Giving the PLC a little TLC: How Quality Checks are Improving the PLC Process

I came to Virtual Arkansas in July 2018. We are a blended online virtual program that is the state of Arkansas’ Public Education option for offering courses that Public Education schools may not be able to offer themselves due to regional, economic or school size challenges. We eliminate the issue of availability and provide equitable access for students to take courses that otherwise they may not have had.

When I began my position as Director of Curriculum and Instruction, one of my responsibilities was to oversee the PLC process. Coming from what my Virtual Arkansas colleagues call a “Brick and Mortar” situation, I had lots of questions on how PLCs could be effective in a virtual platform. What I soon learned was, not only was it possible through Zoom, but Virtual Arkansas had already done so much work to lay the groundwork for PLCs. They had the structures in place and it was an embedded belief that to do the work of Virtual Arkansas, PLCs were a living part of the culture of continuous improvement.

It is without a doubt I took on a solid PLC process. As most Lead Learners would agree, when coming into an organization that has solid practices, it is best to observe and learn before making changes. So I watched, and I learned FROM my teachers and learned WITH them.

During this same time, I had the privilege of attending Solution Tree’s “PLC Works” with one of my campus directors and a teacher leader from our concurrent team, CTE (Career and Technology Education) team and Core (core subject content) team. These training sessions are ongoing and began in September and will finish in March. During the training in November, we had to identify our current reality between our culture and our collaboration. One area that had come apparent to me in the meetings was that the PLCs were working well on the surface, but true transparency and trust were areas that needed attention. Before I could ask my teachers to openly talk about their own effectiveness of their instruction, share student performance data, determine alignment between curriculum and assessment, and find ways to raise the Depth of Knowledge within student discussions and activities, I had to determine where my teachers were as a team with trust and transparency.Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 2.11.03 PM.png

I realized that I needed to design an opportunity for this dialogue to occur. I established a plan for that dialogue that I ended up calling “Quality Check PLC Meetings.”

Before each team came to the meeting they were asked to assess where they felt their team fell on the “Tuckman’s Curve” through an anonymous Google Form. On this same form, I asked for each individual to reflect on the norms their team had determined by consensus in early September and reflect on questions regarding the health of their PLC.

The questions to determine PLC health are listed in the following image.

Questions to assess PLC Health

During the Quality Check, I first had them read the text “Do We Have Team Norms or ‘Nice to Knows’?” using the Making Meaning Protocol (Adapted for Use with a Text).

Teams evaluated their current norms, what they have done when norms have been breached and how do they plan to address norm “derailment” in the future to ensure they continue to work toward being performing teams. At the end of the text rendering, I posed the question, “Implication for our Work: How might this particular text influence your work as a PLC?” 

I then shared a plotted image of the Tuckman’s curve where I had gathered information from the form that each individual filled out before the “Quality Check PLC” and shared how the team “rated” in regards to forming-storming-norming-performing. At that point, there was a discussion that I stepped back and allowed for free flow. Finally, I asked for each member to reflect by responding to two final questions after taking a period of time to think and then email myself and their campus director. Those two questions can be found on the shared sample google slide show I used to structure the Zoom “Quality Check PLC.”

From that point I responded to over 70 emails where teachers had reflected and responded to the questions:

  • What can we do as a PLC moving forward?
  • What can YOU do to keep your PLC  performing where you continue to move toward a high impact and highly effective team?

What I have learned from this “Quality Check” process.

  1. None of the teams had a plan in place if there was a norm “breech.” Furthermore, there are not a lot of resources to “coach” teams that are struggling with norm “derailment” or how to establish a protocol to address when a breach occurs.
  2. Some teams define performing as “everyone” gets along. That has tasked me with the work of identifying complacency and helping our teams gain an understanding that PLCs are about challenging the current status quo and pushing our thinking to improve student learning and instruction. As Eric Thomas states, “To get to that next level, you gotta learn to get comfortable being uncomfortable.”IMG-1660
  3. Relationships. Relationships. Relationships. If the PLC teams in my organization are going to be successful they have to have profound respect and appreciation for one another. At one time in my educational journey, I went to a training on PLCs the presenter said emphatically that PLCs can work without one having to like/get along with the others on the team. I held on to that statement for too long, often blaming myself when a team didn’t work well together, believing that as long as we focused on the work the “feelings” on the team should not matter. However, we never performed as well as teams that truly cared for and respected one another. If I could go back, I would have focused on building the relationships on my team first, because if I had done that, in the long run, the work would have been more focused and more productive. Because of a lesson I learned a little too late for teams from my past, I have coached all my teams to make space in their agenda and in their everyday practices (email, text, messaging, etc.) to connect and build/maintain community within their teams. Never take for granted the importance of team culture!

At first, I wasn’t sure this process was a good idea. I did have push back and sometimes the email responses were filled with issues and unhappiness. I poured into these situations with a positive solution-oriented response and with more questions from me asking for suggestions from the teachers I responded to on how we can move forward: as individuals, for their team, and as an entire organization. I also leaned on my administration team during this time expressing the mental fatigue that unexpectedly impacted me and vulnerably shared my struggles. This in turn built up our administration team, too.

In the weeks that followed with some of my Lead Learners (designated the “team lead”), there was purposeful time invested in them to encourage them, especially when teams started asking the hard questions and truly storming. It was uncomfortable, messy, and for my Lead Learners hurtful. They saw this storming as a failure on their part. We worked through that and helped them to see that storming, as long as it is honest, open and moves forward authentically, is a catalyst for growth.

This also caused me to reflect and add some changes to the Leadership PLC that I have with my Lead Learners. I chose to be more vulnerable AND added a section that focuses solely on PLC growth which allows for us to discuss ways we can continue to grow the community and overall health of our PLC teams. In just a few short weeks this change has made an incredible impact.

I will say now, that this was a process worth doing, and I will do it again. Not only do we need to progress monitor our students and their growth, but we need to progress monitor the health, and growth of our PLCs. The work of the PLC, when done well, is the greatest work we can do for students. It is where we build collective efficacy (1.57 effect size) and teacher clarity (.75 effect size), two highly impactful influences on effect size in regards to student achievement, according to John Hattie.

Sources:

Baron, Daniel. “The Making Meaning Protocol: Adapted for Use with a Text.” www.schoolreforminitiative.org, School Reform Initiative, 16 Nov. 2016, schoolreforminitiative.org/doc/making_meaning.pdf.

“‘Tuckman’s Team Development Model.’” Tuckman’s Team Development Model, University of Glasgow, http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_358180_en.pdf.

Waack, S, and J Hattie. “Hattie Effect Size List – 256 Influences Related To Achievement .” VISIBLE LEARNING, Visible Learning, 28 Mar. 2018, visible-learning.org/hattie-ranking-influences-effect-sizes-learning-achievement/.

Williams, Kenneth C. “All Things PLC: Do We Have Team Norms or ‘Nice to Knows?”.” About PLCs | All Things PLC | Powered by Solution Tree, Solution Tree, 25 Oct. 2010, http://www.allthingsplc.info/blog/view/90/do-we-have-team-norms-or-nice-to-knows.

Creating a Perfect PLC…

to-get-to-that-next-level-you-gotta-learn-to-get-comfortable-being-uncomfortable-quote-1PLCs have been a part of my professional learning and growth for years. I have experienced it as a teacher, a team leader, an instructional coach and now as a campus administrator. I have seen it from the implementation phase to fully involved.

A question that was recently posed with a learning team I am a part of was, are the systems and structures we have or do not have in place limit the progress and authenticity that PLCs are meant to produce with learning and collaborative efficacy?

The learning team reflected and asked how much of PLCs should be directed and clearly defined by administration and how much should be guided and directed by the teacher team?

Much like we have learned that our students need differentiation with instruction and the way they share their learning, teachers need it in the structures and systems they have within their PLCs.

Teachers, curriculum writers and administrators agree that the conversations and data discussed is different in Kindergarten through second grade teams compared to third through fifth grade teams. There is a concrete area that differentiation is needed. The other is based on the needs of team.

It takes time both for the administrator and the teams to determine where they are as a team in the process of becoming high performing (Stages of Team Formation). Then each team’s PLC structures and systems would be designed in such a way that there is a gradual release of responsibility in communication, planning, lesson sharing, data analysis, and collective professional learning.

It is a delicate balance for administrators to know when we need to say something and when they can attain the learning on their own. A fellow colleague recently commented on this stating “If we say something teachers can get on their their own… why are we saying it?” It is, with the work together as educators (teachers and administrators), we find a place for each team between accountability and autonomy.

We have amazing teacher leaders in every place you look in education. Every educator should see themselves as a leader both for the students they have in their classrooms, but also within their own teams and beyond.

When our learning team met it was a mix of both classroom educators, campus administrators, curriculum directors and district administrators. The most powerful thoughts and reflections came from our classroom educators… what resonated was how excited they were to be with the learning team, to meet other educators that were so deeply passionate about teaching, learning and their students.  As one teacher stated, “We desire to be with others that think at the same level as we are.”

Reflecting on Theories of ActionThat left me pondering… how do we differentiate learning both in PLCs and individually for our teachers? How can we provide systems and structures that allow purposeful PLCs to occur instead of limit progression due to too many constraints or not enough guidelines?

The questions (taken from the book The Transformative Power of Collective Inquiry: Realizing Change in Schools and Classrooms by Donohoo and Velasco p. 104) to the right are designed to evaluate Theories of Action, but also can be used to evaluate the present state of team’s PLCs and help move forward with next steps.

As we move toward the end of the 2017-18 school year, reflect on our progress and the areas we hope to see more growth in the 2018-19 year, what are the systems and structures that best move your campus, teams, teachers and students forward… what systems and structures (or lack of) could be limiting your progress?

Citations:
Donohoo, Jenni, and Moses Velasco. The Transformative Power of Collective Inquiry: Realizing Change in Schools and Classrooms. Corwin, 2016
mind tools, team. “Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing: Understanding the Stages of Team Formation.” From MindTools.com, Mind Tools, http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_86.htm.
“To Get to That next Level, You Gotta Learn to Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable.” PictureQuotes.com, http://www.picturequotes.com/to-get-to-that-next-level-you-gotta-learn-to-get-comfortable-being-uncomfortable-quote-258304.

My “One Word” for 2018

I thought long and hard about this word. I knew this word would be my word, but, honestly I didn’t want to admit it. It was a word that I kept denying was my word… until after my family determined our “One Word,” EMBRACE, and that word told me I couldn’t escape the word. (You can read more about my the Wilson Family’s “One Word” on my family blog “The Wilson Family Stories from Razorback Ranch.”)

brave memeMy word is “BRAVE.”

Defined by vocabulary.com, brave means “Courageous, dauntless, perhaps a little bit daring, a person who is brave faces dangerous or difficult situations with courage.”

While most situations I face are not, in relation to truly serious matters, dangerous and most of the time not that difficult, it does require courage to live a life that positively impacts the world around me.

I know that part of that is being brave with my words that I write. I love to share  through blogging, but I often rationalize why I shouldn’t write. Yet the words that are never shared still burn in my mind and on my heart. Ideas, experiences, reflections, questions and wonderings, So I move forward, giving my words voice, and bravely share. share your storyThat is one way I will be brave.

So what will it mean to EMBRACE being BRAVE beyond writing?

-Invest deeply in others.

-Trust my instincts.

-Trust others.

-Take risks and don’t fear failure.

-Share my story.

-Embrace the unknown.

-Be rooted and unwavering in my faith.

-Be present.

-Do what’s right with every opportunity put in front of me.

This word, BRAVE, as I had previously stated, I didn’t want as my “One Word.” It pursued me, haunted me and I relented only when our family “One Word” EMBRACE pointed me right back to it. To be honest I was embarrassed to admit that I am not brave, and most often I stop myself from doing what I know God is urging my heart to act on or pursue because I am afraid of what others may think. Hence the delay to post this until mid-February, long after the “One Word” time frame to share has passed.

This word, what it represents and what it will push me towards is frightening. However, if I am going to live a life that inspires others, I will EMBRACE the many ways life will challenge me to be BRAVE.

 

 

 

 

 

What Does Failing Forward Mean?

Recently at a social event a person quizzically stated to me, “I bet you are glad to see the school  year almost over.”

I hesitated and then responded, “I feel like there is so much I still want to do that I thought I would have already accomplished. So I guess I am a little sad. I can’t believe the end of my first year as an assistant principal is already here. Now I have a lot of goals for next year!”

Aside from the fact that I love being at school and with students and teachers and never long for the end of a year or saying goodbye to students. I also see the deadline coming for meeting goals I have set for myself, for my campus, for my teachers and for my students. If I was within reach of the goals I set… the end of the school year would be a punctuation of celebration. However, for me it is not quite that.

learning

Couros, George. “What Success (and Learning) Really Looks Like.” The Principal of Change. N.p., 16 Jan. 2016. Web. 02 May 2017.

This year hasn’t been so much about a gentle forward move on a line of progression toward growth, but an awkward series of stops and starts due to the learning curve that comes with being in a new position. I will say every experience I have learned something. I have grown, maybe not in the direction of the goals I have set, but still I have grown… by leaps and bounds, on my own and with the support of others.

A conversation that happened around the first of March with a mentor has stuck with me. I was in the midst of a large task that required decisions where there wasn’t a clear right or wrong/ yes or no. I had to determine what I thought was best. I asked for my mentor’s input.

My mentor replied,”You are going to have to make this decision for yourself.”

I pleaded, “I want your opinion.”

“You are going to make this decision. And if you fail, fail forward.”

At the time I was frustrated by this response. I wanted to have assurance that the decision I was making was right. I did not want failure to be a remote possibility.

There have been many decisions before that, and many since that conversation. Not every situation presented the opportunity to fail forward, but each one has helped me grow, strengthened me, and sharpened my focus as a leader.

As I reflect back at the year, I note where I have fallen short in reaching the goals I have set for myself. I choose to see the failure in reaching the goals I had set for myself as an opportunity to fail forward. Failing forward is what drives the goals for the upcoming year. It is in the failing forward I grab for what is most important and utilize that to sharpen my focus, be purposeful in my plan and lead with even more intention.fail forward quote

I do not long for the year to come to an end.  At the same time, I am eagerly looking forward to the next year, knowing I will fail again, but failing forward with grace, strength and the support of those around me.

I am no longer under the illusion that growth happens on a gentle forward moving line of progression. Rather, growth is a beautiful yet awful mix of stops, starts, crawls, runs, trips and stumbles that all move us forward. I look forward to failing forward.

How do you define failing forward? How does failing forward define your growth and goals?

Learning to “TEAM”

teamwork-and-collaborationMany times when we see the word “TEAM” we think of its association with sports. Quickly we make the connection to winning. With a sports team every individual has a role and is trained and ready to fulfill that role so that the “TEAM” will hopefully win.

However, in education, we come with all kinds of different skill sets. Each team member will, over time, gain the knowledge and training we need, but if the idea of “winning” is finishing first, some team members may not have the opportunity to gain the skills necessary to be the best team possible.

This became very clear to me in another part of my life. I participate in a group exercise program called “Camp Gladiator.” On a very early morning in Mid-August the trainer split us into two teams. One team had to unload a numerous amount of weighted sand-bells from the back of the truck into designated spots across the parking lot until the truck was completely empty and then return the sand-bells to the truck. The other team was assigned to do multiple mat exercises and tally each time they completed a cycle until the team with sand-bells had finished the unload/load task, then they would switch. At the end of the given time, whichever team had the most tallies, won. The key was getting the sand-bells moved quicker than the other team to minimize the opportunity to rack up tallies.

There was very little in the way of guidelines. What took place was a few very physically fit carried many sand-bells at a time while the rest working toward physical fitness were left standing with little to contribute. Was it efficient? Yes. Was it effective in regards to the “team” winning? Yes. But what was sacrificed? Not everyone was given the opportunity to be challenged, to be a valued team member, to grow in their personal fitness.

As an administrator it became very clear to me through this experience, how important it is to communicate effectively expectations and outcomes to teachers both for the team and each member in regards to the work done in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). Additionally, emphasizing the value of the process of learning and growth of both the team and the individuals of the team must be made paramount; not who finishes first. If the focus is on finishing first as the idea of “winning” it could lead to team members not having the opportunity to be challenged, to feel valued as a team member or grow in their own professional learning.

Coming back to that morning at Camp Gladiator, the trainer quickly realized that the lack of guidelines and the drive to “win” was creating a “loss” of fitness for some. He corrected with new guidelines that required each sand-bell to be carried individually, emphasized teamwork in the way of cheering one another rather than carrying all of the sand-bells, and created value for all contributors.

In the same way, as leaders we can course correct to ensure high functioning teams and effective PLCs. Then as educators and team members we are all truly #winning.

Having a “Can Do” Attitude…

Image result for can do quotes

I have had the unique experience of transitioning from Middle School as an instructional coach to Elementary as an Assistant Principal.

If you put a kindergarten parent side by side with a parent of an entering middle schooler, I am sure their fears and concerns would be very similar.

One thing I think educators and parents have in common is we often rescue our children when rescuing them only inhibits their potential.

When I was at my district’s convocation, George Couros reminded us of the importance of the learner’s struggle and the learner working through the “problem.” He showed us a video where a boy had created a “marble maze” with several dynamic and intricate pieces. The boy hypothesized that it would take him at least 100 attempts to make the maze successful. On his 4th attempt he achieved success. The setting of his goal, working through the challenges and momentary failures, and then being successful on his 4th try was amazing. Why, because he persevered and never thought “I can’t do” only that “I can do.”

I wonder, if we had seen this kiddos plan and intervened as his educator or as his parent, would we have limited him unintentionally in an effort to shield him from “failure?” Yet, without any input or intervening this child was successful and celebrated, that while his first three attempts were not a successful attempt, his fourth was, and was way sooner than his projected one hundred attempts before he reached success.

I have come to see how I as a parent, educator and coach can either encourage growth and a “can do” attitude or limit it (even if my intentions are to protect the learner). This past weekend, just before our district began our new school year, I learned of how Target took a new approach to their Back to School advertising campaign. They believed in the “can do” of children ranging in ages 8-17 and let those children develop, design and ultimately launch a series of seven commercial.

Here’s what happened when coroporate Target went from a corporate advertising team to a advertising dream team of students:

http://www.today.com/video/meet-the-team-of-kids-behind-target-s-new-back-to-school-ads-747775555841?cid=eml_onsite

My favorite part of this is that they felt that the adults “listenened” and “learned something from us.”

Going forward in this school year, how can we change the moments when we say “I don’t think our students/children can” to opportunities where we say “I know  you can!”?

I challenge anyone reading this to stop the next time  you catch yourself thinking my child/student can’t and re-think… how can I provide the opportunity so my child/student CAN? It will be a great adventure and in the process our children/student will know that we listened and we learned something from them.

Resolutions, Intentions, Goals… Always Progressing

2016 new goals

From the moment the ball dropped and we ushered in 2016 I have watched the goals, mantras, claims of personal “one word” and resolutions come across my various social media feeds. To say the least, I am amazed and sometimes a bit subdued. I admire the ambitiousness and timeliness of my virtual and face to face colleagues and friends commitments for 2016.

I almost talked myself out of even writing my own #goals. Then I read my assistant superintendent, Dr. Rob Thornell’s blog post about the topic (Make 2016 About Goal Accomplishment). It prompted me to reflect on my goals from last year, the things I had accomplished and the progress I plan to make this year. So then I felt compelled to at least write it down and share with a few of my close mentors and friends.

steve mariboli goals 2016

Then my virtual #blogamonth colleagues and PLN tagged me in a post. It urged us all to “jump start” our blogs. We had all had changes in our educational careers in 2015 and, at least for me, my blog(s) had taken a back seat. After some thought, and encouragement from this precious group of educators, I decided to go ahead and share my #goals for 2016.

blogamonth 2016

They are a little late, but here goes…

My #goals for 2016 are meant for all aspects of my life. In each of the following it is meant to impact my family and friends, my personal and professional life.

  1. Grow… mostly this is about my spiritual growth, but I am in an ever constant state of learning and growing. This requires me to journal more, read more and seek more opportunities to learn from others.
  2. Listen…I could explain, but this blog post “People Who Possess This One Skill Are More Likable In Social Settings” says it best.
  3. Celebrate… I have so many times in my life I could have celebrating small accomplishments, moments, blessings and I postponed or waited because it wasn’t “THE BIG THING” I was striving for… well no more!
  4. Invest… see #2 and pour myself and my resources into things that create meaningful results.
  5. Be Gracious… allow myself the opportunity to reset; give myself and others a break; laugh and cherish life in every moment.be kind and gracious
  6. Be Real… blog from the heart, bravely share mistakes/failures, share imperfections, own the “I don’t know,” and mostly ask for others to share this journey of life, learning and experiences with me.
  7. Be Healthy…keep running, be more consistent with weight resistance and core (pilates/yoga) training, make healthy food choices, and above all GET MORE SLEEP (4 hours a night is NOT sufficient)!
  8. Pursue with Passion… go ALL IN, don’t let a list dictate what’s going to be done (I am a habitual and obsessive list maker/follower), do whatever it is because it “drives” me.

consistency in 2016This list won’t happen all at once. Some of these things I have done, but I let go of them in my daily doing of life and are bringing them back to the forefront. It will be done a few things at a time, with thought, purpose and intention. Sometimes it may be awkward, it will be messy, but most of all it will bring me to a better place within and make me a better me.

Additionally I hope my efforts to make personal progress in turn enriches, inspires and encourages others. Nothing brings me greater joy than to see others succeed, and when I have had the opportunity to be part of that journey I thrill in the knowing I was a part of something great with someone else.

Adams quote for 2016 goals post

May we all inspire others through our own pursuit to be always progressing.