5 Questions to Improve the Participation in the Professional Community

Jon Konen
District Superintendent

"Step up and lean in," is a common leadership adage that can be heard resonating across school districts in America. This aphorism has a strong nonverbal insinuation that literally means, volunteer and take part when there are leadership opportunities. Leadership directly affects the professional community. Some leaders raise and cultivate a culture where anyone can be a leader and is expected to at some point to contribute to the "greater good." Some administrators find teacher leadership a threat to their power and control, and at the opposite spectrum, some administrators delegate everything and never take a stand on an issue. Obviously, a leader must maintain a balance between these philosophical perspectives to cultivate and create an atmosphere where teachers fill the need, as well as a sense of urgency, to participate in the professional community. Without this positive school culture, leaders may never know, nor teachers ever experience, a true educational professional community.

Culture truly drives this component within Charlotte Danielson's framework. Staff members must feel comfortable working with colleagues across grade levels, disciplines, and job functions in order to team around students by sharing strategies, planning all types of socio-emotional and academic interventions, and by personalizing the learning. In addition, a school's culture also drives the professional development offerings that are available for teachers. Teachers can also participate and lead in a multitude of other arenas that support not only themselves, but also the profession: state and national organizations, book study groups, college courses and degrees, district committees and teams, and more. Self-improvement starts with teachers, but is definitely supported by the culture of the school.

Here are five questions that you can tackle in order to transform yourself from just being a proficient teacher, to one that is exemplary by all standards!

1 - How Well Does the School "Team," and How Can a Teacher Take "Teaming" to a Higher Level?

The ability to work well with our colleagues can be quite easy, or it can be nauseatingly difficult. It is interesting how it mirrors the work we do with students in a classroom. Think about what the needs are of the students seated in front of you. How can you support these needs in order for them to get along with each other? A principal has the same task of creating a professional community where the ability to team is not only expected, but it is cultivated daily. A teacher has a role in this cultivation. They can chose to make or break a learning opportunity for themselves and their colleagues.

Mutual respect and support comes from teachers who put time into relationships. They believe, much like with students, that a relationship drives the learning. Cooperation comes when a common goal and is created, discussed, and implemented as a team. All work goes back to the achievement of these goals. Whether a grade level has a multiple teachers or one teacher, the ability to team starts with someone starting the conversation. Basing conversations on "what is best for students" supports the goals that are created by the teachers. When working with a grade level team, one teacher may drive the teaming efforts to work cohesively when supporting student growth. Another teaming model splits the leader role among all teachers on the grade level team.

Teachers at some point in their career may find it difficult to team with specific teachers. This may be for a plethora of reasons, but keeping a positive attitude and a growth mindset, many of these hurdles can be overcome. Using a rubric, such as the one provided in the article, The Best Teaming Rubric Out There: How Would You Score Your Team?, supports teachers conversations and goal setting. Teacher teams can evaluate where they are on the rubric, and create an action plan with SMART goals in order to get to the next level in the rubric. Starting small is recommended, but constant conversations and celebrations help make the transition more enjoyable and long lasting.

In this article, the following advice can support your teaming efforts,

"Great teams combine a mix of activities that support high academic rigor and provide experiences that support cultural team building. These teams understand the strengths and weaknesses of their team members. They learn to capitalize on these areas to ensure they are efficient and effective, and they understand they are only as strong as their weakest members."

2 - As Teachers Create a Sense of Urgency for Learning with Students, How Can They Model and Maintain This Sense of Urgency for Learning Themselves?

Teachers are continually trying to create and maintain a sense of urgency with their students. We only have students each year 180 days for roughly six hours of instruction. That equates to around 1,080 hours a year. The entire year has over 7,000 hours. 1/8 of the entire year is devoted to learning. When looking at these statistics, that is not much time! This is true for teachers, as well.

Becoming stagnant in your teaching position can become toxic. You no longer want to take professional development opportunities, or work with your colleagues, nor pick up a book. Closing yourself off from the rest of the school and educational world can create a sense of insignificance and can lead to quitting your job, and failing the students.

If we truly believe we are "lifelong learners," we must find new ways to get better. Exemplary teachers are humble enough to know they have areas that can be improved upon, and they know how to find the best ways to learn for ourselves. They engage in learning that supports our weaknesses and makes them better teachers. All students go through school with one or several subject areas that are academically lower, as well as specific soft skills that can be improved upon. Likewise, teachers have stronger discipline areas and soft skills, as well as weaker ones. Through honest self-reflection, teachers can devise a plan for further development and improvement. As referenced in the recent article, 5 Questions to Tackle When Reflecting on Teaching, it is stated, by the author,

"All teachers should establish metacognitive processes. The multitude of benefits far outweigh educators skipping or not making sure this process occurs every day. Funny as it may sound, many effective administrators find a secret hiding place, take a walk, or may even take an extended bathroom visit, in order to reflect, gather themselves, and tackle the next problem. Teachers must find time to reflect as well. Master teachers put reflection into their day in several areas."

The sense of urgency created within teachers to become better should be visible and in conversations with colleagues and administrators. Keeping teacher growth goals at the forefront should be nurtured in daily observations, and similarly, there should be visible signs that the entire school is working on professional development with corresponding growth goals. For example, there may be district goals, school goals, grade level goals, and individual classroom teacher goals. What makes this powerful is when these goals are created together, integrated into daily work, and two-way feedback is encouraged and celebrated.

Sponsored Content

3 - As a Teacher Encourages Students to Serve the Community, How Can a Teacher Serve the School?

The strongest schools in America create a sense of community not only on campus, but also within the larger community. They create projects that teach students to give back to the community and create a sense of service and pride. Much the same, teachers must model and do this at their level within the school. They must continually think about how they can serve their school. An environment with a positive school culture leads itself for more teachers "stepping up and leaning in" to serve. The opportunities are boundless when working with a strong team of teachers and leaders.

A crossing guard that is missing, to an absent food service worker, exemplary teachers find areas to serve to support the greater good of the school. Without missing a beat, these teachers think about their students' needs first, then they think about how they can volunteer to support when someone is missing or something needs to be done. Their own students our flourishing and they are able and have time to support others. One of the greatest gifts we can give is time. You can hear these exemplary teachers stating, "I can do that today."

Teacher leaders step up and participate on school teams, district committees, and even community organizations. They find ways they can support the community, the school of learners, and their colleagues. They constantly base their decisions around "what's best for students." You hear and see them communicating with colleagues, eliciting feedback, and are exquisite listeners. They are trusted by their colleagues and peers, and even revered!

Exemplary teachers give back, and they are notorious for supporting the youngest educators through mentorships, giving of resources and supplies, and over course, their time. These teachers also support the professional development of their colleagues. They help push ideologies, ask growth questions, remain humble, and support and provide for the greater good of the school. You may see these teachers starting book clubs, participating or starting Twitter chats, pushing social media to further the brand of their classroom, grade level, school, and district.

4 - How Can a Teacher Cultivate and Grow the Professional Community Through Supporting School, District, and Even Community Projects or Initiatives?

A community, district, school, and even a classroom can have a "brand." This is an abstract concept that drives the perception of a given entity. Hearts and minds are affected by this brand. A brand can be either positive or negative for a person…it is all based on experience. For example, what do you think of when you hear the words from these common businesses: McDonald's, Nike, Coke, Ford, etc. Thoughts may rush your head and they are usually associated with positive or negative experiences, some may be from commercials or ads, while others may be from trying the product, or waiting in a line, or the service they provide.

A school's brand can be self-created or created over time by the community. Most recently, schools are finding that if they are not continually promoting their product (students) and telling their story, they are not in control of the brand that is being created. We have to ask ourselves, "Who would you rather have tell your story; other people or you?" A teacher can have a significant role in creating, sustaining, and promoting the brand of the school, district, and community. Exemplary teachers celebrate the accomplishments of their students, colleagues, and community members. They understand that by celebrating the positives, reframing all negative events as growth opportunities, they are more successful in tackling the educational hurdles that lay in front of them.

A great story from the article, 6 Questions to Tackle When Communicating with Families, connects a metaphorical "brand" to a cattle brand and states how this word has been transformed to mean so much more,

"During the time of the "Wild West," cowhands, a cowboy hired to manage and take care of cattle, were hired by large cattle companies. Cattle were worth a lot of money and stealing them from other cattle companies occurred routinely. In order to put a stop to this thievery, cattle companies started putting a brand, a hot iron burned into the cow's hide leaving a special mark. Anyone caught with a cow that did not have their brand, was prosecuted either by a circuit rider judge or vigilante justice. These cowhands were not paid a lot of money and cattle thievery became a booming business. Reliable cowhands were hard to find. When a cattle company found such a person, they treated them well. In return, a cowhand put their lives on the line to manage the cows and keep them safe and secure. They had pride in their work and they "rode for the brand." This means that took pride in the cattle company they worked for, and they worked hard to keep their precious commodity safe!"

In 2017, a school district in Montana chose their yearly focus to be on trauma-informed classroom strategies. The administration chose some common activities that all school administrators would participate, and subsequent schools would implement within in the district. Speaker presentations and powerful professional development were required for all teachers. Individual schools then devised PLC's around this theme, as well as specific professional development offerings for staff members. Many schools led book studies, invited other speakers into their schools, connected with community service providers, and even involved the students in this education. One school used a PLC to create grade level trauma-informed lessons (K-6) that empowered the students and created a sense of empathy, kindness, as well as building tolerance. Exemplary teachers stepped up and leaned in to support the administration's goals, and even shared their learning experiences across the school. Great example of "Riding for the Brand."

5 - How Can a Teacher Become a True Teacher Leader?

Teacher leaders are hard to find, but they are out there. They support a unique niche within a school community. Without teacher leaders, a school maybe stagnant or the principal may be stuck doing the majority of leadership work in a school. When jobs are shared and leadership opportunities are cultivated, a school can thrive.

Teacher leaders can support the school through various activities. Here is a list of the most common characteristics of a teacher leader from a 2007 article, The Many Faces of Leadership, by Charlotte Danielson.

  • Excellent Communicator -
    • Speaking and more importantly, listening
    • Able to collaborate with colleagues, respected and even revered
    • Initiate regular meet times to confer with colleagues students
    • Develop procedures to share assessment data make plans for individual
    • Lead a school wide or district wide initiative (homework, grading, etc…)
  • Teaching and Learning -
    • A master of the content, curriculum, and instructional strategies
    • Serve on district curriculum committees
    • Help design mentoring programs
    • Makes presentations at state or local conferences
    • Organizes a lesson study to examine a teaching team's or department's approach
  • School-wide Policies and Programs -
    • Serve as building liaison to student teachers
    • Lead school task forces
    • Represent the school in districtwide or statewide programs for schools

Teacher leaders start with a strong administration that sees a need to cultivate and grow their employees. Through this growth process, new administrators are developed. A school's ability to predict success by furthering their mission and vision are multiplied by having several leaders within a school district. These are strong examples of successful professional learning communities.

(Charlotte Danielson Model: Domain 4 Component d)

Sponsored Content


Jon Konen