Teachers need to be “Seen” too…

I am a year in at my current position as Director Curriculum and Instruction with our public state virtual school. I have moved from a role where I was primarily expected to take care of administrative matters in regards to building safety, student discipline, and jobs delegated because no one else wanted to do them or somebody else’s plate was too full. It meant long hours and many evenings and weekends tying up loose ends so I could still be what I wanted to be, an instructional leader (lead learner).

Now I am in a position that lets me focus on the part I desire most, being an instructional leader (lead learner). I have grown so much in the past year in this area as I have been handed the baton to continue to guide my amazing educators through the process of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).

Let me first say that I was extremely blessed that the framework/foundation for PLCs had already been developed before I arrived. Having procedures, routines, and rituals in place make for the process of continuous improvement much smoother. This allowed for the room needed to experiment, take risks, and ultimately move organically and authenticism.

This process of experimentation, risk-taking, and authentic learning began early in the year. I had a teacher who came to me that was “trying something new” in her online AP course. She had decided to pre-record her typical “what’s coming up for the week in the course” that had typically been delivered in the synchronous zoom time. In theory, she was hoping to build a more active synchronous time in her Zoom and at the same time allow time for deeper conversations with and among her students. She wanted to know from me if this was “ok” to do. I was so excited! Without even knowing it, she was attempting flipped learning! I told her to go for it. I also told her that I planned to check in with her from time to time, and if she was feeling things were going well, I wanted her to present to the rest of my teachers her “risk.” In the interim, I shared short articles of strategies and research that supported her decision. In November she shared her “experiment” the initial successes, and strategies she was using with the entire organization.

IMG-4105What did this take? I am not 100% but something I said or did early on in the back to school professional learning, the openness that I presented, and my eagerness to see teachers trust their instincts and what they knew was good teaching and run with it somehow sent a message “Give it a go! You never know unless you try!”

Since that November, others have presented. What is shared is always more meaningful than if I had shared it myself. No matter what it is, every situation comes back to being able to do what is best for students and provide excellent learning opportunities for students.

What has been key to making this happen?

  1. Valuing the PLC process not for the benefit of the organization, but for the benefit of the student, with the teacher at the center of the process.
  2. Listening and noticing the nuggets of greatness and teaching others to “mine for the gold” that teachers have but sometimes think isn’t all that special- (I have been known to share “Obvious to You, Amazing to Others” by Derek Sivers)
  3. Being vulnerable, I mean really vulnerable. If you haven’t read Dare to Lead by Brene’ Brown. Start there and lean into leading with whole-heartedness and tough conversations. The result will be amazing and brave work.
  4. Finally, let teachers know they are seen. Really seen. This means making an effort to be observant to the tiniest of things. Listen to the cadence of an email that changes. The post on their social media that shares a celebration or hints at heartache. Meet them where they are and WALK with them. Do for them what you would hope as an administrator your teachers would do for their students.

It isn’t enough for us to ask our teachers to personalize learning for our students, build unique relationships with each of them, and identify and meet each situation by name and need if we as lead learners aren’t willing to do the same.

This is how we are making progress as a Professional Learning Community. This is how I hope we continue as Community of Educators who profoundly care for one another and the students we have the opportunity to impact.

How are you working toward whole-heartedness, teachers being “seen,” and at the same time developing a healthy PLC culture? Please share in the comments!

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.

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.