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.

We Can’t Afford to Not Vote…

Image result for Quote george orwell intelligent menIn the day of school choice, vouchers, for-profit education systems, and charters, educators can no longer just show up to their jobs. We must be advocates. Not because we fear the loss of our jobs, but because the very students we serve in public education are in jeopardy of losing the opportunity to a free and appropriate education.

Many would argue with me and tell me I am wrong. I wouldn’t be writing this if I hadn’t researched, thought long and hard about this, and weighed the outcomes that would occur from me writing this. It may be your opinion that I am wrong, but I have seen with clarity, that as educators if we choose not to vote, advocate for our students who do not yet have the right to vote, and take the opportunity to have open dialogue to inform those around us, our very democracy is in jeopardy.

I will agree that public education in the 70s and 80s was slow in responding to meeting the needs of all students. Public school was free for the taking, how appropriate it was for the student was questionable. However, one can argue that the public schools of today are serving students and providing an educational opportunity that is beyond what many in public education could have imagined. The sad thing is that those outside our walls have no idea how amazing it is what students can be offered.

In Arkansas, we are breaking barriers with virtual blended courses so that rural and economically disadvantaged schools/students have access to highly qualified educators who capitalize on building relationships while delivering rigorous and relevant content. Students are also able to set themselves on a path to access more AP courses and Concurrent courses (College/HS credit) than ever before both in the traditional brick and mortar setting and through virtual blended courses. Additionally, students seeking a career and technology path (welding, agriculture, culinary arts, media arts, etc.) are able to begin that journey while still in high school.

At the same time that schools are offering these amazing opportunities at the high school level, elementary schools are implementing the most proactive evidenced-based practices to develop our youngest learners into highly literate learners.

I say all this to rally the educators in Arkansas, and beyond. Take note, do your Education isn't just another issue.research… really do your research. Who is sitting on legislative education task forces? Who is writing the legislation impacting public education? Are the interests of the students at the forefront? Is choice about equity and access for ALL students (remember the rural students who need access to opportunity, too)?

Most of all, get out there, talk to your representatives at the local, state and national level. Are the board members of your school board invested in what is best for all students? Does your legislator serve the needs of a few elite or is there a purpose to create opportunity for equitable access for all students? Do they see choice as something to be embedded within public schools or to funnel funding to for-profit programs or charter/private programs without accountability?

It’s time we get in the mix of things and be a voice for those that do not yet have the opportunity to vote. Consider what your community, state, nation, and the world would be like if education is only reserved for a few and denied to those who do not have the means to access. Use caution as politicians use choice and competition to legitimize privatization. If we remove equitable opportunity and access, students will not be empowered to change not only their future path but squelch the change-agents and policy-makers of our country’s future.

The Dance of Change and Progress

dont rushIn the process of change and progress there are moments of celebration and times of distress. Too much change within the systems, its supports and the expectations can take a toll. Learning how to effectively lead and support through the dance of change and progress is a dance that requires expertise, understanding and awareness.

Often the struggle is in seeing the potential in the change and progress that can happen, and pushing for that change and progress when those joining in the journey don’t yet have the same view.

How can a team move forward in a positive way to do the dance of change and progress TOGETHER?

I have been reflecting on my own practices to improve my approach in supporting my team as we earnestly work through the challenges that come with change and progress. There are three areas I have determined must be present in my own mindset if I am going to best serve my team:

  1. We ARE moving forward… be PATIENT
    • Keep focused on the work at hand- the harvest will come
    • Don’t worry about the pace of the progress and change- when you reach it, however long it takes, it will be worth it
    • There are seasons of life, and things out of our control; trust your team and be optimistic
  2. Be POSITIVE
    • Don’t complain or look for what isn’t done; focus on what is done well
    • Be intentional in your work/relationships; keep silent and let the work and others speak to the progress being made
    • Keep a perpetually optimistic outlook- perspective is everything
  3. Be TRUE
    • Trust the process and your team
    • Live with integrity- build, foster and maintain trust with your team

I realize that the points mentioned are not new, nor something that is unique. However, it is something I needed to reflect upon and humbly share with others. My hope is that I improve the dance I am doing with my team and through patience, positivity and truth effectively support them in their process of change and progress.

How is your team doing the dance of change and progress with you?

Relevance, Rigor and Research #TCEA17

Last week myself and Sue Fitzgerald (the library-media specialist at Pike Middle School- where I previously served as a Campus Instructional Coach) and I presented on an instructional collaboration we had designed together for our students and 6th Grade World Geography and Technology Apps teachers in 2015-16 at TCEA 2017 in Austin, Texas.

The title of our presentation was “Designing Relevance, Rigor and Research.” As we prepared and then presented, I was struck by what happens when good professional learning (through training with the International Center for Leadership in Education), a recognition for a need for change in instructional approach and a collaboration between educators with experiences and complimentary skills creates a framework experience for students that transforms learning.

Here is the result of the collaboration and presentation:

Sue and I are no longer on the same campus. However the desire to collaborate, create and transform learning still drives us both. There is nothing more rewarding than to create opportunities that drive student learning deeper and makes it more meaningful.

So I am faced with a new challenge… to find others where I am now, in my role as an Elementary Assistant Principal, to do the same collaboration and creating. Change is inevitable, whether it be creating the change or being thrust into it. However, change doesn’t take away our passions and our drive to continue to learn, strive for continuous improvement and collaborate with others.

I know that Sue will continue to create opportunities for her students on her campus, and I hope to do the same. Preparing to present “Designing Rigor, Relevance and Research” reminded me of that part of me… that part that seeks to find opportunity to take instruction and learning to the next level, the part that loves to create innovative learning experiences that spring board from my own new learning, and the part of me that loves to collaborate and co-create. Hattie talks about collective teacher efficacy… there is nothing like it. And why not do it? Research has proven that collective teacher efficacy beliefs “contribute significantly to the school’s level of academic success.”

Originally, change was what I was hoping to cause, now change is challenging me to action. What is change in your learning environment? Are you the cause for change or is change the cause for your action?

Donohoo, Author: Jenni, Author: Elise Foster, Author: Tom Hierck and Garth Larson, Author: Thomas R. Guskey, Author: Stephen Johnson, and Author: Jessica Allan and Nicole Franks. “Fostering Collective Teacher Efficacy: Three Enabling Conditions.” Corwin Connect. Corwin Press, 29 Nov. 2016. Web. 14 Feb. 2017.

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.

Why is Organizing Our Thinking Important?

john-f-kennedy-jfk-quotes-11

I am the main organizer of our district instructional technology Twitter chat #nisdNOV8.  This fall we made a purposeful move into a series approach to our chats.  In November we focused on #voiceNchoice for a 3 part series.

In December we focused on the concept of “Organizing Our Thinking” for 3 of our chats.

keep calm and curate

The first chat focused on curation. We discussed not just collecting online resources, but organizing them, sharing with others, reflecting and evaluating.  What I have realized in my learning and experience with curation is that it is necessary in the digital world we live.  So many times ideas come to us when we are not ready to act on them, yet they are important.  We have also learned when we try to retrieve those ideas when we are ready, we cannot always relocate them unless we curate them.  I had a very good conversation with an amazing and vibrant teacher.  She had been very active on Twitter, but lately had not been present.  As we talked I realized she was in information overload. She loved the ideas that were shared on Twitter and wanted to act on them immediately. However, it was causing her to spin around like a Tasmanian devil and not truly do things as well as she would like… in came the skill of curation. Now she participates in Twitter with the abandon she is used to, but with a plan. She favorites resources and ideas as the discussion occurs, then curates the resource links into a site like Scoop.it or Pinterest, and takes action on items that are relevant for her in this moment. (To learn more about this discussion on Curation go to the Archived Chat.)

THINKING_MAPS

The second chat focused on the way in which teachers and students organize their thinking and capture learning through Thinking Maps.  During this chat teachers and administrators shared how they use Thinking Maps for anchor charts, note-taking, planning professional development and organizing instruction. More importantly the discussion emphasized how at every level we need to be transparent in how we use Thinking Maps in every way for content, planning and student work so that we can learn through and with each other. (To learn more about this discussion on Thinking Maps go to the Archived Chat.)

Julie Adams book cover

Finally, in the last chat in the “Organizing Your Thinking” series we had the privilege of having Julie Adams, author and Professional Development consultant/presenter expertly lead a discussion on Note-taking. Her insight and questions pushed us to reflect on how note-taking is addressed.  It was apparent of how essential the skill of note-taking is (Marzano says it is the top 9 skills for a learner to master) for students. Many teachers remarked in the chat how it was a skill lost on them and needed when they went to college… having to learn for survival. The discussion inspired me to revisit my note-taking skills and become familiar with Cornell Note-taking. My hope is to learn this skill to the point of mastery and then integrate technology in such a way that I can support both teachers and students in a fundamental, yet trans-formative way. (To learn more about this discussion on Note-taking go to the Archived Chat.)

eye of the future

This series was exciting for me and my colleagues. The discussions and transparency was incredible. The urgency to take the ideas and practices palatable. Our Students take in more information in a day than our parents and grand parents filtered through in 10 years. They must be able to organize, prioritize, annotate, share and reflect. How are you purposefully teaching these skills that prepare our students for success in learning and with their future?

The Tried, the True, the Google…

Many educators on Twitter, when discussing the collaborative features of Google, know it’s not a novel concept.  It is interesting to me how a new tool or an updated platform can get our blood pumping. Yet, in a few weeks we are thirsty for another new platform, update or idea.

What I have found, as an instructional technology coach, is that the tried and true tools become consistently my go-tos for myself and for the teachers I support. Google accounts, in particular the accounts created for our district, have become that tool. I love the share feature in all platforms of Google.  Learning how the share feature works in one facet of Google transfers to other platforms in Google.

Collaborating in Drive for items like lesson planning, drafting an outline for professional development, or setting up questions with an expert panel for an upcoming Twitter chat, increase efficiency, focus on collaboration and provide intuitive features like the instant updating, which is priceless.

Students working together in Slides to co-present a Professional Based Learning product, plan a student-led session on coding or collaborate on a product cross content areas and then sharing globally provides a sense of purpose and student ownership to learning.

And then their is the magic of Forms. Counselors are using it to create a way for students to request a visit. Teachers are creating a short-cut to the form on their iPad so they can do their progress monitoring without stopping instruction. Principals are utilizing the form to collect data on focused walk-throughs and then taking the responses they have recorded and sending immediate feedback to their teachers. I could go on.

We have just barely begun to tap the potential of our Google Accounts on the campuses I support, but already I see transformation. Even more exciting is how students, teachers and administrators are embracing the power of the Google Site. The initial intent with Google Sites were to create ePortfolios and will continue to be our main focus with Google Sites, but the other ways Sites are being used to continue to make our learning environments global and our audiences authentic amazes me.

eric-schmidt

Google Accounts are a tool that has continued to develop and grow.  It is through the collaboration of people at Google, the creativity of learners worldwide and the willingness to take a great tool and continue to explore its abilities, that make this a platform that I will continue to encourage my teachers to go to for transformational products and learning. Other tools may come and go, but Google Accounts is here for the long haul. It is, after all, tried, true and most of all transformational.