Professional Learning Communities at Work – Day 2
(this is part two of a two-day series summarizing training I attended with a team from across the district. For day 1’s recap click here)
It’s really pretty simple, when you think about it. It’s all about the kids. That pretty much sums up what our representatives learned over the past two days.
Today’s session focused on addressing some of the nuts-and-bolts, so to speak, of implementing PLCs. We spent a good deal of time reinforcing the basic concepts we were exposed to yesterday, which was actually really good because it helped us all keep our focus. Here are some key points that will be used to drive discussion over the next several months (perhaps I’ll actually do a blog post on each of these!):
The Big Ideas of a PLC
- We accept learning as the fundamental purpose of our school and therefore are willing to examine all practices in light of their impact on learning;
- We are committed to working together to achieve our collective purpose. We cultivate a collaborative culture though development of high performing teams;
- We assess our effectiveness on the basis of results rather than intentions. Individuals, teams, and schools seek relevant data and information and use that information to promote continuous improvement.
Because PLCs function as a team, we also identified the Seven Keys to Effective Teams:
- Embed collaboration in routine practices of the school with focus on learning (the entire school is a team);
- Schedule time for collaboration into the school day and calendar;
- Focus teams on critical questions;
- Make products of collaboration explicit;
- Establish team norms to guide collaboration;
- Pursue specific and measurable team performance goals (SMART goals);
- Provide teams with frequent access to relevant information.
When you take all that information, you get this basic picture of a PLC: it’s a team who spends time meeting regularly to identify goals for their students and then uses formative assessment to monitor student performance, making adjustments along the way based on the information they receive from those assessments. They also examine the data of these common assessments to look for trends in terms of student performance (who’s weak and strong across the board) as well as teacher performance so teachers can help teachers. It has nothing to do with student or teacher evaluation but with teacher and student growth. The Dufours summed it up this way:
“The heart of work in a PLC is when educators collectively analyze evidence of student learning to (1) inform individual performance practice, (2) improve a team’s ability to achieve it’s SMART goals, and (3) intervene on behalf of individual students. The other steps on the PLC journey (ie, identifying essential goals, establishing norms, creating common formative assessments, etc), are designed to help teams engage in this essential work.”
What educator couldn’t agree that this “vision” for PLCs isn’t the exact same vision we have for our schools in general? Doesn’t every decent educator strive to do the best they can to help the students do the best they can? That’s what PLCs are all about. We’ve gotten distracted and lost our focus (as we often do as humans) and made PLCs into book studies, team meetings, PD sessions, and gripe sessions. But that’s not what PLCs are. “The heart of work in a PLC is when educators collectively analyze evidence of student learning to (1) inform individual performance practice, (2) improve a team’s ability to achieve it’s SMART goals, and (3) intervene on behalf of individual students.”
Over the next couple of months I’ll begin to dig deeper into PLCs in both trainings throughout the district as well as posts on this blog, but for now ask yourself this question: Is the team I’m currently working on functioning as a PLC (as defined above) or are we doing other duties? If the answer is “other duties” then I challenge you to reflect on your work and figure out if you could be more focused on what’s important. If you are serving on a functioning PLC as defined above, please contact me because as we venture down this path as a district we’re going to need people to serve as models and supports for the rest of us – and you could fill that role.