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By Joellen Killion, Senior Advisor, Learning Forward

Research supports the value of educator collaboration. A recent report from the Rennie Center confirms that when teachers collaborate, students benefit. Too often, however, professional learning within communities of peers is merely a label.

Professional learning communities (PLCs) are hijacked in multiple ways, usually under the pretense of facilitating or supporting the collaboration. Administrators who dictate the content of collaboration are some of the biggest offenders. Teachers who fail to engage responsibly as professionals with colleagues in collaboration are also offenders. When educators at any level arrive late, break commitments, seek to maintain the status quo, or remain within their comfort zone, they are subverting the core principles of professional learning communities.

Within authentic professional learning communities, members determine their content and process for their continuous improvement. While they may benefit from skillful facilitators who offer processes and protocols, the community commits to learning as a means to improve practice and results. A key distinction exists between a community of professionals who engage in learning for continuous improvement and a gathering of professionals who conduct routine work together ...

By Dr. Helen Janc Malone, Director of Institutional Advancement, Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL)

The Institute for Educational Leadership is a non-profit organization whose mission is to equip leaders to work together across boundaries to build effective systems that prepare children and youth for postsecondary education, careers, and citizenship. The work of IEL focuses on three pillars required for young people and their communities to succeed:

  1. Involving the broader community with public education to support the learning and development of young people.
  2. Building more effective pathways into the workforce for all young people and supporting the transition to adulthood.
  3. Preparing generations of leaders with the know-how to drive collaborative efforts at all levels.

The year 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Institute for Educational Leadership. Fifty years yields many lessons. IEL’s broad network of leaders—superintendents, principals, policy leaders, academics, public officials, private funders and community-based practitioners—shared what they have learned about effective leadership as a part of IEL’s 50th anniversary celebration. Ten powerful lessons emerged from our review of their advice. We are grateful for their contribution.

  1. Leaders are anchored in a commitment to equity and the pursuit of social justice. They mobilize partners and ...

By Jessica Medaille, Chief Membership Officer, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

There’s a lot of talk right now about leadership across many professions. As leaders in education, we have long recognized that to effect change, we must look to and listen to our colleagues as well as to voices from other professions and communities. That way we can hear points of view that may differ from ours, expand our thinking and view issues from a new angle.

As we approach the ISTE annual conference, we’re excited about the unique range of opportunities participants will have to hear about new strategies, build leadership skills and to learn what works. Stories of triumph and perseverance are what make the ISTE community, and our annual conference, a unique experience.

In reflecting on the leaders we’ve invited to speak at this year’s conference, I’m inspired by their collective work. Leaders like Ashley Judd, who during a recent TEDx talk carried a powerful message about empowerment, lending her voice to those whose voices are not heard and telling stories to inspire others in the hopes of changing policies. Or Dale Dougherty, founder of Make magazine, creator of Maker Fair and coiner of the phrase Web 2.0, who brings the do-it-yourselfer mindset to everyday technology, celebrating the right to tweak, hack and bend any technology to your own will ...

By Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

AASA supports charter schools when they are operated by the local school board and managed by the local superintendent. Under certain circumstances, a district-operated charter school could offer students the quality education they perhaps are not receiving under existing conditions.

In 1995, I was the district superintendent for the Western Suffolk Supervisory district on Long Island, NY, a role quite different from that of the local superintendent. The district superintendent reports directly to the state commissioner of education and, in essence, is the commissioner’s regional representative. When the district superintendent for the adjoining Nassau County retired, I was asked by then-New York State Commissioner Thomas Sobol to assume the role of acting district superintendent for Nassau County as well. It was while serving in that capacity that the commissioner directed me to inspect the Roosevelt Union Free School District. ...

By Dr. C.J. Huff, Superintendent, Joplin (MO) Schools, and NSPRA Vice President at Large – Superintendents of Schools

Each day professional educators across our country walk into our schools with the noble purpose to educate and grow our next generation of leaders, employees, neighbors, and families. And with each passing day our noble purpose – the reason we do what we do – becomes muddled as we find ourselves fighting perceptions that don't really reflect reality. But as a school board member reminded me once, perception is reality. So the question that must be answered is, “How do we change perception?”

What’s Working...What’s Not?

As you read this article, from coast to coast, school districts will be pushing the send button on thousands of press releases. Spelling bee champions will be recognized, teachers of the year announced, scores from last night’s ballgame celebrated, a big decision by a school board shared, the kindergarten penny drive that raised funds to help the local humane society – the list goes on. We will permeate cyberspace with the good news of our schools. We will tweet, post, click send, like, repost, resend again with the hope that someone... anyone... will pick up on a story and that it will go viral in a good way. And we wait. Then wait some more. We tell great stories, but few are there to listen ...

By Gail Connelly, Executive Director, National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP)

“The Buck Stops Here,” an expression popularized by President Harry S. Truman, has often been applied to school leadership. It denotes the end of the line, the last decision, the final responsibility. For principals, who assume the dual roles of school manager and instructional leader, the responsibilities of school leadership never end; the “bucks” just keep coming.

With upwards of 40 different daily tasks to accomplish, today’s principals must be multifaceted, possessing a range of skills and competencies more complex than ever before.

When it comes to the factors that they directly influence, such as student safety, financial management, teacher working conditions, and high-quality instruction, for example, principals must rely on their “managerial” capabilities. This role also involves brokering various stakeholder interests and contending with unfunded state mandates, among other escalating education issues.

In this era of high-stakes accountability, the pressure has never been greater for principals to excel also as instructional leaders. Research shows the link between school leadership and student achievement continues to be underestimated, despite ...

By Robin Sheffield, National Board Certified Teacher with 20 years experience in education, including service on the Board of Directors for the Toledo Federation of Teachers

One of the many hats I wear as a Peer Literacy Coach is to provide Professional Development to my building and to other building staff within the district.  With the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), my department has added several Professional Development (PD) offerings to reflect the major shifts of the CCSS.  One of the major shifts is the focus on informational text: building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction and informational texts. In response to this shift, we now have a four-hour (delivered in two parts) PD, which helps teachers understand the reasons why expository text is difficult for students to comprehend.  Additionally, teachers are taught how to select strategies that will support student understanding of the different structures of expository text.

Last month I was asked to provide this four-hour module to a neighboring building with a K-8 staff. Part I of the PD focuses on why expository text is so difficult for students to understand.  When teachers are asked this question, the most common response is that the text(s) contain unfamiliar, difficult vocabulary for students.  While this is true, there are other factors that come into play.  In addition to unfamiliar vocabulary, the content itself may contain unfamiliar concepts which present problems for comprehension. In addition, different content areas have specialized and/or technical words.  There are also varied text structures, most of ...

We know that effective communication is critical in public education, both for building support for public schools and for ensuring the successful implementation of education initiatives, such as the Common Core State Standards. But what does a good K-12 communication strategy look like?

Missouri’s Nixa Public Schools, a suburban K-12 system serving 6,000 students in 11 schools, provides one example. Communication has been a key aspect of the district’s strategic plan for well over a decade, and Nixa has developed a transparent, high-functioning communications program that is two-way in design. For this work, the district was named the 2014 recipient of the Leadership Through Communication Award, with Superintendent Stephen Kleinsmith and Director of Communication Zac Rantz recognized for their exemplary leadership in the field. The district was commended for building a culture where there is a common language between internal and external stakeholders; creating an environment in which information can be shared in a variety of ways; providing the community the opportunity to offer input which is listened to and acted upon; and more.

In a recent e-mail interview, Rantz took the time to discuss the district’s program and give advice to those looking to strengthen their communications strategy.  

Public School Insights (PSI): What is the district’s general philosophy on communication?

Rantz: Inform early. Inform often. Inform through multiple channels.

PSI: What are the key components of your communication program?

Rantz: We structure our communication channels into two main sections: internal and external ...

By Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, Learning Forward

We know quite a bit about the strategies that help educators improve and develop expertise over time. Over the long term, we have gathered evidence from research and the field about professional learning that led to changed practices for teachers and better results for students.

For example, numerous researchers have established the value of learning communities, and each week we hear about more districts creating time for learning communities to meet during the work day. We know from more than a decade of research sponsored by The Wallace Foundation and others that principals who act as instructional leaders (with all that entails) have a greater impact on advancing students and teachers. Both research and the field emphasize repeatedly the importance of collaboration and the value of peer learning. And while the research isn't clear on the impact of coaching, examples in the field lead us to believe in its usefulness. ...

For his decades of work towards, and advocacy for, the advancement of public education in North Carolina and across the nation, the Learning First Alliance honors Governor James B. Hunt with its 2014 Education Visionary Award.

Considered by many to be the nation’s first “education governor,” Hunt served an historic four terms as governor of North Carolina, from 1977-1985 and 1993-2001. Under his leadership, North Carolina public schools improved test scores more than any other state in the 1990s, according to the Rand Corporation.  

Hunt has also been at the forefront of national education reform, particularly in the areas of early childhood development and the improvement of the quality of teaching. Among his many successes in education, his Smart Start program received the prestigious Innovations in American Government Award from ...

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