Unified School District went from a program improvement district to one of the top in the state; two of only thirty-five California Blue Ribbon Schools are located in SUSD).

While the day-to-day work of PLCs happens at the faculty level, administrators play a key role in creating an atmosphere where true collaboration can flourish. Sanger administrators developed five proficiencies that encouraged healthy PLCs throughout the district. These proficiencies are:

1) Develop instructional expertise
2) Model collaborative behavior
3) Hold PLC members accountable for good results
4) Create environments where trust is possible
5) Get—and stay—involved in faculty PLCs

1. Develop Instructional Expertise Marc Johnson, the superintendent of SUSD, notes that the days when a principal or administrator could just be a good manager are over. “I have to know as much or more about teaching as my faculty,” he notes, “because I may have expertise that [they] don’t, and neither of us will get better unless we share that expertise.” By changing his emphasis from managing people to sharing expertise, Marc demonstrated his commitment to sound instructional practice.

Stephanie Rodriguez, vice-principal of Washington Academic Middle School, also has a clear understanding of her job. “My role in the PLC is that of instructional leader,” she notes. “I really want to interact with the teachers and in order to do that, I have to know what it is that they’re doing. I have to be able to provide them with instructional tools and techniques that they may not have.”

John Hannigan, principal of Reagan Elementary School, notes that the Sanger district administrators provided support as he, too, shifted the focus of his work. They “constantly train and support, train and support,” he says. “The district leaders have put a big emphasis on capacity within their principals and setting up those principals as instructional leaders. We’re a support system to those teachers so that we have that knowledge to be able to support them, and help them grow. The admin team showed me how to take my own job from manager to teacher leader. ”

This shift from administration-as-manager to administration-as-instructional-leader is profound. It shrinks the distance between administration and faculty and gives them the shared goal of student success. Instructional leadership is more involved and challenging than a managerial role, but it is one of the crucial proficiencies in establishing a rich, effective PLC culture.

Part Two: The next blog entry in the series discusses Administration Proficiency 2: Model collaborative behavior.

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