Building Successful Learning Communities

Building Successful Learning Communities and the TPEP/Danielson Model

By Matt Duchow

Building Successful Learning Communities in the Classroom (BSLC) is a carefully sequenced and skillfully framed, paced and debriefed method, or four-step process, used to develop a classroom environment that fosters engagement in learning. The BSLC method creates a classroom environment that is physically and emotionally safe for the student and promotes academic risk-taking. The concepts and techniques of BSLC can be easily adapted to build a strong professional learning community among school personnel as well.

The BSLC steps are:

    • Warm-up, Ground Rules, Get to Know You Activities – designed to break the ice and help students get to know each other including:
      • Full Value Contract – behavioral agreement among the group
      • Challenge By Choice – all are expected to participate, but none are forced
    • Deinhibitizer – activities designed to help students become less self-conscience and willing to try things in front of classmates.
    • Trust – activities designed to create trust in and among the students so that they will support each other’s academic efforts and to encourage academic risk-taking.
    • Group Problem-Solving – opportunities for students to work together to solve problems and achieve tasks that they cannot solve or achieve on their own. In this step students learn to work effectively with others and hopefully generalize those skills to situations outside the classroom.

The BSLC method can be applied to almost all areas of the TPEP/Danielson Model. Below is a table describing the application of BSLC to portions of the TPEP for which it is particularly applicable. Those portions include:

  • Criterion 1: Centering instruction on high expectations for student achievement.
    • 2b: Establishing a Culture for Learning
    • 3a: Communicating with Students
    • 3c: Engaging Students in Learning
  • Criterion 2: Demonstrating effective teaching practices.
    • 3b: Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques
  • Criterion 3: Recognizing individual student learning needs and developing strategies to address those needs.
    • 3e: Demonstrating Flexibility and Responsiveness
  • Criterion 5: Fostering and managing a safe, positive learning environment.
    • 2a: Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport
    • 2c: Managing Classroom Procedures
    • 2d: Managing Student Behavior
    • 2e: Organizing Physical Space
  • Criterion 8: Exhibiting collaborative and collegial practices focused on improving instructional practice and student learning.
    • 4d: Participating in a Professional Community
    • 4e: Growing and Developing Professionally
    • 4f: Showing Professionalism

o  Student Growth 8.1: Establish Team Student Growth Goal(s)

Criterion 1: Centering instruction on high expectations for student achievement.

2b: Establishing a Culture for Learning

Teacher Rating

Building Successful Learning Communities (BSLC) Application


Proficient
Distinguished

The classroom culture is a cognitively busy place where learning is valued by all, with high expectations for learning being the norm for most students.

The teacher conveys that with hard work students can be successful.

Students understand their role as learners and consistently expend effort to learn.

Classroom interactions support learning and hard work.


The classroom culture is a cognitively vibrant place, characterized by a shared belief in the importance of learning.

The teacher conveys high expectations for learning by all students and insists on hard work.

Students assume responsibility for high quality by initiating improvements, making revisions, adding detail, and/or helping peers.


The BSLC model follows a four-step process designed to move a classroom full of students from a point where they do not know each other and may be disengaged learners to the point where the students are familiar and comfortable with each other and their teacher.

Through the process students learn the importance of high academic expectations and rigor and how to push themselves academically and socially.

Students build trust with classmates, as well as develop group problem-solving skills, to the point that they are willing to take academic risks and work effectively with classmates.


 

Criterion 1: Centering instruction on high expectations for student achievement.

3a: Communicating with Students

Teacher Rating 

Building Successful Learning Communities (BSLC) Application 


Proficient
Distinguished

The teacher clearly communicates instructional purpose of the lesson, including where it is situated within broader learning, and explains procedures and directions clearly.

Teacher’s explanation of content is well scaffolded, clear and accurate, and connects with students’ knowledge and experience.

During the explanation of content, the teacher invites student intellectual engagement.

Teacher’s spoken and written language is clear and correct and uses vocabulary appropriate to the students’ ages and interests.

 

 


The teacher links the instructional purpose of the lesson to student interests; the directions and procedures are clear and anticipate possible student misunderstanding.

The teacher’s explanation of content is thorough and clear, developing conceptual understanding through artful scaffolding and connecting with students’ interests.

Students contribute to extending the content and help explain concepts to their classmates.

The teacher’s spoken and written language is expressive, and the teacher finds opportunities to extend students’ vocabularies.

 


During the first step of the BSLC process (warm-up/get to know you) the teacher and students engage in activities that, in part, identify student interests.

Throughout the process effective communication methods are introduced and practiced.

During the group problem-solving step students engage in activities that enhance their communication skills and their ability to recognize varying ways that different classmates communicate most effectively.

Students learn to communicate with each other in ways that can help them clarify content concepts for each other.


 

Criterion 1: Centering instruction on high expectations for student achievement.

3c: Engaging Students in Learning

Teacher Rating 

Building Successful Learning Communities (BSLC) Application
Proficient
Distinguished

The learning tasks and activities are aligned with the instructional outcomes and designed to challenge student thinking, the result being that most students display active intellectual engagement with important and challenging content and are supported in that engagement by teacher scaffolding.

The pacing of the lesson is appropriate, providing most students the time needed to be intellectually engaged.

 

 

 


Virtually all students are intellectually engaged in challenging content through well-designed learning tasks and suitable scaffolding by the teacher and fully aligned with the instructional outcomes.

In addition, there is evidence of some student initiation of inquiry and of student contribution to the exploration of important content.

The pacing of the lesson provides students the time needed to intellectually engage with and reflect upon their learning and to consolidate their understanding.

Students may have some choice in how they complete tasks and may serve as resources for one another.

The BSLC model incorporates methods (GRABBS among others) for reading students to determine student engagement and when it is most beneficial to move the lesson along or move to a new step or topic.

Methods are also implemented that help students learn to, and feel comfortable with, inquiry and exploration of content.

Teachers use a variety of debriefing strategies that encourage and enhance reflection on learning as well as teach students how to use a group process for reflection on learning and accessing each other as resources.

During the teacher facilitated group problem-solving step, students practice making choices regarding strategies and possible solutions. Students serve as resources for one another as they work through the group problem-solving process.

 

 

 


 

Criterion 2: Demonstrating effective teaching practices.

3b: Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques

Teacher Rating 

Building Successful Learning Communities (BSLC) Application
Proficient
Distinguished

Although the teacher may use some low-level questions, he or she asks the students questions designed to promote thinking and understanding.

Teacher creates a genuine discussion among students, providing adequate time for students to respond and stepping aside when appropriate.

Teacher successfully engages most students in the discussion, employing a range of strategies to ensure that most students are heard.

Teacher uses a variety or series of questions or prompts to challenge students cognitively, advance high-level thinking and discourse, and promote metacognition.

Students formulate many questions, initiate topics, and make unsolicited contributions.

Students themselves ensure that all voices are heard in the discussion.

The BSLC model incorporates methods for teachers and students to use open-ended questioning techniques to enhance student exploration and understanding of content.

The ability of students to engage in effective group discussion without teacher intervention is developed primarily through the trust and group problem-solving steps.

Students develop the skills along with a level of trust among themselves that enables them to engage actively in discussion, initiate higher order questioning and invite input from classmates.

 

Criterion 3: Recognizing individual student learning needs and developing strategies to address those needs.

3e: Demonstrating Flexibility and Responsiveness

Teacher Rating 

Building Successful Learning Communities (BSLC) Application 


Proficient
Distinguished

Teacher promotes the successful learning of all students, making minor adjustments as needed to instruction plans and accommodating student questions, needs, and interests.

Drawing on a broad repertoire of strategies, the teacher persists in seeking approaches for students who have difficulty learning.

Teacher seizes an opportunity to enhance learning, building on a spontaneous event or student interests, or successfully adjusts and differentiates instruction to address individual student misunderstandings.

Teacher persists in seeking effective approaches for students who need help, using an extensive repertoire of instructional strategies and soliciting additional resources from the school or community.

Teachers trained in the BSLC method sequence activities, and change scenarios through skillful activity framing, creating “teachable moments” and/or opportunities for spontaneous events to occur so that they can enhance students’ learning through novel events that the teacher carefully debriefs with the students to cement the learning.

 

Criterion 5: Fostering and managing a safe, positive learning environment.

2a: Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport

Teacher Rating 

Building Successful Learning Communities (BSLC) Application 


Proficient
Distinguished

Teacher-student interactions are friendly and demonstrate general caring and respect. Such interactions are appropriate to the ages of the students.

Students exhibit respect for the teacher. Inter- actions among students are generally polite and respectful.

Teacher responds successfully to disrespectful behavior among students. The net result of the interactions is polite and respectful, but impersonal.

Classroom interactions among the teacher and individual students are highly respectful, reflecting genuine warmth and caring and sensitivity to students as individuals.

Students exhibit respect for the teacher and contribute to high levels of civil interaction between all members of the class. The net result of interactions is that of connections with students as individuals.

The BSLC method is especially useful in creating a classroom environment of respect and rapport. During the first step (warm-up, ground rules, get to know you) activities are designed and sequenced to foster respectful interactions as students become familiar with each other. During both the first step and the second (deinhibitizer) step students and teacher become more comfortable with each other and find connections with each other. The trust building step results in a high level of respect and trust among classroom members to the point that all interactions are appropriate and largely supportive of others. Group problem-solving provides opportunities to successfully practice the respectful interactions in situations that could potentially produce conflict.

 

Criterion 5: Fostering and managing a safe, positive learning environment.

2c: Managing Classroom Procedures

 Teacher Rating

Building Successful Learning Communities (BSLC) Application 


Proficient
Distinguished

There is little loss of instructional time because of effective classroom routines and procedures.

The teacher’s management of instructional groups and the handling of materials and sup- plies are consistently successful.

With minimal guidance and prompting, students follow established classroom routines.

Instructional time is maximized because of efficient classroom routines and procedures.

Students contribute to the management of instructional groups, transitions, and the handling of materials and supplies.

Routines are well understood and may be initiated by students.

An important aspect of the BSLC method is the establishment of consistent routines and transition protocol. During the warm-up, ground rules, get to know you step routines and transition protocol are introduced by the teacher and practiced by the class. During the following steps the routines and transition protocols are practiced. As part of the trust and group problem-solving steps, in particular, students develop their own routines and transitions as they work together to become a cohesive and efficient group.

 

Criterion 5: Fostering and managing a safe, positive learning environment.

2d: Managing Student Behavior

 Teacher Rating

Building Successful Learning Communities (BSLC) Application
Proficient
Distinguished

Student behavior is generally appropriate.

The teacher monitors student behavior against established standards of conduct.

Teacher response to student misbehavior is consistent, proportionate, respectful to students, and effective.

Student behavior is entirely appropriate.

Students take an active role in monitoring their own behavior and that of other students against standards of conduct.

Teachers’ monitoring of student behavior is subtle and preventive.

Teacher’s response to student misbehavior is sensitive to individual student needs and respects students’ dignity.

During the first step of the BSLC method the classroom teacher facilitates the development of a Full Value Contract or set of group norms. Students actively participate in developing their own behavioral guidelines so that they “buy-in” and in the process learn to respectfully monitor each other’s behavior. Throughout the BSLC process the teacher refers to the group norms as needed. In my 20+ years of leading groups through this process every group has chosen to include being respectful in their group norms or contract, so by design this creates a respectful and dignified environment.

 

Criterion 5: Fostering and managing a safe, positive learning environment.

2e: Organizing Physical Space

 Teacher Rating

Building Successful Learning Communities (BSLC) Application 


Proficient
Distinguished

The classroom is safe, and learning is accessible to all students; teacher ensures that the physical arrangement is appropriate to the learning activities.

Teacher makes effective use of physical resources, including computer technology.

The classroom is safe, and learning is accessible to all students, including those with special needs.

Teacher makes effective use of physical resources, including computer technology. The teacher ensures that the physical arrangement is appropriate to the learning activities.

Students contribute to the use or adaptation of the physical environment to advance learning.

One of the “non-negotiables” (must be included) in every Full Value Contract or set of group norms in the BSLC method is safety (physical and emotional). Students are initially taught about safety and then quickly develop the ability to monitor their own physical and emotional safety as well as that of the rest of the group. Students become responsible for assessing the physical surroundings as well as the language and behavior required in order to create and maintain a safe learning environment. Students learn to make note of, and make adjustments for other student’s special needs in a respectful way.

 

Criterion 8: Exhibiting collaborative and collegial practices focused on improving instructional practice and student learning.

4d: Participating in a Professional Community

Teacher Rating 

Building Successful Learning Communities (BSLC) Application

Proficient
Distinguished

Teacher’s relationships with colleagues are characterized by mutual support and cooperation; teacher actively participates in a culture of professional inquiry.

Teacher volunteers to participate in school events and in school and district projects, making a substantial contribution.

Teacher’s relationships with colleagues are characterized by mutual support and cooperation, with the teacher taking initiative in assuming leadership among the faculty.

Teacher takes a leadership role in promoting a culture of professional inquiry.

Teacher volunteers to participate in school events and district projects making a substantial contribution, and assuming a leadership role in at least one aspect of school or district life.

Teachers trained in the BSLC method who practice the method in their classrooms see the significant positive results in their students and easily recognize that the same concepts can effectively and powerfully apply to any group including groups of professional educators. The BSLC method provides a means for developing relationships within professional learning communities characterized by mutual support and cooperation. A working atmosphere conducive to the development of a culture of professional inquiry (akin to the classroom environment promoting academic risk-taking) is developed.

 

Criterion 8: Exhibiting collaborative and collegial practices focused on improving instructional practice and student learning.

4e: Growing and Developing Professionally

 Teacher Rating

Building Successful Learning Communities (BSLC) Application

Proficient
Distinguished

Teacher seeks out opportunities for professional development to enhance content knowledge and pedagogical skill.

Teacher welcomes feedback from colleagues —either when made by supervisors or when opportunities arise through professional collaboration.

Teacher participates actively in assisting other educators.

Teacher seeks out opportunities for professional development and makes a systematic effort to conduct action research.

Teacher seeks out feedback on teaching from both supervisors and colleagues.

Teacher initiates important activities to contribute to the profession.

The BSLC method provides a means for developing relationships within professional learning communities characterized by mutual support and cooperation. A working atmosphere conducive to the development of a culture of professional inquiry (akin to the classroom environment promoting academic risk-taking) is developed. Given this kind of safe professional community teachers readily seek feedback from supervisors and colleagues as well as initiate activities that contribute to the profession.

 

Criterion 8: Exhibiting collaborative and collegial practices focused on improving instructional practice and student learning.

4f: Showing Professionalism

 Teacher Rating

Building Successful Learning Communities (BSLC) Application

Proficient
Distinguished

Teacher displays high standards of honesty, integrity, and confidentiality in interactions with colleagues, students, and the public.

Teacher is active in serving students, working to ensure that all students receive a fair opportunity to succeed.

Teacher maintains an open mind in team or departmental decision making.

Teacher complies fully with school and district regulations.


Teacher takes a leadership role with colleagues and can be counted on to hold to the highest standards of honesty, integrity, and confidentiality.

Teacher is highly proactive in serving students, seeking out resources when needed.

Teacher makes a concerted effort to challenge negative attitudes or practices to ensure that all students, particularly those traditionally under- served, are honored in the school.

Teacher takes a leadership role in team or departmental decision making and helps ensure that such decisions are based on the highest professional standards.

Teacher complies fully with school and district regulations, taking a leadership role with colleagues.

The BSLC method, when applied to professional learning communities, creates an environment where all teachers can have an opportunity to take a leadership role and can be counted upon to hold to the highest standards of honesty, integrity and confidentiality. These concepts are typically woven into the group established norms. The safe environment created, along with the group norms, provides an atmosphere conducive to challenging negative attitudes and practices. The safe environment also promotes an open-minded attitude during the decision making process.

 

Criterion 8: Exhibiting collaborative and collegial practices focused on improving instructional practice and student learning.

Student Growth 8.1: Establish Team Student Growth Goal(s)

Teacher Rating 

Building Successful Learning Communities (BSLC) Application 


Proficient
Distinguished

Consistently and actively collaborates with other grade, school, or district team members to establish goal(s), to develop and implement common, high quality measures, and to monitor growth and achievement during the year.

Leads other grade, school, or district team members to establish goal(s), to develop and implement common, high-quality measures, and to monitor growth and achievement during the year.

After the members of a professional learning have moved through the trust and group problem-solving stages of the BSLC method, an environment is created conducive to cooperation among district team members. This environment facilitates the establishment of common goals and high quality measures.

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