Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education
by Peter M. Senge (Editor), Nelda H. Cambron McCabe, Timothy Lucas, Art Kleiner, Janis Dutton, Bryan Smith
by Harry & Rosemary Wong
Special to the Gazette
April 1, 2008
teacher attrition would disappear and student achievement would sky rocket!
Arizona, where 25 percent of the population is Latino, many schools have
low achievement and low graduation rates; yet there are schools performing
well enough to beat the national test-score odds.
The Center for the Future of Arizona published a study, Beat the
Odds: Why Some Schools with Latino Children Beat the Odds . . .
and Others Don’t. The report can be read at www.arizonafuture.org.
The paper cited several schools, including some along the Arizona–Mexico
border, that were doing quite well. The continued success of schools
that were considered high-achieving and the newfound success of schools
that were once labeled underperforming had little to do with funding,
class size, reading programs, parent involvement, or tutoring. In
fact, those attributes were found in high- and under-achieving schools.
The schools that beat the odds had these characteristics:
assessed and reassessed student work.
They used the results to teach and reteach.
They did not stop until they found a way for every student to grasp
L. C. Kennedy School in the Creighton School District in Phoenix,
Arizona, was recognized as one of the schools that beat the odds.
You can understand why when you look and listen to the first grade team.
They are (left to right) Patricia Hicks (team leader), Karen Schnee, Julie
Kunitada, and Jenny Lopez.
When asked how they were able to break the odds and have their
students do so well, they said, “We are ‘experts in the trenches.’”
No whining. No complaining about the students dealt to them.
Rather, their professional attitude reflects their dogged determination
not to let anything stand in the way of their students’ success.
This team teaches English language learners and reports that their success
“comes from evaluating test scores regularly,
adapting our teaching to each student’s needs,
and not giving up until they get it right.”
The emphasis at Kennedy school is on the use of Professional Learning
Communities (PLC). They say, “By meeting weekly, we have created
a learning community of teachers that tackle problems and issues.
Our team is flexible and pliable, stubborn and persistent. We accept
ownership of the children and believe that all children can learn.
goals are to
a safe classroom environment;
give the students something that is meaningful;
break the skill down into small steps so they can feel successful
build on each preceding skill until they reach the expected goal;
practice, practice, practice;
be open to ideas and have conversations.
“Most importantly, we never give up.”
Seamless New Teacher Transition
When she was a new teacher, Julie Kunitada joined the
L. C. Kennedy staff, and the other members of the team brought her up
to speed quickly by reviewing yearly objectives and discussing how to
reach goals. The school did not assign her a mentor. Everyone
in the team, available at all times, was more than her mentor. They
were her teammates.
Julie Kunitada says, “I was not thrown in, but lovingly accepted
into the family.”
most schools, new teachers are given a mentor who typically has no
focus, goals, or mission other than to be available for support and
help. Mentor support is offered but, typically, there
carry-over with the building of teacher capacity from year to
communication with other mentors, and
monitoring of the process by the administration.
Everyone operates in isolation. The money spent on mentoring annually
has never shown results in sustained, improved student learning.
mentoring does not improve student learning. Click here
to see the research.
The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future says in
its publication, Induction into Learning Communities,
think how much money can be saved and how much more effective student
learning would be if a new teacher could seamlessly join an existing
The Key Word Is WE
This past year team leader Patricia Hicks became a literacy coach.
to see the responsibilities of a literacy coach. Patricia
says that she has gone to several conferences and enjoys a learning curve
that moves exponentially in leaps and bounds!! The school
districts pays for and invests in the development of its coaches.
Her responsibility is to go into teachers’ classrooms and informally
observe their teaching and meet with them later to discuss any problems
or successes they have. Patricia says, “I love my new job
and think that I am making a difference with kids.”
Today the best districts coach, not mentor, their new
teachers and place them in learning teams to develop their teachers to
state-specified proficiencies. Click here
to see how this was explained in our February column, “Coaches
Are More Effective than Mentors.”
am a big fan of coaching as a professional-development strategy, especially
when it is combined with learning communities among teachers.”
Patricia continues, “I enjoy working with new teachers. Adrien
Zabriskie replaced me on the grade level team. She is a
first year teacher and soaks up everything I give her. When I suggested
doing a model lesson in her room, she asked if she could tape it and look
at it later. The next day, I heard her use some of the same phrases
that I used in the lesson. What a joy to work with someone like
The members of the first grade team this year are (left to right) Julie
Kunitada, Adrien Zabriskie, Jenny Lopez (team leader), and Karen Schnee.
In many schools in similar communities where the students come from high
poverty families with a high minority enrollment, there is a churn of
teachers and administrators every year and no capacity or culture
Yet, the staff at L. C. Kennedy staff is relatively stable. Why?
Read what Adrien Zabriskie has to say about when she joined the staff.
Then, read Jenny Lopez’s description of her experience when she
became the new team leader.
Starting with Adrien Zabriskie, she comments on her first year
as a teacher, “The team members I work most closely with
hold the profession of teaching and student learning to very high standards.
Student success is at the forefront of every meeting or conversation we
have, and it is always a collaborative effort to come up with ways in
which we can ensure our students will succeed.”
Notice how a new teacher talks because of a culture that exists.
“The key word is WE. I have never once felt like I was going
at this alone. As team members we share ideas, they model many lessons
for me, and I learn something valuable every time.
“I lucked out because the people I work with have great personalities
and I feel comfortable asking them for help. They would do well
in any position because they are hard workers and are always willing to
share ideas or advice. I really have some great models and some
large shoes to fill.”
So, here is a happy and successful brand new teacher. Why?
Teachers are more effective and they find the
work more satisfying
in a team-oriented school environment.
New teachers want to be accepted, to be part of a team, to contribute
to the good of the students. It was easy for Julie and
Adrien and any other future new teacher to slide seamlessly into an existing
team that had goals and a vision of student learning.
The reason the teams are so successful is because they have concrete
assessment tools to work with, instead of fuzzy “reflective conversations.”
During the PLC time the teams look at Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early
Literacy Skills (DIBELS) data. These are a set of standardized,
individually administered measures of early literacy development and are
used to regularly monitor the development of pre-reading and early reading
skills. The teams, with the help of the literacy coaches, look at
the DIBELS test scores and monitor progress to improve instruction.
Seamless Leadership Transition
Jenny Lopez assumed leadership of the first grade team from Patricia
Hicks. Here are Jenny’s observations:
transition wasn’t very difficult because I practically lived through
each decision Patricia made, which helped me tremendously this year.
I learned from her through observation and experiencing hands-on decision
making. You can’t do anything but learn from her.
It makes a tremendous difference to have a qualified, caring colleague,
who wants only for you to feel successful and always teaches you to
analyze before making any decision.
having worked so closely with Patricia in the past, and along with our
principal’s recommendation, I felt confident in taking over the
team leader position. Patricia had complete confidence in me knowing
that I took her advice to heart and always asked questions if I needed
answers. She still continues to help me throughout my career.
tells me, ‘I had a seamless entry in the team because I have been
given all the support and help I need for my first year. This
support comes from my team, Patricia, and the administration.
It has been quite an easy transition.’
departmentalized four years ago. Departmentalizing has allowed
us to put our focus on one specific subject area, which has saved us
quite a bit of planning time. We get more bang for our buck when
the kids and teachers have their mind set on a specific area, without
thinking whether or not they’ll have time to squeeze in math or
PLCs are focused on student learning goals. The teachers
look at student data, not only quarterly, but weekly, to assess for
learning and make adjustments in planning. The result is that
there is student learning. The grade level teams, the reading
support team, and the principal have SMART goals for each quarter.”
(Search the Internet for more on this concept.)
goals that direct learning, the students are assisted by the school
and its learning teams—not just one teacher locked in isolation
in the classroom.”
It’s the team approach to learning that
helps them beat the odds.
This is as opposed to new teachers who teach in isolation and may have
an assigned mentor who comes by once a week to ask, “How can I help
you?” The beginning teacher then returns to the classroom
to teach in isolation. Worse, there is no administrative monitoring
of this vague mentoring process.
Is it any wonder why half of the new teachers leave the profession after
only a few years? In addition, do we see why student learning never
The students and the teachers who fail
are in schools that have no focus and no direction,
whereas schools with coaches and PLCs
have a culture of direction.
The grade-level teams at L. C. Kennedy do not function in isolation.
They communicate with the teams at other grade levels. There
is horizontal and vertical articulation.
The Sixth Grade Team
Meet the members of the sixth grade team at L. C. Kennedy.
They are (left to right) Lisa Jakubisin (team leader), Becky Gustafson,
and new teacher, Jason Bourne.
They are departmentalized and teach math, science, and language
arts respectively to all sixth graders.
They share, “While we have a team leader out of the necessity of
needing a point of contact, our team is founded on mutual respect and
sharing all responsibilities. We have developed a unified bond that
is based on a foundation of respect we feel towards each other as professionals.”
They have developed a common goal. This is how
they describe their team: “We share a philosophical approach
to the monumental task at hand.
“Our task is to cultivate students rich
in character and academic skills.
“To achieve our goal of reaching all students, we have developed
a unified procedural approach to the school day.
“For example, the beginning of each school day starts with all
students lining up, not into individual classes but as a unified grade.
“With each teacher visible, we say the pledge and observe a moment
of silence. This sends a clear message to the students that each
child is our responsibility and we, as their teachers, are unified in
every aspect of their educational process.
“From that point, our students report to their home base for brief
administrative purposes. After this five-minute process, students
begin their rotation through our classes.
“We have, from the first day of school, established procedures
and high academic and social expectations that are consistent in each
classroom. This consistency has created a strong
sense of student accountability. As we have progressed throughout
the year we have sensed the students are following our model of caring,
fairness, responsibility, and citizenship.”
Why the Sixth GradeTeam Succeeds
Good teams—well formed and well led—achieve more
than any individual can. Good teams are able to make optimal
decisions when stressful situations occur. Team members can support
and reinforce one another to do what they could never do on their own.
Teamwork is less stressful.
The sixth grade team shares, “Our team is in constant communication
with each other. This may be a brief student update before class
transition, a working lunch when ideas are discussed, or an after school
formal meeting to review the data of each student.
“Although formally we meet once a week, our team makes it a priority
to informally talk before school and after the students leave to put into
place interventions. This effort has resulted in minimal referrals,
suspensions, and classroom behavioral issues. In addition, our open
lines of communication have resulted in increasing test scores and positive
“Part of the positive classroom experiences have resulted from
a unified teaching approach. While teaching strategies are shared
and presented in a consistent manner, the teachers’ individual personality
help keep these strategies fresh. This too, reflects a philosophy
we share. We believe in team but respect the individuality of each
other and our students.”
A new teacher, Jason Bourne, joined the team this year.
His acculturation was seamless and he was immediately productive
because a team culture existed!
They even said, “We had to stop and think. Although this
is Jason’s first official year of teaching, he does not seem to
be a new team member.
“Jason demonstrates a passion for teaching students and reaching
them as well. His passion is evident in his knowledge, dreams, and
ideas. Jason not only shares with us, but takes our experience,
knowledge, dreams, and ideas and incorporates these into his daily interactions
with the students.”
If every new teacher had this feeling because
of team support,
new teacher attrition would disappear and student achievement
would sky rocket!
A Team with a Collective Dream
The sixth grade team continues, “Our success as a team is also
attributed to this idea: we each have gifts we bring to the table.
In recognizing the individual strengths and respecting our differences
we collectively share a dream. This dream is how we create
a functional family that can effectively face the daily challenges of
education. Our family members are students, parents, peers, and
“Part of our responsibility to the school staff is open communication.
It is important for us to cultivate conversations with the other teams
at the school—vertically and horizontally.
“These conversations are to prepare the students transitioning
to our class as well as from our class.
We share what has been effective for us as a team and listen to ideas
of what is working with the groups being promoted to our care next year.
fact, as a team we are beginning to have pre-planning for how next year
will look. We are gathering data, talking to the teachers, and
presenting ourselves, unified, to the fifth grade students.
“As with every successful group, it is not just our team.
Part of our strength lies in the support we receive from each
member of the faculty, staff, and administration.”
go back and reread how the sixth grade team views itself—in
their own words.
They talk like a team.
They work like a team.
They teach as a team.
The students are the benefactors—and these students probably
would never have had their dreams and potentials fulfilled in a
school without teams.
Look at the great sport teams of today: the football Patriots and
the basketball Pistons. There are no prima donnas, no malcontents.
They win because they talk like a team, work like a team, and play like
a team. It’s so obvious why they win.
It Is So Obvious How to Have Successful Students and Teachers
Decades of research has confirmed what L. C. Kennedy does to foster student
DuFour says, “There is no research that shows that teachers become
more effective by working in isolation.”
Garet says, “Collaboration is the most effective way for teachers
to learn.” Click here
to read more on Garet’s work.
Robert Slavin says, “The idea that people working together toward
a common goal can accomplish more than people working by themselves
is a well-established principle of social psychology.”
Futernick says, “In a team-oriented school environment, teachers
are more effective and they find the work more satisfying. The
one factor that mattered the most to teachers who remain in the profession
was the opportunity they had to participate in decision-making at the
Moore Johnson concurs, “Our work suggests that schools would do
better to rely less on one-on-one mentoring and, instead, develop school-wide
structures that promote the frequent exchange of information and ideas
among novice and veteran teachers.”
Guskey and Michael Huberman say, “The millions of dollars spent
on mentoring programs would be better spent on fostering collegial learning
with existing teams of teachers and the next generation of new teachers.
Teachers working collaboratively will significantly raise their productivity
and quality of their work.”
Center for Teaching Quality says that in high performing schools, teachers
are more likely to work toward a collegial approach to decision making
and are willing to share with one another the needed knowledge and skills
to help students reach high academic standards.
If all of this is known and even common sense, then what’s the
problem? Sabrina Laine, director of the National Comprehensive Center
for Teacher Quality (NCCTQ) says, “There seems to be a chronic inability
or unwillingness for the education system to embrace new ideas, which
is a tragic mismanagement of human capital. Programming new teachers
to a broken and outdated system rather than harnessing their boundless
potential will set education back another decade. Whether or not
educational leaders nurture or negate the ideas of Gen Y teachers will
be a litmus test for their ability to lead to a knowledge-driven economy.”
One of the outdated ideas Sabrina Laine refers to can best be summarized
by Kathleen Fulton and her colleagues at the National Commission on Teaching
and America’s Future, who say, “Unless we move beyond the
traditional one-to-one mentoring model, we will continue to reinforce
the Industrial-era practice of stand-alone teaching in isolated classrooms.”
Very simply, we have a new GenerationY group of teachers.
Today’s new teachers have grown up connected to their peers in unprecedented
ways. They are accustomed to working, learning and playing in teams.
Their lives are built around social networking.
They thrive in environments filled with collegial learning. New
teachers want to observe others, to be observed by others, and to be part
of networks of professional learning communities where all teachers share
together, grow together, learn to respect each other's work, and collaboratively
become leaders together.
One-on-one mentoring, done sporadically and resulting in the
new teacher teaching in isolation, does not work.
An induction program enables new teachers to begin teaching on day one
with the knowledge that they are an integral part of their school.
And it enables them to continue through their tenure contributing to the
knowledge base of both teachers and students.
every new teacher needs upon joining a staff is an existing team that
already has a mission or a set of goals as to what must be done.
The new teacher is briefed on what has been done and what the team members
need to do together to get the job done.
Schools Exist to Help Students Learn
Please review the past two columns. Click here
to read the February column and here
to read the March column.
With this column, these three columns were written for the major
reason schools exist —to help students learn. For
students to learn, hundreds of research studies have shown that the major
factor in student learning is an effective teacher.
You do not produce effective teachers by buying programs, making changes
in the school structure, promoting an ideology, or providing a mentor
with no purposeful academic goals.
You produce effective teachers by training them,
to become more and more effective based on recognized goals and standards.
The more effective the teacher, the more the students will learn.
Sports teams and companies—even non-profits—know this.
A new player is signed. The player joins a TEAM. The team
is initially divided into squads of players who play a specific position.
These squads are given coaches —yes, often more than one—who
have a responsibility, to coach the players to their maximum playing potential.
The players are not given mentors to go and “reflect.”
The coaches meet often with the manager as the players become united
into a functioning team with one purpose—to win games.
Companies do the same. New employees are ushered into a TEAM.
These employees undergo training from the day they are hired to the day
they leave—all for the purpose of developing better and better employees.
The better the employees, the better the company’s productivity.
The more effective schools and school districts have long since discovered
this practice. New teachers are hired and immediately and seamlessly
acculturated into an existing TEAM that has goals, practices, and procedures
in place. Then every member of the team serves as support to the
new teacher with everyone sharing information to enhance the productivity
of the team.
In turn, the school has coaches and these coaches have well defined responsibilities
to help teachers, and the teams produce more effective student learning.
The coaches meet regularly with the administrators,
other coaches with everyone is laser focused on student learning.
If you already have a variation of such a plan in place, please share
it with us. Let us hear from you at HWong@harrywong.com.
Creating a collaborative culture is the single
most important factor
in creating a school’s effectiveness in producing student learning.
Be a Team
We not only want your students to achieve and learn, we want
YOU to succeed. The more support systems there are in place for
you, the chances are you won’t become one of those statistics leaving
the profession before you even begin to realize your potential.
The secret to your survival is not to isolate yourself. Induction
programs bring teachers together. Team centered learning brings
teachers together. If these structures aren’t in place at
your school, then be proactive about it. The Internet is the gateway
for collaboration and learning with teachers far and near. Teachers.net
is a great launching pad for you to begin your journey.
Team up with other educators who are like you, who want to connect and
learn from each other, to help children reach their potential. There
are no excuses for you not to succeed, only opportunities waiting for
you to retrieve.
Have you Googled today? Don’t know where to start?
Try “collaboration” and discover “The Power of We!”
a printable version of this article click
Harry and Rosemary Wong have been writing columns for Teachers.Net for over 13 years and the columns all have a distinctive style. They write about effective teachers, administrators, schools, and school districts featuring techniques that are immediately replicable and at no cost. More importantly, they work to enhance student learning. An archive of past articles can be found at the end of every column, with an abstract of all articles at the end of the most recent June column.
For over 30 years, helping teachers become effective has been the passion of the Wongs. Writing for Teachers.Net is just one of the many ways they reach out to educators with their ideas on how effective teachers improve student learning.
About Harry & Rosemary Wong...
Harry and Rosemary Wong are teachers. Harry is a native of San Francisco and taught middle school and high school science. Rosemary is a native of New Orleans and taught K-8, including working as the school media coordinator and student activity director.
Harry Wong has been awarded the Horace Mann Outstanding Educator Award, the National Teachers Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award, the Science Teacher Achievement Recognition Award, the Outstanding Biology Teacher Award, and the Valley Forge Teacher's Medal. He was selected as one of the most admired people in education by the readers of Instructor magazine. Rosemary was chosen as one of California's first mentor teachers and has been awarded the Silicon Valley Distinguished Woman of the Year Award. She was also honored as a Distinguished Alumnus from her alma maters, Southeastern Louisiana University and Louisiana State University.
Harry and Rosemary have been awarded the Upton Sinclair Award and were nominated for the Brock International Prize in Education. They have built and sustain a school in the jungles of Cambodia.
The Wongs are the most sought after speakers in education today, booked two years into the future. Their presentations are practical, offering a common sense, user-friendly, and no-cost approach to managing a classroom for high-level student success. Over a million teachers worldwide have heard their message. In spite of their heavily booked schedule, Harry and Rosemary have agreed to write this monthly column so that more people can hear their message.
How They Develop Effective Teachers...
Harry and Rosemary Wong are committed to developing effective teachers, one teacher at a time.
To do this, they have formed their own publishing company, of which Rosemary is the CEO.
THE Classroom Management Book is what everyone has been waiting for. It is an exhaustive extension of Unit C on classroom management in The First Days of School.
Turn chaos into student achievement
Reduce behavior issues; increase learning
Step-by-step plans to a well-managed classroom
50 procedures in detail
40 QR codes with additional resources
320 pages in full color
Complete first days of school plans
Suitable for all grades, all subjects, all teachers
Costs no money to implement
How to Be an Effective and Successful Teacheris an audio CD set that was recorded live before 800 teachers in St. Louis. Listen as they walk you through classrooms that hum with learning and share how you can replicate the same success in your classroom. In 2 hours and 40 minutes, Harry and Rosemary can transform you into a very effective and successful teacher at no cost!
This presentation has transformed the lives and teaching success of hundreds of thousands of teachers.Learn how to
Begin the school year with a plan
Start class immediately
Have a well-organized and structured classroom
Reduce discipline problems
Have students who are engaged and working
Teach procedures and responsibility
Maximize classroom instructional time
Use lesson objectives so students know what they are to learn
Use rubrics to assess for student learning
Deal with at-risk students
Improve student learning and achievement
The Wongs have written The First Days of School, the best-selling book ever in education. Over 3.8 million copies have been sold. It is used in 120 countries, 2,114 colleges, and most every new teacher induction program. The fourth edition has been translated into five foreign languages and includes:
An additional chapter on procedures
A new chapter on assessment with rubrics.
A new chapter on Professional Learning Teams
A new chapter for administrators on implementation
Additional information in Going Beyond Folders
A new DVD, Using THE FIRST DAYS OF SCHOOL, presented by Chelonnda Seroyer
The Wongs have also produced the DVD series, The Effective Teacher, winner of the Telly Award for the best educational video of the past twenty years and awarded the 1st place Gold Award in the International Film and Video Festival.
They also have a successful eLearning course, Classroom Management with Harry and Rosemary Wong. The course can be taken in private at the learner's convenience. The outcome of the course is a 2 inch binder with a personalized Classroom Management Action Plan.
This Action Plan is similar to the organized and structured plan used by all effective teachers. Details for the classroom management course can be seen at www.ClassroomManagement.com.
You can hear Harry Wong LIVE on a set of CDs, called
How to Improve Student Achievement, recorded at one
of his many presentations. He invites you to steal from him the secrets of effective teaching for all grade levels.
Never Cease to Learn has the power to transform your
attitude and your life. In this DVD, Harry shares his journey on the road to success and tells listeners how to become the educators they were meant to be.
When the books, video series, CD, DVD, and eLearning course are used together, they form the most effective professional development training tool for producing effective teachers. Staff developers and administrators who would like to know how to implement the aforementioned book, video series, and CD are encouraged to consult the book, New Teacher Induction: How to Train, Support, and Retain New Teachers. Information about these products can be found by visiting the publisher's website at www.HarryWong.com.
Helping you produce effective teachers is our passion.