This post was inspired by:

CHEYENNE HIGH SCHOOL: Principal wants to create smaller learning communities
By James Haug, Las Vegas Review-Journal

First of all, I am a proponent of Smaller Learning Communities (SLC’s), in general. In fact, I am a proponent for what I call a MLC or a Micro Learning Community, a concept that is built into a number of the improvement models that I have developed for districts and schools.

As a proponent, I know that most SLC’s (as they are actually implemented) are organized to meet adult needs. As such, unfortunately they have little impact on the academic needs of students. I also know that SLC’s are not the silver bullet.

How do I know this? There are two reasons actually. First, lots of personal field based observations in multiple settings in multiple states. Second, if SLC’s were the silver bullet, then there would be very few struggling rural schools, and this is not the case.

However, if implemented properly, a SLC can be a very powerful tool. Here are some other things I know about SLC’s:

They come in a variety of configurations – theme, horizontal, vertical, and ability based have made up the bulk of what I have observed. All have strengths and weaknesses. Here is how I rank them.

# 4: Ability Based – In my opinion, the weakest of the common SLC models. The idea is to put all the “smart” students in one group, the “slow” students in another group and the rest of the students in a middle group. The biggest proponents of this arrangement are the parents and teachers of the “smart” students. In the long run, this arrangement weakens the entire school. Performance issues are blamed on the “slow” group and changes in instructional practice are slow to occur because the “smart” group generally does well with any kind of instruction.

# 3: Horizontal – Can be useful if staffed correctly. The major problems are two-fold. First, if the staff for the lower grades are primarily the new and weak teachers, then you have created a situation where your weakest students receive the least enriched instruction. Second, if the staff doesn’t follow the students from grade to grade (even if it is for one year), then the relationship building benefits of the SCL are diminished.

# 2: Theme Based – Numerous successful examples. There are some significant issues that must be thought through and addressed before implementation. Some of these include: how many themes; how will the theme strands be staffed; how will unequal enrollment be dealt with; and can, how often and when can students change their mind and transfer to a different SLC. If you don’t have good answers to the proceeding questions, then you are setting your school up for failure.

#1: Vertical – My personal favorite and the model that I have used the most. I think it is the most flexible model, creates the most diverse micro educational environments and can be implemented almost immediately.

In closing, if your campus has more than 400 students then I highly recommend exploring the SLC concept. Done correctly, it will improve campus relationships, increase sense of purpose, increase personal accountability and improve student performance.

If your campus is considering SLC’s, feel free to contact me.

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