A Collage of Collective Action at Cottonwood
The professionals at Cottonwood Creek School believe it is a great school. They are unconditionally dedicated to their children, they have a strong faculty, and they remain pleased with and committed to The New Curriculum. It is important to note the gains in student achievement that occurred from 1991 (the year that The New Curriculum was adopted by the Cottonwood Creek School and the development of the professional learning community began) to 1996, when the staff felt TNC and their collaborative work were fully flourishing. In 1991, the school, as indicated by the state's assessment of basic skills, was ranked in the lowest quartile of schools in the school district. In the spring 1996 state assessment tests, the school had moved to the top quartile of the districts' 65 elementary schools.
As noted, the school staff joined together as a professional community of learners, engaging in reflection, assessment, study, and learning about how to make TNC work in their classrooms. The staff at Cottonwood believe they have the capacity to use The New Curriculum and other programs they have adopted in a high-quality way and that students are well served and learn from their delivery of the programs. Since they have a long term commitment to their kids, student learning is the centerpiece of their vision.
The teachers feel that new programs have required their collaboration and coming together to learn as a unit, working their way through new material and processes. Their principal encouraged collective learning, making it clear that expectations were high. Such learning was enabled through arranging time, schedules, and structures to accommodate it.
Again, the principal was active - managing and effectively utilizing resources, monitoring and encouraging efforts. The principal maximized the resources brought by grants, large and small, for the benefit of the students. Further, she gave teachers the freedom and the responsibility for making decisions; she created a climate where this could happen.
As a result of working toward implementation of TNC, faculty shared their ideas and practice. The principal facilitated and encouraged "internal" open house for the faculty where teachers shared successes. Certainly, one element upon which this way of working is built is trust: the principal's trust in the teachers and their reciprocal trust in the principal. But, initially the message that the principal conveyed to the teachers was this: You're hurting, I hear your pain, I care. Clearly, caring, among all of the school organization's constituents - children, teachers, administrators, parents - is what drives this school.