Professional Learning Communities

Originally pubilished-Itemizer Observer, 10/3/2007


Guest Column: Michael Blanchard

   Last month, the Dallas School District Board of Directors worked with Superintendent Christy Perry to define her goals for the next year. Typically, the superintendent's goals cover a broad range of topics and often mirror the same goals established by the school board.

   This year, however, we have given her one very critical task: to focus the entire district's attention to increasing student achievement by building a "professional learning community."

   The basic philosophy of a professional learning community is that teachers working in small, focused groups are the single best way to ensure continuous improvement in academic growth. The first step they must take is to narrow down the curriculum that they will teach from the broad national, state, and local standards (which, if taught properly, would take roughly 21 years).

   Teachers define the critical parts of a subject and focus their lessons in the key areas.

   Second, they must develop common methods for assessing student learning progress on these key areas. This will allow teachers to then collaborate on teaching strategies, student learning and the steps the school will take when students do not learn.

   This portion of the work will be ongoing, allowing teachers to constantly adapt their methods to meet the needs of each of the students in their classrooms.

   The transformation is currently under way. Last school year, the high school began an early release program that allowed teachers 45 minutes of dedicated collaborative work time every Monday. This year, early release is district-wide, and each school is busy executing a plan for its staff and students.

   As a board, we will devote considerable amounts of time in our meetings to the successes, and to the challenges that our staff encounter this year. We encourage anyone in our community with an interest to attend a meeting to learn more about the changes in the schools.

   We are extremely excited about the potential that awaits our district. By giving our teachers the time and the tools to collaborate - just as other trained professionals do - they will achieve dramatic results. With hard work, patience and a relentless focus on student learning all of our students can achieve at high levels.
Michael Blanchard is the chairman of the Dallas School Board and has a kindergarten student at Lyle Elementary School. He can be contacted at