Identify Unique opportunities for growth and improvement. What new emerging initiatives are likely to increase growth and deepen improvement levels within an urban middle school?
Among the more prominent opportunities for growth and improvement have occurred in urban schools where educators are focusing on literacy achievement (Frey, 2002). Literacy has always been an essential element to learning and has opened the door to avenues for growth in other areas including in math and in science.
Another important area for growth and improvement includes moving from a static educational environment to one that is more dynamic, where informal and spontaneous educational learning styles are preferred to more traditional styles (Phillips, 2003). Now, more so than ever teachers see the benefit of adopting kinesthetic learning practices that engage students as experiential learners that are diverse, culturally different, and involved in their community (Phillips, 2003). These initiatives are challenging schools to work with students, teachers and lawmakers to develop programs that engage not just students, but also parents and teachers in the learning process. Teachers are updating their skills so they can analyze student progress more fully, and improve the rate at which they acquire information. Teachers are working more closely with parents to ensure that education does not stop at school, and so that parents can learn alongside their students. This will require a shift in policy at the school and community level however.
Other data suggests that among urban schools increasing teacher learning is potentially the strongest factor influencing potential growth and learning outcomes (Phillips, 2003). According to Frey (2002) "teacher preparation and retention in urban schools serves as an additional pressure point in reaching these student outcomes" as does a "Professional Development School" or PDS model which is a new restructuring effort (Phillips, 2003; Frey, 2002). Phillips (2003) suggests that by increasing opportunities for teachers to participate in high-quality professional development, teachers will create "innovative curriculum programs targeted toward previously low-achieving or underachieving students" (p.240). Studies conducted at urban middle schools demonstrate that schools using the PDS method met literacy targets established by the Dept. Of Education, at the identified target schools, in a region where few middles schools had ever before; in fact inner city middle schools improved their goals by more than 50% (Frey, 2002; Haycock, Jerald, & Huang, 2001). According to many researchers literacy achievement in urban schools and teacher development are both a top priority (White & Harrison, 1999).
ii) Opportunities for spontaneous learning. What opportunities exist in a middle school for informal or spontaneous learning?
In her research, Seatter (2003) states: spontaneous learning occurs in an environment where students are able to experience and feed curiosity. Students must experience raw materials of learning, of scientific discovery, and engage in activities that promote natural building of theory and problem solving. Hands-on learning skills are ideal learning tools to engage students in spontaneous learning in middle schools. Opportunities for informal or spontaneous learning occur when children have opportunities to improve their imagination or learn in an environment that does not hinder curiosity, where they are allowed to engage their physical and kinesthetic senses as well as learn in a traditional manner Children should have the freedom to engage their senses and have tangible, diverse methods and styles for learning that allow them to create their own ideas when gathering and disseminating information in and outside of the classroom (Seatter, 2003).
While most people associated learning with formal learning, informal learning is an every-day occurrence that occurs in the way of experimentation and continuous improvement, something that teachers engage in every day as they adapt programs to meet the needs of a new and diverse student population, that includes culturally diverse students with language barriers, varying cultures, and different learning styles (Phillips, 2003). Phillips (2003) notes that it is a complex interactions that includes particular methods of instruction combined with differing environments over time, something that is never static, always dynamic in nature. When one looks closely, education in general is a very spontaneous thing, because the manner in which students learn and teachers teach is ever evolving, making it informal more often than formal in many cases. Educational reform of the future is much more likely to focus on information methods of instruction that will engage students and enable teachers to more radically implement informal methods of learning especially for students that are faced with a dynamically changing living and global work environment.
iii) Opportunities for formal learning. What type of formalized professional development opportunities is identified to increase educator knowledge in middle schools?
There are many different professional development opportunities currently available to increase educator knowledge in middle schools. Among these include Laboratory schools and K-12 schools that are run like a university which enable teachers by serving as a research facility and as a teacher prep program (Frey, 2011). These schools sometimes experience a downside however, as they become less connected to the community at large; partnerships between the schools and the community can limit this isolation. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) publishes standards for Professional Development Schools that center on five elements for success which include accountability, equity, diversity, collaboration, resources and roles (NCATE, 2001; Frey, 2002). A decent program will incorporate elements of practice that include research, "inquiry-based practices, learning grounded in research" and the school as an "instrument of change" (Frey, 2002).
Some schools have experienced isolation as their professional development programs have been internal rather than linked to a formal university. This is likely to change as professional development programs become increasingly prominent and more widespread throughout the country.
iv) To what extent (if at all) are local, regional, state, and national influences derailing public school's efforts at building a learning community? What can a leader to offset any negative external influences, promote positive influences, and assure that deep organizational learning is allowed to flourish in a middle school?
Phillips (2003) notes that oftentimes teacher feel that "conventional district or campus training programs do not meet their needs" (p.241). This may be in part because there is little follow up or inadequate challenging training associated with many of these programs. Many pre-designed programs are defined as "fragmented" and put together merely as a method of procedures, not to really reform and adapt learning to cultural difference, styles, classes, families, communities and the gender differences that affect learning styles (Phillips, 2003).
There are many other possible avenues for derailing public school's efforts at building a learning community, including lack of funding, and a misunderstanding between educators and parents regarding the purpose of a learning community. It is important that local, regional and other influences work with educators to disseminate information to parents regarding the positive benefits of creating a learning community. Many parents and educators approach change with fear. When the benefits of a PLC are highlighted, and parents are involved in the change process, such changes are less likely to be met with fear, and more likely to be met with enthusiasm and excitement.
v) To what degree does a professional learning community (PLC) function effectively in a middle school? Describe what might be some improved outcomes from implementing a PLC model.
Empirical evidence suggest that a professional learning community functions very well in a middle school that is open to a diverse learning environment depending on the extent of student, teacher, family and administrative involvement and eagerness to participate (Phillips, 2003; Haycock, Herald, & Huang, 2001). It also may depend on funding and support at the local, regional and national level. Any programs costs money to implement, and funding is a problem for academic programs as much as it is for professional learning programs and supplemental development programs.
Support and utility, as well as success largely impact efficiently and effectiveness of any…