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​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Investing in Our Exceptional Teachers


Betheny Lyke, Ed.D. Director, Illinois Center for School Improvement


I am so grateful that we once again had Dr. Anthony Muhammad speak to us at our Research Forum on February 8. As a follow-up, Dr. Muhammad has provided us with a few thoughts for our monthly newsletter. In his column, Dr. Muhammad will share with us ways that we can provide the type of leadership that creates "a shared knowledge" to improve adult practice.

Let's take a moment to reflect on the mission of Illinois CSI: "To lead the delivery of a high-quality, research-based statewide system of support services designed to raise student performance by increasing district-level capacity for exceptional teaching and learning."

I have added the emphasis here to show that an important component of transformative change is ensuring that those who work with our students every day—teachers and staff—have the capacity to help drive school improvement efforts. With ongoing training, professional development, and support, teachers will have the knowledge and skills to be effective in the classroom and to participate in continuous improvement processes.

We want our districts to have more than "good enough" teachers, or even great teachers. We are striving forexceptional teachers, and it is our job to provide them with the leadership that builds their capacity to be exceptional. We as Illinois CSI staff members and school administrators can accomplish this by providing teachers with opportunities to learn best practices, and then by giving teachers the coaching and feedback that enables them to successfully apply those best practices in the classroom.

This is more than just having teachers go to a training once a year. As Dr. Muhammad will explain in this newsletter, building shared knowledge is an ongoing process that can include training and mentoring, as well as providing the tools needed to practice exceptional teaching.

Exceptional leadership, exceptional teachers, exceptional results.


Betheny Lyke, Ed.D.

Collective Inquiry and Building Shared Knowledge
Anthony Muhammad, PhD

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One of the factors that makes the Professional Learning Communities (PLC) at Work model unique is the emphasis on building shared knowledge and professional capacity of practitioners. The traditional school model featured individual development, whereas the PLC model supports collective development. In fact, one of the key principles of the model is that learning for educators is the key to improving student learning (DuFour, DuFour, Baker, & Many, 2016). One of the most important responsibilities of a school leader is to invest in the capacity of those who influence student learning. In the PLC process, we call this activity collective inquiry.

A central theme in my literature has been that "If people don't know better, they can't do better." In the book The Will to Lead, The Skill to Teach,

Group Picture

I emphasize that the essence of leadership is the ability to use leadership influence to improve professional practice and productivity (Hollie and Muhammad, 2011). Leadership is a balance of support and accountability. Effective leaders recognize that accountability is ethical and useful only if a leader first provides his/her subordinates with all that they need to have a reasonable opportunity to be successful. One critical need of a professional is access to powerful and relevant learning opportunities.

In my experience as both a school leader and a consultant, I have observed several different, effective methods to address this critical need without adding more time-consuming obligations for teachers.

  1. Integrate a short article for a team to review and discuss during collaborative time after reviewing data on a learning standard for which all the team members struggled to generate desirable outcomes.
  2. Use aggregate student achievement data to design a professional development plan based upon evidence of student gaps in learning essential standards.
  3. Arrange for a group of teachers to observe another teacher who has been highly successful at moving large numbers of students to mastery on a particular standard or topic.
  4. Use technology to allow a teacher access to a video or live stream of another educator teaching an essential standard through which he/she is trying to improve pedagogy and student results.
  5. Gather a team and visit a school that has created a system or strategy that your staff has been trying unsuccessfully to address.

Jean M. Neal, Superintendent, Georgetown-Ridge Farm CUSD 4

In a world that is growing more interconnected and competitive every day, it is more critical than ever that we ensure that our children have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to have a fighting chance to thrive in this environment. This reality means that consistent, job-embedded professional development for educators is not a luxury; it is a necessity. School leaders must have the courage to break down the walls of isolation, not just in professional practice but also in professional learning. If we learn together, we grow together. A school cannot be a PLC without professional learning.


DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Baker, R., & Many, T. (2016). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work, 3rd edition. Bloomington, IN, Solution Tree Press.


Hollie, S., and Muhammad, A. (2011). The will to lead, the skill to teach: Transforming schools at every level. Bloomington, IN. Solution Tree Press.



The Story of Us: A Journey Toward Sustainable Continuous Improvement

Mary Havis, Superintendent, Berwyn South School District 100

Berwyn South School District 100's continuous improvement journey with Illinois CSI started last year, beginning with the intentional data review (IDR), which included a root cause analysis. After identifying areas for improvement, the district began to create stronger teams at all levels and planning action steps and monitoring practices. Throughout the process of creating the District Improvement Plan (DIP), our journey was with all district staff, board members, and the community. The District Leadership Team shared progress updates with stakeholders at institute days, building meetings, and board meetings, with opportunities for all to provide feedback during planning.

In December, administrators and teachers presented the official district plan to the school board, and we were pleased to finally share district goals with families and the community in January. The team identified goals for increasing student achievement in literacy, mathematics, and language acquisition and for improving communication across buildings and with our parents and community. This year, work toward achieving these goals includes curriculum development in English language arts, mathematics, and dual language; professional development in data usage, goal conferencing, and instructional best practices; and development of a staffing plan for programs for English learners (ELs). By working through the IDR, we were able refine our DIP to create measurable goals and worthy targets as noted below:

Goal 1: By 2018–19, student achievement will increase in literacy and mathematics by at least 10% as measured by state and local assessments.

  • By 2018–19, all teachers will implement a district aligned curriculum.
  • By 2018–19, teachers will use districtwide common assessments.
  • The district will analyze assessment data to drive instruction.

Goal 2: By 2018–19, students in language acquisition programs will have an increase of 5%, on average, to above average growth in reading, writing, and composite scores as measured by language acquisition assessments.

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By 2018–19, the district will implement EL programs that are equitable to fit the needs of students across the district.

By 2018–19, staff will implement a districtwide curriculum in which the WIDA standards are embedded.

Berwyn South School District 100 continued its journey with Illinois CSI at the District Leadership Team Learning Network training in January. The opportunity to communicate with colleagues from other districts and have thoughtful conversations regarding our current practices allowed the District Leadership Team (DLT) to establish specific goals for strengthening the culture of data use in the district. The team highlighted data practices currently in place in the district and identified areas for improvement, including establishing and communicating clear data use guidelines, focusing on creating a culture of supportive accountability, and developing more consistent practices across all eight schools in the district. Although our journey toward a systematic, continuous improvement process is still ongoing, Berwyn South School District 100 is confident that our collaborative effort with Illinois CSI will help us sustain an integrated, cyclical, and continuous improvement plan that ultimately will lead to reaching our district goals.

We Love Data: Illinois CSI Hosts a Second Series of District Leadership Team Learning Networks for Districts Receiving Focus Services

In January and February, Illinois CSI held a second District Leadership Team Learning Networks (DLTLN) series for districts receiving Focus Services. District leadership team members attended one of four sessions held in Matteson, Naperville, Springfield, and Mount Vernon for a full day of networking, reflection, and planning. The day's theme centered on strengthening and sustaining intentional data systems. Team members analyzed and discussed evidence-based practices to strengthen the culture, as well as the usefulness and management of data across the districts. Districts prioritized specific practices and made connections to how those practices could support their improvement plans. Attendees had time throughout the day to engage in collaborative conversations and problem solving with their district teammates, colleagues from other districts, and Illinois CSI staff.

Here are some comments from attendees:

We talked about how we're going to use data, where we're getting it from, and how to use it more effectively than we have been. I think it was really beneficial to get that opportunity to speak with people from other districts and have some takeaways as to what we're going to do and what our first step is going to be when we go back. We're going to start spreading the word about what we learned today so that everyone knows we are in this thing together.

— Melissa Campbell, Teacher, Calumet City SD 155

I usually enjoy our CSI get-togethers because it brings us together as a district leadership team and also gives us an opportunity to work with other districts that are going through the same process that we're going through. Being away from the building gives us a chance to really think. This process is great because we get to hear each other's voices and because our team represents different positions. Our next steps are taking it back to two different places. One, we're going to first take it to our administrative team. Then, we'll also take it back to our district leadership team, which also includes teachers. From there, it will trickle back to our individual buildings and teaching staff. That way it trickles down and then hopefully will trickle back up.

— Carolyn Franklin, Principal, Dolton SD 149

My overall impression of the day is very positive. I appreciated the time that my leadership team had to collaborate with each other and also hear from other districts. Today was an affirmation that the actions my leadership teams are engaged in are moving us in the right direction.

 — Dr. Donna Leak, Superintendent, Community Consolidated Schools District 168

The event today was excellent. It gave us a way to really dive deep into our district plan and to learn about what other districts are doing. My key takeaway is that we must be intentional about our data system so that we can have a systematic change that will drive transformation in our school and in our district.

— Sarah Kilgore, Principal, Bellwood SD 88

I thought the day was a very good use of time to collaborate with people from outside of my district and then people with my district. I thought it offered rich conversation and helped bring me clarity. That conversation with people outside my district really helped go back to the people that I work with every day and address the things that we haven't talked about.

— Leah O'Donnell, Literacy Coach, Berwyn SD 100


Tools and Resources

Your Guide to the Every Students Succeeds Act

American Institutes for Research has recently launched a new webpage called the ESSA Co-Pilot. This page provides users with valuable information and resources relating to the Every Students Succeeds Act. You can find the page at


Principal Action Plan for ESSA

Principals' crucial voices are needed in ESSA planning. To support and guide principals in this process, the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and Center on Great Teachers and Learners (GTL Center) collaborated to develop a new interactive tool on the concept of a well-rounded and complete education in ESSA. In the tool, principals will find actionable talking points to use with their states and districts to promote a well-rounded and complete education model in the following areas:

  • Standards and Assessments
  • Accountability
  • School Improvement
  • District Title I Plans and Resources
  • Professional Support for Educators
  • Student Supports and Academic Enrichment
  • High-Quality Early Learning


The tool also offers broader suggestions and resources for engaging and communicating with state and district leaders around ESSA. 

You can find the tool at


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March 1, 2017

Principals Summit

Bloomington, IL

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