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.
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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.