Saturday, March 8, 2008

Professional Learning Communities

Reducing the isolation teachers feel is crucial to doing our job well. Having meaningful professional conversations is crucial for re-enforcing our best work. Finding, supporting, and learning from expert teachers in our own buildings and programs can serve as critical links to enhancing our profession, retaining our teachers, and sustaining a healthy morale.

So why is it so hard to find a PLC that people feel good about?

Why do I get the feeling that teachers see PLCs as bad medicine and would like them to go the way of your average '80s hair band, reduced to the casino circuit? (LIVE at the Medina Ballroom: RATT and DuFours-- Singing their special cover: 'Schmoker in the Boys Room'!)

Why do I think that the concept of PLCs is too important to let this happen?

Judging by the way the wind is blowing the district would like to replace PDPs with PLCs and teachers will merely maliciously comply because they will feel it has being done to them instead of with them and that the PLC work just gets in the way of their real work in meeting the needs to kids.

If that happens, that's too bad. PLCs really are a great idea on paper. I mean that.

They could break down the isolation teachers tend to feel when teaching alone all day, they can help us recognize the expertise we have in our own buildings, they can have many minds trying to solve the same problem so we better meet the needs of our students, and can allow more professional conversations to happen more often.

They could even be a powerful professional development tool for our educational assistants who are charged with incredible professional responsibilities of their own, if they were invited to join a relevant one rather than asked to clean the refrigerator or put up poster paper on our professional development days.

Admitting some 'user error' in implementation, re-introducing them "with fidelity" and asking for a good-old-fashioned-playground do-over could go a long way in creating professional learning communities that we see as helping to meet student needs, rather than in the way of meeting student needs; helping to meet our professional needs, instead of wasting our professional time; discovering expertise among us, instead of assuming we know nothing; and in taking control of our professional learning needs, rather than having professional development done to us.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The "truth" about our statewide health care bill

Tonight I had the opportunity to attend a Senate Commerce committee hearing on Education Minnesota's Statewide Health Care Pool for School Employees bill. This bill would create a statewide pool of 200,000 lives to control health care costs for all school employees across the state.

The St. Paul Federation of Teachers has supported this bill for the last 5 years and a couple of us were there tonight to hear the testimony. The testimony from Education Minnesota president Tom Dooher and a local president were very reflective of the discussions we have had at membership meetings and across St. Paul as we search for a solution to run-away health care costs that are pushing our families out of our pool and teachers out of our district.

However, the testimony that I found most interesting was that in opposition. First, the Minnesota State School Board association spoke against it. They argue that they value local control too much to support a bill that pools our health care costs. Here's the deal: the St. Paul School Board values their local control so much that they voted to authorize entering into a pool of school districts to purchase frozen food at a reduced price because they could better control the cost and get more value for their money. That's right Local 28 members, the school board takes the time to save some money on tater tots, but they have done nothing to ameliorate the insidious cost of family health insurance in our district or in our state. They value local control so much that they hide behind the position of the state school board association rather than researching the bill, talking to teachers and EAs in our district, and taking their own stand.

My next favorite testimony was from the Association of Insurance Underwriters because they took issue with the fact that in creating 6 different health insurance plans to most closely reflect the various plans that currently exist from district to district that one of the plans would be a "Cadillac" plan. This bothered the testifier a great deal because "the industry" is working to move people away from plans that insulate people from the cost of their health care plans. I appreciated his honesty a great deal. We always suspected that "the industry" was doing their best to design less health care for more money, but it was nice to have that confirmed in front of a live, studio audience. Sadly, someone forgot to cue the laugh track. "The industry" had every intention of making sure you feel the pain, just don't try to get affordable medication for it.