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all things

PLC M A G A Z I N E Summer 2019

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all things

PLC M A G A Z I N E

Summer 2019

Features The Leadership Choice: PLCs at Work or PLC Lite?  Douglas Reeves and Robert Eaker

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Raising your school to a higher level is hard work.

Our PLC Story  Rachel A. Robins

Making changes at Lava Ridge Intermediate.

21 Interdisciplinary teams allow us to work collaboratively, spanning disciplines, with common students.

High Schools Can Win, Too! Jeff Craig and Joe Mack RTI in secondary schools.

The Power of Norms Heather K. Dillard

Building trust and equality with norms.

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Teacher Leaders Facilitate Change

Karen Seashore Louis and Helen M. Marks (1998) found that a strong, organized PLC leads to higher expectations for students, students being able to count on teachers for help, and higher classroom pedagogy with increased academic levels. We began restructuring our professional learning community with a focus on individual students. We knew that creating a powerful PLC through our school community would guide us to answer the question “What is best for our students?” The administration began this effort by creating a steering committee to help drive school decisions. This committee is made up of school administrators, counselors, and teachers serving as department chairs. Giving teachers a voice in creating schoolwide change made a tremendous difference in our PLC. If teachers don’t have buy-in and are not involved in change-making efforts, it’s difficult for real, lasting change to occur. An encompassing study from the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement (2005) concluded, “Teacher leaders are facilitators within the school and can be an important element in spreading and strengthening school reform and improvement” (p. 255). Our

administration created time each month to meet and offered a stipend for department chairs for their time and duties outside their contract hours. As a group, we discussed culture changes and what our PLC would need to look like to serve our students on an individualized basis. Our administrators came to us with a vision and goals, and collectively, we made those driving decisions together. LRIS staff learning coach Cheri Maxwell echoes the thoughts of teachers concerning leadership opportunities: “One thing I really love is how our administration values teachers being in leadership roles. Our staff has a lot of members who have expertise in different areas. Teaching was not a first career for many of us, me included. By allowing us to take an active role in helping lead the school, we have a broader base of experience to pull from. I have seen so many great ideas come out of the steering committee or from teacher teams that were gathering data or research in areas of interest. These ideas then go on to have a positive impact on student learning and teacher effectiveness. Our teacher leadership opportunities, Wellness Center, and increased student leadership are just some of the amazing things I have seen come from teachers leading change at our school.” These teacher leaders have been revolutionary and are the guiding force for change. The driving forces of administrative vision and teacher leaders led to the creation of interdisciplinary teams (I-teams)—we began pairing math, language arts, and science teachers into teams that shared groups of students. These teams extended beyond departments, spanning across the curriculum, to better serve students. We discussed specific students, implemented interventions, and made cross-curricular connections to better serve students—all of which focused on the four essential PLC questions. Teachers met as I-teams at the beginning of the year to do some fact finding on Tier 3 students. Kalyn Gubler, our visionary principal, had the idea to do home visits before school started. We welcomed troubled students to our school, estab-

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SLOOHCS HGIH naC


To o l s & R e s o u rc e s fo r I n s p i ra t i o n a n d E xce l l e n ce

First thing

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Why PLCs?

Learning champion

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The prowess and passion of Jeanne Spiller.

Words matter

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What is action research?

FAQs about PLCs

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Special education teachers and teams.

Data quest

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Looking at team strengths and next steps.

The recommender

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The one-stop shop for excellence in every classroom.

Classic R&D

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Investigating the human side of school improvement.

Contemporary R&D

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The problems of principal placement and inequality.

Why I love PLCs

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Ending the educational lottery.

Discussion questions and refresher course tear-out To-go resources for your PLC professional development.

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all things

PLC M A G A Z I N E

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SOLUTION TREE: CEO Jeffrey C. Jones

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PRESIDENT Edmund M. Ackerman SOLUTION TREE PRESS:

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PRESIDENT & PUBLISHER Douglas M. Rife ART DIRECTOR Rian Anderson PAGE DESIGNERS Abigail Bowen, Laura Cox, Jill Resh, Rian Anderson

AllThingsPLC (ISSN 2476-2571 [print], 2476-258X [Online]) is published four times a year by Solution Tree Press. 555 North Morton Street Bloomington, IN 47404 800.733.6786 (toll free) / 812.336.7700 FAX: 812.336.7790 email: info@SolutionTree.com SolutionTree.com POSTMASTER Send address changes to Solution Tree, 555 North Morton Street, Bloomington, IN, 47404 Copyright © 2019 2018 by Solution Tree Press

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AllThingsPLC Magazine/Summer 2019

First Thing Why PLCs? Sharon Kramer

W

ith the myriad of programs and initiatives available to purchase and implement in schools, it is no wonder that teachers feel overwhelmed and stressed. As each new thing comes along, they wonder, “Can I do this?” or even worse, “Should I invest the time to implement this new initiative, or will it be gone next year?” Many take a this too shall pass approach; if they just stand still long enough, this too will go away. I often hear teachers lament, “I wish we could just stick with something long enough for me to understand and get good at implementing it before we move on to a new curriculum or program.” In the words of Douglas Reeves, author and consultant, teachers and schools suffer from initiative fatigue. So, in this state of more, more, and more, why choose PLCs? Not because PLCs are easier or require less change. In fact, the truth is that engaging in the right work of PLCs requires second-order change—a change in beliefs and philosophies—not just tweaking what already exists. The PLC process requires schools and teams to examine all of their practices, policies, and procedures in light of their effect on student learning. The major difference between the PLC at Work model and all other initiatives is that it is not a program or something that schools purchase. This difference highlights the core of a PLC. A professional learning community is not a thing you can purchase because it is really the infrastructure that supports continuous improvement. It is a way that teachers, teams, and the entire school decide to act and work together on behalf of the students they serve. It is an investment in people, not things or programs. It is a way of being. PLCs embrace the belief that in reality schools never improve from the outside in; real improvement comes from the inside. New programs are only as good as the people who implement them. For example, the purchase of new computers or tablets will do nothing to improve learning for students unless the teachers understand how to use the tool to meet the needs of their students. Schools and achievement improve when the entire school staff decides to learn and work together. PLCs empower everyone to contribute and to celebrate progress. Continuous improvement is about growing people, not giving them more new initiatives or things to do. There is an abundance of research that underscores the fact that the key to increased


A professional learning community creates results that are greatlearning for students is the teacher in the classroom. In addition, the key to school improvement is principal leadership. PLCs invest er than any one individual can achieve alone and leaves a legacy in administrators, teachers, and students and foster a collaborative for generations to come. It is not dependent on a specific principal culture in which the goal is to learn together. As educators learn or teacher or team to lead and sustain it. Life happens, and printogether, they improve student outcomes. This is a win-win for cipals and teachers change jobs or retire or simply move on. Many everyone. Collective self-efficacy improves while levels of student schools are currently experiencing teacher shortages, especially in specific specialties. If a school or district operates as a PLC, new learning increase. If this is not reason enough to build and sustain a PLC, what people work collaboratively with others to learn the way we do our other reasons exist to go through the time and effort it takes to cre- business. The system and process lives on no matter what changes ate and sustain a PLC? Most educators would agree that the issues in staffing occur. The legacy educators leave is the promise that schools face daily can be both complex and challenging. Schools learning will be the focus and that collectively we will not settle and districts find themselves in a constant state of problem solving for anything less. Finally, why PLCs? Because they work! The PLC framework is in which no one person has all the answers. Schools and teams must work together to solve problems and meet the challenges pre- the number-one school improvement process in the world! There sented. This collaborative process improves thinking, which leads is abundant evidence to support the entire process as well as adto better decisions and a collective response to student learning. ditional support for each of the components or big ideas that unThe collaborative culture that underpins a PLC fosters collective derpin the work. Model PLC schools are described on allthingsplc .info. Each of these schools is very different in size, demographics, and creative problem solving. The PLC at Work model empowers everyone to make a differ- location, and journey. Each school or district on the website has ence. Educators approach their work with good intentions and the one thing in common: they increased student learning as educadesire to make a difference every day. PLCs are not about deter- tors learned together, problem-solved collective solutions, celebratmining what is good or bad or right or wrong. PLCs are not about ed small and big wins, and examined all of their policies, practices, fixing anything that is broken. They are about doing even better and procedures in light of their effect on student learning. Investing in people, whether they are adults or students, is the for the students we serve. This is the commitment we as educators make as we enter the profession. The PLC framework is the reason that PLCs can fulfill the continuous improvement mission structure that ensures continuous improvement and high levels of of learning for all. The process is truly built on the premise that we learning for all students. It provides the road map for fulfilling our can do anything if we put our minds together. The truth is if you school and individual purposes. Once again, PLCs are an invest- build it, they will learn. ment in people, not things and programs.

Do you have a PLC Story? Our readers want to hear it. Being involved in a PLC means following proven processes, but what we really want to hear about is your personalized story. Your perspective. A specific telling about you or someone you know. An administrator, a teacher, or a student. Triumphs, failures, and the road between the two. We’re looking for: Feature articles of 2,000–3,000 words Articles about your school’s PLC journey in 2,000–3,000 Or write for our Why I Love PLCs section in 500–700 words Send your submissions or queries to: MagSubmissions@SolutionTree.com


Do the right work, in the right ways, for the right reasons.


The Leadership Choice:

PLCs at Work or PLC Lite? Douglas Reeves and Robert Eaker

Michael Fullan (2005) reminds us that “terms travel easily . . . but the meaning of the underlying concepts does not” (p. 67). The term professional learning communities is a good example of Fullan’s observation. While the term has become commonplace, a deep understanding of how a highly effective PLC works is less understood, and even less frequently found in actual practice. Many have a fundamental misunderstanding regarding what exactly a professional learning community is and, importantly, what it is not. The term professional learning communities has become so popular and widely used it is in danger of losing all meaning.

Although the evidence that PLCs can have a significant positive impact on professional practices and student achievement is clear, educational leaders today face a choice: PLC at Work or PLC Lite. In their article “The Futility of PLC Lite,” Rick DuFour and Doug Reeves (2016) cut to the heart of this choice. Their work cautions leaders who might be tempted to pursue any program with the label “professional learning community” without considering that labels alone fail to provide the benefits that genuine PLCs provide. Why settle for PLC Lite? A few of the more prominent reasons stand out. Some settle for PLC Lite simply because they prefer to pick and choose the specific practices of the PLC framework that are the easiest, or quickest, to implement. Such an approach is doomed to fail or, at best, to achieve only marginal gains in student learning. Research findings by Reeves (2016) demonstrate that all aspects of the major components of the Professional Learning

Communities at Work framework are required in order to see significant gains in student learning. The concepts and practices of a PLC are intertwined and interdependent, and anything less than full implementation is problematic, to say the least. Then, there are those who begin the journey to become a professional learning community but simply do not know what to do. So, they opt for cosmetics— banners, lapel pins, slogans—and label meetings and teams “PLCs,” as if calling various activities “PLCs” will suffice. They turn to everything except doing the work. The way to become a high-performing professional learning community is by getting started, getting better, and learning together—in other words, learning by doing! Such a journey is not always easy, and it is complex, but there are no shortcuts. Others opt for PLC Lite simply because they see an opportunity. The term has become so popular that some view the professional learning community movement as an opportunity to jump on the

Summer 2019/AllThingsPLC Magazine

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PLC bandwagon and reap the short-term benefits of becoming an instant expert. While it is not possible to know the true motivations of anyone, at the same time it would be naive not to recognize the fact that there are those who become instant experts in fads de jour. Leading the journey to becoming a high-performing professional learning community requires not only a deep, rich understanding of PLC concepts and practices but also fidelity—doing the right work, in the right ways, for the right reasons. Again, there are no shortcuts here. It is virtually impossible to avoid PLC Lite if one has never had deep experiences related to doing the work of leading the implementation of PLC practices and concepts, day in and day out, in real schools, resulting in significant increases in student achievement.

Structural change is much easier than CULTURAL CHANGE

So, Just What Is a Real PLC? Mike Schmoker (2004) reminds us that “clarity precedes competence” (p. 85). To clarify, in the Professional Learning Community at Work framework, the concepts and practices that collectively reflect a high-performing PLC are the central organizing elements for the entire school and, ultimately, the district. Collaborative teams are just one part of that system. It’s possible to hear this misunderstanding when people talk about a “PLC meeting” or “PLC time.” When people think that these team meetings are synonymous with a genuine learning community, they are engaged in PLC Lite and are likely to be disappointed in the results of their efforts. In addition to collaborative teams, real PLCs are committed to a collaboratively developed foundation of mission, vision, values, and goals; a guaranteed and viable curriculum; the use of collaboratively developed common formative assessments; and the clear and consistent application of the information from the collaborative analysis of common formative assessments to revise and redirect teaching and learning, as well as direct students to a system of interventions to support and extend their learning, student by student, skill by skill. All of these elements are essential for a PLC that works—anything less is PLC Lite. The Gold Standard The Professional Learning Communities at Work framework is, by far, the most widely used—and successful— process for successfully capturing the power of PLC concepts and practices. Within this framework, a model PLC is defined as “an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve. PLCs operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous job-embedded

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learning for educators” (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Many, & Mattos, 2016, p. 10). However, it is important to recognize that a true professional learning community is more than a definition; it is a way of life that is reflected in structures and cultures that are fundamentally different from more traditional schools. Required: Cultural Shifts Leaders of PLC Lite schools settle for a few, rather simple, structural changes in their schools. This should not be surprising since structural change is much easier than cultural change. The problem is this: while structural change may be a necessary step on the journey to becoming a high-performing PLC, without the accompanying cultural changes, results will be disappointing. Leaders who seek to avoid PLC Lite must lead their school or district in three fundamental cultural changes. First, they must recognize the need to shift from a culture of “teaching” in which it is assumed teachers are successful if they cover all state and district standards and use the “correct” predetermined teaching strategies. A professional learning community reflects a culture in which educators recognize teaching is a means to an end—the end being student learning. Second, the culture of a professional learning community reflects a shift from the work of teachers in isolation to the work of educators as contributing members of a collaborative team. Perhaps there was a time when the individual teacher could successfully ensure that all of his or her students learned, but in the complex and diverse world of today’s classrooms, individual teachers quickly hit a ceiling as to what they realistically can achieve. In PLC Lite schools, while teachers might frequently communicate with each other or work on committees, or “task forces,” they are not doing the work of a high-performing team. Our friend and colleague Rick DuFour was fond of pointing out that “co-

babbling” is not the same as “co-laboring.” Leaders of a PLC at Work organize the school into collaborative teams in which team members “work interdependently to achieve common goals, for which they hold each other mutually responsible” (DuFour et al., 2016, p. 60). In PLC at Work schools, there is the recognition that collaboration, in and of itself, will have little, if any, impact of significant improvement on student achievement. Effective collaboration—collaboration that gets results—requires that teams focus on the right work with fidelity! In short, collaboration must be seen as a means to an end, with the end being improved student learning. Third, effective leaders of PLCs at Work choose to move from a culture of good intentions to a culture that reflects an intense, passionate, and persistent focus on results. Such a focus is almost always lacking in PLC Lite schools. Effective leaders at all levels, including teachers, focus like a laser beam on results, driven by the question “Are the kids learning, and how do we know?” Absent this basic

PLC at Work schools focus not just on scores, but on real student work.

cultural shift, PLC Lite schools are simply a collection of independent contractors who work hard with good intentions but focus on the wrong things. PLC at Work schools are much more! They reflect a culture that is driven by results. The Power of Passion and Persistence Leaders of professional learning communities who choose “at Work” over “PLC Lite” are passionate about continuous school improvement that is reflected in the learning of each student—skill by skill. The AllThingsPLC.info website is a treasure trove of case studies of successful professional learning communities in rural, suburban, and urban systems—both large and small, wealthy and economically stressed—around the globe. Each case documents not only the PLC process but also the student results that were achieved. An important thing to notice about the case studies on this website is the power of persistence—schools that have applied the principles of PLC at Work for 5, 7, 10 years and more. They did not achieve their results by switching initiatives and philosophies with the seasons. Rather, PLC at Work became the heart of their culture—a culture of continuous improvement that also reflects specificity, optimism, respect, resilience, and fidelity. These attributes become so embedded in the school’s culture that they are reflected in the observation “It’s just the way we do things here.” A Results-Oriented Culture: Beyond Looking at Data Becoming a high-performing professional learning community requires drilling much deeper than simply looking at data. In recent years, big data has become very popular. In turn, educators have become so overwhelmed with data they find it difficult to focus on the learning of each student, standard by standard, unit by unit, skill by skill. In PLC Lite schools, teachers and administrators are buried Summer 2019/AllThingsPLC Magazine

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THE RECOMMENDER John Wink

Each time I speak, I’m asked, “How do you have so many resources for your content?” Well, the answer is simple: I am constantly curating the content I discover so I can share it with others. The work in education is changing every day, and sometimes the latest and greatest idea is just the answer we need. Other times, what we need is an oldie but goodie from 20 or 30 years ago, and then other times, the perfect resource is so obscure that few have ever heard of it, but it is exactly what we need to be more effective. In this edition of “The Recommender,” I would

by Robert Marzano and Richard DuFour and It’s

teachers navigate technology or as a flipped

like to share some ideas, tools, and resourc-

About Time: Planning Interventions and Exten-

lesson that can be accessed by students, teach-

es that have been instrumental in helping me

sions for both elementary schools and second-

ers, and even parents on their time.

create a system of supports (aka one-stop

ary schools by Austin Buffum and Mike Mattos.

At the end of the day, our students’ success

shop) that helps every teacher discover the

The Excellence Support System combines

is largely dependent on the collective knowl-

excellence that is within. The goal we all share

the powers of professional learning, collabo-

edge and expertise of the school’s teaching

is simple: we want excellence in every class-

ration, and individual coaching to help teach-

staff. Our moral imperative as educators is to

room. But we have to be sure that those of

ers grow. To help drive the focus on teacher

save every student by saving every teacher

us who are supporting teachers in their work

learning, I recommend reproducibles from A

first. No matter if we are in our first year or our

provide the very best supports to meet teach-

Leader’s Guide to Excellence in Every Class-

21st year, we must work with one another to

ers where they are and lead them where they

room to support both leaders and teacher

build a living system of supports for all teach-

need to be.

teams doing the work of helping one another

ers. We all have areas in which we struggle,

In my book A Leader’s Guide to Excellence in

get better at the art and science of teaching

and therefore, we must work in a place where

Every Classroom, I outline two components that

all kids. Pinterest has also been a big part of

those supports can help us close our gaps.

serve as a framework for a systematic approach

curating all of the resources I find on the in-

Conversely, we also have areas of strengths,

to teacher development, which is essentially RTI

ternet, and some of my Pinterest boards are

and if we believe in all kids, we must believe in

(response to intervention) for teachers. The first

aligned to the Hierarchy of Instructional Excel-

sharing our strengths with those we work with

component, the Hierarchy of Instructional Ex-

lence, leadership, and collaboration.

to help them get better.

cellence, helps both leaders and teachers priori-

Now, I love technology, and I have leveraged

The challenge for leaders is to create a virtu-

tize the qualities of an excellent teacher, and the

the power of blogs and tech tools to acceler-

al one-stop shop that houses all of the resourc-

second component, Excellence Support Sys-

ate learning for students and adults alike. Flip-

es and supports found both inside and outside

tem, serves as a three-step approach to helping

grid has been a tremendous tool, and teachers

of the school. Our school websites should pro-

every teacher find success.

can use it as part of their instruction and also

vide a plethora of resources and answers to

The Hierarchy of Instructional Excellence

as part of their professional learning in the dis-

common questions. Leaders can create a sys-

encompasses the components of effective

trict. Plickers leverages the power of paper QR

tem of supports for all teachers, who will then

instruction. Some books that I have found

codes for multiple-choice answer activities to

possess the ability to easily find solutions to

pivotal in helping me define what composes

generate real-time actionable data as a quick

common problems that all teachers face and, in

an excellent teacher are CHAMPS by Randy

formative assessment. Another great tool that

the end, optimize their efficacy with and their

Sprick for routines and procedures; Poor Stu-

I love to leverage in instruction and professional

impact on all students.

dents, Rich Teaching by Eric Jensen for rela-

learning is Mentimeter. This tool can be used as

tionships for learning; and Engaging Students:

a warm-up as students enter the room, a survey

The Next Level of Working on the Work by Phil-

to gather student feedback, or a Likert scale for

lip Schlechty. To meet the growth needs in

students to rate their comfort with the day’s les-

the Hierarchy of Instructional Excellence, the

son as an exit ticket. One of my favorite tools

following books stretched my thinking both

is Screencast-O-Matic. This tool can be used to

as a leader and teacher: Leaders of Learning

create instructional videos to help students and

JOHN WINK currently serves as the superintendent of Carthage ISD in Carthage, Texas. Prior to that, Wink served as the director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment for the Tatum Independent School District in Tatum, Texas, and principal at Gilmer Elementary School in Gilmer, Texas.

Summer 2019/AllThingsPLC Magazine

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, ound ight s m a ? e k or n id s it w OD a nal t doe u W GO b O uctio , r H s t s e R Y in “ E , y ATT know om, m ollect NO M ant to lassro w c nc s y r e m ls ofte ect ition a t ff earch c ip a a c r ly p prin rly res itive d la s n o o a PLCs h p c s ut s akes cher b Can it a m , e t ls T a o ice?” schoo anding wh iefly t pract other ou br rst y m e o e d . r c f n e u u s ic introd storie pract tes to ers n will Cs in ntribu L o m ymak c P c lu t li o o u o c o p als b is d a h h an ively, tive. T gues searc effect a e r e e r ll y effec o r o a m hc mpor work is wit conte PLCs nops y e s wn. k o a is r th you to m n w o o Share e h r r o onde arn m who w eeper to le ig d and d

Principal

EFFECTIVENESS and

INEQUALITY in Principal Placement Robert Eaker and Heather Dillard

The Studies Blanchard, A. (2018, May). How principals drive school success: A brief on strengthening Tennessee’s education labor market. Nashville, TN: Tennessee Education Research Alliance. Blanchard, A., Chung, Y., Grissom, J. A., & Bartanen, B. (2019, January). Do all students have access to great principals?: A research brief on strengthening Tennessee’s education labor market. Nashville, TN: Tennessee Education Research Alliance. Nearly a half century of effective schools studies has documented the fact that principal leadership matters, particularly in areas affecting student achievement and school improvement. In 2018, the Tennessee Education Research Alliance (TERA) announced it would be releasing a series of studies about effective school leadership. These are the first two research briefs released in the series. The Initial Study The initial study explored the relationship between principal ratings and student outcomes to determine if more successful principals 46

AllThingsPLC Magazine/Summer 2019

were producing better student results. Three main sources of data were examined for this study. 1. Principal data came from the 2011–15 TEAM evaluation scores (Tennessee’s administrator and teacher evaluation system). This rating makes up half of the principal’s overall evaluation score, with the other half resulting from measures of school achievement and growth. 2. Student data were based on both achievement scores from yearly state accountability testing and growth scores from the annual state TVAAS (Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System). 3. Teacher perceptions of the principals were collected through the annual Tennessee Educator Survey.


Contemporary R&D Findings There were three main findings from this study. 1. In schools where the principal’s leadership is rated more positively, student gains are higher. 2. Teacher perceptions of school leadership and climate are more often rated high in schools led by higherrated principals. 3. Effective teachers remain in schools at higher rates when they are led by highly rated principals. Additionally, teachers with low observation scores were more likely to leave these schools. This was referred to as strategic retention. The Second Study After findings from the initial study indicated the power of administrators to impact several factors in schools, the second research study sought to discover the distribution of principal quality across schools in Tennessee. 1. Principal quality was measured by the number of years in the position of principal and the scores on the state’s evaluation system. 2. Three components of school demographics were utilized. School poverty was based on the number of students eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunches. Racial makeup was composed of the number of black and Hispanic students enrolled in the school. Academic performance was based on the achievement scores from standardized tests.

is, no program is powerful enough to overcome the effects of an ineffective principal—and this includes PLC practices and concepts. In fact, just the opposite holds true. Rather than compensating for a weak and ineffective principal, successful implementation of the PLC framework is dependent on an effective principal. The second of these studies adds to the increasing body of research regarding the inequity of principal placements—namely, that poorer students are assigned weaker and less effective principals. This finding highlights an interesting dynamic— district leaders must know the importance of effective principals since the evidence shows they are assigned to the more affluent students! Inequality has typically been viewed through the lens of facilities, teacher credentials, resources, and so forth. This study adds, perhaps, the most crucial factor to the equation: the leadership effectiveness of the building principal. The Professional Learning Communities at Work framework has been adopted by many districts as an effective approach for improving learning in low-income schools—and rightly so. The larger point is this: PLC concepts and practices have been proven effective in schools reflective of all income levels, but regardless of the income level, the leadership effectiveness of the principal will be a key determinate of ultimate success. Robert Eaker is professor emeritus at Middle Tennessee State University. Heather Dillard is an assistant professor at Middle Tennessee State University.

Findings There were two main findings from this study. 1. Principal quality is unequally dispersed in Tennessee, with higher-rated principals concentrated in schools with fewer students in poverty, low-achieving students, and students of color. 2. Greater levels of principal turnover or of hiring inexperienced or ineffective principals are more likely to occur in schools with higher proportions of poverty, low achievement scores, and students of color. Implications for PLCs There is ample evidence of the critical role principals play in school effectiveness. In spite of this fact, many district leaders continue to search for programs or models that will compensate for weak or ineffective principals. The simple fact Summer 2019/AllThingsPLC Magazine

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Why I Love PLCs Ending the Educational Lottery BY MICHAEL PEDROTTY I love PLCs because they are the most effective way to systematically identify and meet the individual learning needs of the students we serve. I believe this because I have seen their impact where they are in place and I have felt their absence where they are not. My school’s journey toward becoming a professional learning community has not always been linear, nor has it been without resistance, but it is most definitely progressing. We have grown into a community of learners that is committed to the proposition that we are all responsible for the learning of all, that we share the responsibility and labor of meeting all the innumerable needs of the students we serve. Our teacher teams collaborate on a daily basis to do all the work necessary to meet the varied needs of each of our students. We identify essential standards and learning targets, plan units and lessons and learning activities, create common formative assessments, systematically analyze the data produced by those assessments, and respond to those data by either remediating or extending the learning of every student in a multitiered system of support. By doing all these things together, leveraging each other’s strengths and compensating for each other’s weaknesses, we end the educational lottery and ensure that we meet the needs of every student, no matter which teacher he or she is assigned to. I know the PLC approach is effective because I see its impact at my school every day. Beyond the A rating and other measurables, I see the way it has changed how our people teach and learn. I knew we were making progress when one of our teachers—a passive resister when we 48

AllThingsPLC Magazine/Summer 2019

started our journey—described how her use of our data analysis protocol had impacted her students. She had just taught a remediation section on one of her essential standards and noted that some of the students she’d worked with were honors students who had scored a B on the test. They hadn’t missed many questions, but the ones they had missed were concentrated on just that one standard. “Without the data analysis protocol, I never would have known they needed help. I would have just seen a smart kid with a B.” So I’ve seen the impact that the PLC philosophy has had at my school. I’ve also seen the impact that its absence has had at my children’s school. My kids are both in the gifted program at a wonderful elementary magnet school in the neighboring district. They’re really happy there. The school is highly rated and well regarded, and the faculty are hardworking, loving, and supportive. It is also not a PLC, and that fact shows in important ways. My son sometimes struggles with math. I look at his tests and check his homework every night, and we work on things he didn’t get. He picks them up with a little extra time and attention, and everything is good—except that none of this is happening inside his school. While they do have a 30-minute “RTI Time” in the morning, gifted students always go to the same teacher every day and do extra work. There appears to be no system in place to analyze assessment data and respond to it collaboratively to meet the students’ individual needs. My son has never been assigned to math remediation even once, and I know he needs it at times because I look at his work and

provide remediation at home. Now, my son is going to be fine. He’s super sharp and loves to learn, and he has a great support system. But what about the students out there who aren’t so lucky? How many boys and girls like my son are out there slipping through the cracks as you read this because their school has nothing systematic in place and all they see is a smart kid with a B? Worse yet, what if all they see is a “lazy” kid with a D? Professional learning communities are the most effective way to systematically identify and meet the individual learning needs of the students we serve. I have seen their impact where they are in place, and I have felt their absence where they are not. That’s why I love PLCs.

MICHAEL PEDROTTY is the instructional coach at Benton Middle School, the very first Model PLC in the state of Louisiana. He was an award-winning instructor, teacher, and department chair during his twelve years in collegiate, high school, and middle school classrooms.


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Discussion Questions Use this convenient tear-out card to go over and reinforce the topics discussed in this issue with the members of your team.

PLCs at Work or PLC Lite? (p. 7) 1. What are the differences between PLC Lite and PLC at Work? 2. Review a case study from AllThingsPLC.info. What did you learn, and how can you apply that learning to your school?

3. Is your school or district settling for less than what it can be? If so, are you going to allow it?

High Schools Can Win, Too! (p. 29) 1. Describe the current intervention systems of the secondary schools in your district. Is there consistency among the systems? If not, in what ways are they different?

2. Are these systems effective? How do you know? 3. What are the takeaways from Cortland High School’s example?

The Power of Norms (p. 36) 1. Why are norms important to a collaborative team? 2. How are norms used during your team meetings? Can they play a more prominent role? If so, how?

3. Review your current list of norms. Should any be reworded, removed, or otherwise changed?

4. How are norm violations addressed? How can you ensure every team member is comfortable addressing violations?

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AllThingsPLC Magazine | Summer 2019

Refresher Course Because everyone needs a reminder now and again.

The 3 Big Ideas of a PLC 1. FOCUS ON LEARNING 2. BUILD A COLLABORATIVE CULTURE 3. FOCUS ON RESULTS

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The fundamental purpose of the school is to ensure high levels of learning for all students. This focus on learning translates into four critical questions that drive the daily work of the school. In PLCs, educators demonstrate their commitment to helping all students learn by working collaboratively to address the following critical questions: 1. What do we want students to learn? What should each student know and be able to do as a result of each unit, grade level, and/or course? 2. How will we know if they have learned? Are we monitoring each student’s learning on a timely basis? 3. What will we do if they don’t learn? What systematic process is in place to provide additional time and support for students who are experiencing difficulty?

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4. What will we do if they already know it?

• No school can help all students achieve at high levels if teachers work in isolation. • Schools improve when teachers are given the time and support to work together to clarify essential student learning, develop common assessments for learning, analyze evidence of student learning, and use that evidence to learn from one another.

• PLCs measure their effectiveness on the basis of results rather than intentions. • All programs, policies, and practices are continually assessed on the basis of their impact on student learning. • All staff members receive relevant and timely information on their effectiveness in achieving intended results.

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This magazine helped reinforce the importance of well-functioning PLCs in our district .” —Virginia Bennett, executive director of academic support services, Bulloch County Schools, Georgia

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2019 AllThingsPLC Magazine  

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