Monday, January 28, 2013

Learning by Doing--A Moment of Reflection

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"I feel like a first year teacher again," is a statement that often comes out of my mouth this year when colleagues and family members ask how things are going. At first I thought it might be because I stepped out of the classroom for a year, and then I thought maybe it had to do with the two new courses I am teaching this year. And while I'm sure these are part of the reason, the more I reflect, the more I come to realize that I feel like a first teacher because I AM a first year teacher again and it is because of the work we are doing in PLCs. 

The work of a Professional Learning Community asks us to imagine the outcome of a unit of study before we actually even consider the daily lesson planning. This concept is not that foreign to me as I often imagine a project or essay that I want my students to create at the end of some exciting unit I plan, but the outcome of a unit planned PLC-style is a bit different. The outcome of a PLC unit is no longer the project or essay, but the proficiency, if not mastery, of a set of standards. In order to prepare for this, I went to the Learning by Doing Conference; I read the DuFour book; I even helped teach the process to teachers at North's feeder schools. But nothing prepared me for this work like actually doing the work--interesting "aha" moment when I consider the title of the DuFours' book is Learning by Doing

This year I've been doing what DuFour suggests--I've been learning by doing--and it's not been an easy process. On an individual level, I've struggled. My first semester lesson planning was mediocre. I was lucky to be one day ahead of my students in reading, I was making last minute copies and uploading documents to My Big Campus the planning period before I needed them, and my creativity flew out the window. There were days that even I didn't enjoy being in my class. On a team level, I've struggled. I was working with three teachers I had never planned with before. We knew each other and got along as friends and colleagues, but not as planners--and we are each very different planners. Issues came up--we didn't know how to talk to each other when we didn't see eye to eye or when we each thought that our way of doing something was the right way. And it's harder to be calm, cool, and collected when you aren't exactly sure if you are doing the work the right way to begin with! Near the end of first semester, I kept thinking, "the old way of doing this work is so much easier", but I knew this wasn't positive thinking and I know that success has never come easily, so over break, I spent some time reflecting.

In my reflections, I discovered the successes among the struggles. On an individual level, I am beginning to truly understand my standards--what they mean, the target skills my students need to be proficient, and what it takes to teach them. My lesson plans throughout a unit are becoming more focused on a central idea that supports the development of that unit's standards. On a team level, we are writing better, more efficient assessments than anything I have ever written on my own. We are talking about learning in our classrooms in ways that I never have before. We're discussing real data that is useful to what occurs in our classrooms every day. And when I reflect on all of this learning that I have done and that my team has done, I AM PROUD! We are working hard, and we are stumbling along the way, but we are still moving forward, and, to me, that is a sign of success!

Do I still feel like a first year teacher? Sometimes. I think it's more like a second or third year teacher who has learned a thing or two from her struggles. I am further ahead in my planning and I have discovered how to marry the creativity in my old way of planning with the PLC process. I have a better grasp on how my teammates function and how we can best work together to build upon our strengths. And I feel like I am becoming a better teacher for my students, and, in the end, that is what matters most.


  1. Thank you for your post! Your insights into team planning are just what my teachers are going through. It will help them immensely to know that others are having the same struggles they are having and finding success.

  2. We are there with you :) Some of us are in the 'it seems like the old way was better' phase and others have grown to love planning in PLCs after seeing results.