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TNLI: Action Research: Professional Development: Henry Higgins High School Professional Learning Community: A Systematic Approach to Learning for Students, Teachers, and Our School

Research Summary

Henry Higgins High School became interested in the notion of professional learning communities as a means of increasing levels of learning for a highly diverse population of over 1,300 students. Faced with increasing accountability demands and a desire to improve, the staff at Higgins voted to change the school schedule at the start of the 2003-04 school year in ways designed to provide more time for staff and student learning. Those structural changes have led to new learning that has resulted in an approach that reflects Higgins’ conception of a professional learning community. The research team, composed of an administrator and two teacher leaders, explored the impact of the school’s approach to building a professional learning community on learning for both students and teachers.

Our research question asks:
How has Higgins’ professional learning community’s focus on the LOOP, our systematic approach to learning, impacted on learning for all as evidenced by high stakes testing results and local assessments?

  • The research question is addressed by presenting the following information:
  • The research base for professional learning communities
  • The Henry Higgins High School approach to professional learning communities which we have labeled the LOOP
  • Two examples of how the LOOP has impacted on learning
  • Findings and conclusion based on the two LOOP examples

After a focused literature review of the relevant research that has led to conceptions of professional learning communities (PLC), the researchers detail the Higgins’ definition of a PLC that describes the way students and school staff come together to learn. At regular and frequent meetings, the staff interactively reflects on their work with students, assesses its value in meeting student learning goals, and identifies strengths and weaknesses in both student learning and their own learning. Borrowing from the work of the Eaker, DuFour, and Burnette (2002), Higgins constructed a graphic called the LOOP that systematically addresses four key learning questions: What do we want students to learn? How will we know if they have learned it? What does the data reveal? What are we going to do if they do not learn?

Using the LOOP, Higgins High School staff has discovered that they are in the midst of a journey that departs from traditional schooling practices in two fundamental ways. First, Higgins is in a process that calls for new norms of learning, and particularly for new norms of school staff learning. Secondly, Higgins staff proposes collaboration as the chief means to accomplish the goals of the learning community.

The researchers present data collected over a three year period addressing student remediation needs for high-stakes Standards of Learning (SOL) testing, a requirement for graduation in the commonwealth of Virginia. Additionally, the researchers present data collected during the 2004-2005 school year from one English 9 curriculum team that focused on a school wide goal to increase student proficiency in non-fiction writing. Based on their data, the researchers present findings in three interrelated areas: teacher collaboration, process orientation, and assessment of learning.

Teacher Collaboration

  • Common understanding among team members is necessary for clear communication of expectations to students.
  • Collaborative decision making among team members results in increased success for students.
  • Effective collaboration comes from a systematic approach to learning, an approach that addresses all the key elements of learning and such collaboration leads to a cultural shift for faculty learning.

Process Orientation

  • Learning should not be an accident; it should be determined, assessed, and revisited through a systematic approach such as the LOOP.
  • Increasing the frequency of movement through the LOOP increases student achievement.
  • Teachers need structured time to move through the LOOP.

Assessment of Learning

  • Curriculum teaching decisions based on real data lead to informed and strategic improvement in teaching AND in learning for both teachers and students. Thus, data analysis should drive teaching decisions and improvement efforts.

The researchers make three broad policy recommendations as a result of their research in using the LOOP to focus efforts and improve student achievement in both high-stakes standardized assessments and local assessments. First, provide the time for teachers to plan instruction, create common assessments, and analyze the results together. Secondly, provide a systematic approach that addresses all key learning questions, so that teachers maintain awareness of and devote the time to addressing each question. Finally, find ways to articulate the learning that the multiple LOOPs represent to a wider audience; the difficulty in articulating the professional learning community concepts that underpin the Henry Higgins High School LOOP must be overcome if the thinking, and the learning cultural shift, is to become transparent. The notion that teachers must continually learn how to teach their students, a notion at the very heart of a professional learning community, is one not readily accepted by many teachers and administrators nor by the public. Yet, as the LOOP teaches, educators must constantly examine teaching and learning as it impacts an ever-changing student population. Only through this examination and a willingness to adjust teaching can all students truly learn.


Denny Berry Denny.Berry@fcps.edu

Timothy Kane

Jennifer Knox

Research Focus:

TNLI Affiliate:
Fairfax County, VA

Henry Higgins High School

If you would like to learn more about Teachers Network Leadership Institute, please e-mail Kimberly Johnson for more information.



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