Educational Services Division
No More Drama: Getting Everyone on the Bus and Becoming a Real Professional Learning Community
“When people are educated, they are in power!” This was one of many “nuggets” starting off the morning of February 1st for 153 site, district and county level administrators from Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Benito counties. These administrators, spanning the K-12 spectrum, converged at the Cocoanut Grove for a mid-year Administrator Breakfast to connect with each other as well as learn from Dr. Anthony Muhammad, an expert on leading organizational change.
Nationally renowned, Dr. Anthony Muhammad is a coveted educational consultant who began his career as a practitioner nearly twenty years ago during which time he has served as a middle school teacher, assistant principal, middle school principal, and high school principal. One of his most notable accomplishments came as principal at Levey Middle School in Southfield, Michigan, a National School of Excellence, where student proficiency on state assessments was more than doubled in five years. He attributes implementation of the model ‘Professional Learning Communities’ as the turning point for the upswing in student achievement, allowing his staff to focus on learning rather than teaching, work collaboratively, and holding themselves accountable for results.
Excerpt from Anthony Muhammad keynote at the 2007 CA State Summit.
Dr. Muhammad reminded us that “All humans have a genetic predisposition to be highly intellectual” (Piaget) adding that a proper learning environment along with proper learning activities, are critical. His new book The Will to Lead, the Skill to Teach provides practical ideas on both the learning environment and learning activities. We spent the morning focused on the importance of the creating a positive learning environment.
The learning environment embraces two areas of change; technical-structural (skill) and cultural (will). Skill, according to Dr. Muhammad, entails those changes within the educational system that do not require human cooperation. They focus on external configurations put in place to enhance student learning. Examples include, changing from a traditional to block schedule and the library becoming a media center. When it comes to making changes around will; attitudes, assumptions and behaviors come into play, making change much more difficult. Will involves the culture of a site, centering on peoples internal beliefs about students and staff. The bottom line, according to Larry Lezotte, is that “culture eats structure for breakfast.”
So, the question for instructional leaders becomes how to create a high skill, high will environment for both adults and students alike. When healthy school cultures are in place, “educators have an unwavering belief in the ability of all students to achieve success, and they pass that belief on to others in overt and covert ways.”(Kent D. Peterson in Cromwell, 2002) Promoting the shift from a “me” to “we” culture, Dr. Muhammad endorsed:
He shared his belief that creating a healthy school culture is a two-way street, collegial and managerial. Both must focus on being problem solvers versus being complainers, working together to focus on helping students develop. Dr. Muhammad stressed that “to be a good teammate, your responsibilities have to come before your own rights.”
Keeping with the theme of culture, he then shifted into the difficulty instructional leaders face involving “adult drama-dysfunctional social interactions between adult professionals within a school environment that interfere with proper implementation of important policies, practices and procedures that support the proper education of students.” To better understand this quandary he categorizes staff as:
Dr. Muhammad closed the morning by reminding us that although our approaches to change with the types of staff members listed above vary, we must balance the levels of support and accountability to ensure that our goal as educational leaders remains that of establishing a healthy culture.