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PLC M A G A Z I N E

Summer 2016

Features Intentional excellence: The recipe for success at Mason Crest Elementary School Thomas W. Many

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The first DuFour Award winner didn’t win by accident.

Singletons don’t have to go it alone  Aaron Hansen

If you want to build a culture of collaboration, it needs to be collaborative for all.

Turn feedback into detective work

William M. Ferriter

Unit overview sheets give teachers and students an insight into student learning.

The top 10 implementation mistakes in building a PLC

Eric Twadell

Everybody encounters speed bumps on the PLC

14 29 36

implementation highway.

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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

4

Be wise about the potential of PLCs

ICYMI

7

Short bits that you might have missed!

PLC clinic

21

How to keep team norms and collegial commitments

Learning champion

22

Héctor García’s PLC vision of improving learning for all students

FAQs about PLCs

27

Balance time for all kids

Words matter

33

Loose vs. tight—compatible ideas for PLCs

Skill shop

34

Learn to be R.E.A.L.

The recommender

41

Websites to PLC by

Classic R&D

42

Newmann & Wehlage research laid the foundation for PLCs

Contemporary R&D

44

PLCs can use data to change practice

ICYMI

47

Short bits that you might have missed!

Why I love PLCs

48

A teacher’s personal story about her support for PLCs

Summer 2016/AllThingsPLC Magazine

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all things

PLC M A G A Z I N E

2

8

SOLUTION TREE: CEO Jeffrey C. Jones

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PRESIDENT Edmund M. Ackerman SOLUTION TREE PRESS:

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PRESIDENT Douglas M. Rife ART DIRECTOR Rian Anderson SENIOR PRODUCTION EDITOR Suzanne Kraszewski COPY CHIEF Sarah Payne-Mills PROOFREADER Jessi Finn PAGE DESIGNERS Rian Anderson, Abigail Bowen, Laura Cox

AllThingsPLC 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 © 2016 by Solution Tree Press

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AllThingsPLC Magazine/Summer 2016

First Thing Be wise about the potential of PLCs

T

he launch of this magazine is intended to provide educators with a forum for sharing their best strategies and practices as well as expressing their concerns and questions. It is my hope that the magazine will fulfill two very important purposes. First, it should serve as a constant reminder of the critical importance educators play in shaping the future of their students. Second, it should offer specific, proven practices for how educators can improve conditions for both student and adult learning. Some articles will present what we hope is a compelling case for educators to fully engage in the Professional Learning Communities at Work™ process. Some will examine and celebrate schools, districts, and states that have distinguished themselves for the progress they have made on their PLC journey. The case study of Mason Crest Elementary School in this issue provides insights as to what schools can become if educators place a higher priority on engaging fully in the PLC process than on preserving the traditional practices of public schooling. As you read the articles in this magazine, please keep in mind that the consequences of failure in the K–12 system have never been more dire for our students. The economic penalty for being a high school dropout versus a college graduate is greater in the United States than in any other industrialized nation. By 2020, twothirds of the jobs in the American economy will require some postsecondary training. As the Center on Education and the Workforce concludes, “Postsecondary education and training is no longer just the preferred pathway to middle and upper income classes—it is, increasingly, the only pathway” (Carnevale, Smith, & Strohl, 2010, p. 4). But the consequences of a bad K–12 experience go far beyond income opportunities. A woman who is a college graduate can expect to live ten years longer than a woman who is a high school dropout. For men, the gap is even wider: 13.5 years. For both groups, the gap is growing. It is no exaggeration to say that our success

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in helping all students learn at high levels will affect them for a lifetime. If we are to prepare students for their future rather than our past, American educators must acknowledge three fundamental truths. 1. We have, within our sphere of influence, the ability to create conditions that can dramatically improve both student and adult learning. 2. No one has forbidden us to create these conditions. 3. We must accept some responsibility for the fact that these conditions are not yet the norm in American education. Why would the wonderful men and women who make up our profession be so hesitant to implement, fully, the PLC process when the benefits of that process have been affirmed by

researchers around the world and endorsed by virtually all of their professional organizations? I believe the primary answer to that question is that they are waiting for someone else—the U.S. Department of Education, state legislature, the board of education, the central office, or the principal—to take the initiative rather than assuming personal responsibility for bringing the process to life in their schools. They look out the window rather than in the mirror. The 13th century poet Rumi wrote, “Yesterday, I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today, I am wise, and so I am changing myself.” It is time for our profession to become wise. May this magazine help develop this wisdom by convincing you that the PLC journey is both desirable and feasible and providing the tools to help you advance on that journey.

Rick DuFour Carnevale, A. P., Smith, N., & Strohl, J. (2010). Help wanted: Projections of jobs and education requirements through 2018. Washington, DC: Center on Education and the Workforce.

Imagine your classrooms when all students are engaged and eager to succeed CLAIM YOUR FREE PLC JOURNEY WORKBOOK SolutionTree.com/Journey

Summer 2016/AllThingsPLC Magazine

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CONCISE ANSWERS TO FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS Designed as a companion resource to Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work™ (3rd ed.), this quickreference guidebook is a must-have for administrators and teachers working to create and sustain a PLC. ATPLC– BKF705 $34.95 USD | $44.00 CAD ISBN 978-1-942496-63-2

READ MORE! SolutionTree.com/LearningByDoing 6

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Exclusive Learning by Doing video playlist available with a Global PD subscription.

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Feeling stressed? Being more mindful can help you cope with the stress of being an educator. What is mindfulness? Kirsten Olson, author of The Mindful School Leader, defines it as “a state of being aware and learning to be calmly focused on the present.” She suggests a few strategies for coping with stress and becoming a more mindful practitioner. #1. Take three breathing pauses each workday: Schedule them into your phone using an app or have someone remind you. Give yourself thirty seconds to stop, breathe in deeply, notice where you are, and then empty your lungs with a deep exhale.

#2. Step outside to look up at the sky once a day: It’s simple. “This takes no more than two minutes and is better than excusing yourself to the bathroom when you need a break,” Olson says. #3. During a conversation with someone—student, parent, your most troublesome staff member—stop, pause, and look deeply into his or her eyes: Not with a sense of challenge,

of course. Instead, practice something called mindful listening that encourages the thinking in your head to stop. Read more: “Being mindful of educators’ stress,’’ by Lory Hough. Harvard Ed., Winter 2016. www.gse.harvard.edu /news/ed/16/01/being-mindful-educators -stress

That was my idea! “When an idea is at your desk, it’s yours. But when it’s up on the wall, it’s everybody’s.” —Tim Jones, NY director of strategy, 72andSunny, quoted in Fast Company, February 2016, p. 60.

Shhh! Being nice matters! The secret to building more effective teams: be nice to your teammates. Google wanted to learn why some of its teams have been more effective than others. So they began an intense research study of their own teams at work. Project Aristotle interviewed hundreds of Google’s fifty-thousand-plus employees and did a deep dive into the work of more than one hundred teams. After figuring that group norms were very important, researchers tore through the data to discover which norms mattered most. They eventually concluded that psychological safety was essential. That meant that teams were most effective when team members experienced interpersonal trust and mutual respect. “In the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs.” “Success is often built on experiences —like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel—that can’t really be optimized,” the researchers said. Read more: “Group study,” by Charles Duhigg. The New York Times Magazine, February 28, 2016, pp. 20–26, 72–75.

Mistakes were made Mistakes should be an expected part of learning. Depriving children—and adults—of the opportunity to make mistakes impedes their opportunity to learn. “School is the one place that’s all about learning. It’s the one place where mistakes should be not only accepted but expected,” says David Dockterman, a former high school teacher and an adjunct lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education. “Learning is an effortful process. If we only did things that would be easy, we wouldn’t actually be doing anything. It would just be practicing things we already knew. There’s that mix of the willingness to get up and try again. It’s based on the belief that my next try might have a chance at success.” Read more: “Mistakes were made,” by Lory Hough. Harvard Ed., Winter 2016. www.gse.harvard.edu/news/ed/16/01 /mistakes-were-made Summer 2016/AllThingsPLC Magazine

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Intention EXCELLENCE By Thomas W. Many

The recipe for success at Mason Crest Elementary School “Everything we do is purposeful. It’s a choice we make every day.” —Brian Butler, principal

The faculty and staff at Mason Crest Elementary School in Fairfax County, Virginia, have a very high IQ. This IQ doesn’t refer to intelligence but to the school’s very high intentionality quotient. Every piece of work at Mason Crest has a purpose, and that purpose plays out in every aspect of the school. The evidence of that purposefulness was clear in early 2016 when Mason Crest (MCES) was selected as the first recipient of the DuFour Award, which was created to honor high-performing schools that demonstrate exceptional levels of student achievement. The school received $25,000 from Solution Tree in honor of this recognition. Mason Crest opened its doors just four years ago and built itself from the ground up as a school that would embrace professional learning communities as part of its core work. The elementary school is racially and ethnically diverse. Nearly half of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and more than 40 percent are not proficient in English and were born in over thirty-seven different countries. During its short life, Mason Crest has distinguished itself as a school that exemplifies high-quality learning for both students and staff. The evidence of its success with students is clear from the data collected from statewide assessments and other examples of student work. In 2015, Mason Crest achieved 92 percent proficiency in English and 95 percent proficiency in mathematics, far surpassing other students in Fairfax County Public Schools and the state of Virginia. Mason Crest’s good results with students stem from the four points that add up to its high intentionality quotient.

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“Creating and sustaining a culture of collaboration does not happen by accident. We are purposeful and intentional about building a lasting commitment to collaboration.”

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—Diane Kerr, assistant principal

MASON CREST IS INTENTIONALLY INCLUSIVE. Although Brian Butler has the title of principal, there is no hierarchy on the school’s administrative team. Administrative responsibilities at Mason Crest are shared by Diane Kerr, Sherry Shin, and Butler. These three believe that if administrators are going to ask teachers to abandon the practice of working in isolation in favor of co-laboring on high-performing collaborative teams, then the administrative team must adhere to the same philosophy. The coprincipalship at Mason Crest sets a powerful example of and a commitment to collaboration for everyone at the school as the team intentionally models collaboration in everything it does, whether that is visiting team meetings, observing in classrooms, leading faculty meetings, or delivering staff development. Kerr, Shin, and Butler also believe schools are most effective when leaders create the conditions for every staff member to have an opportunity to lead in some capacity. Thus, Mason Crest’s culture is such that everyone is expected to bring his or her talents to the table and contribute to the school’s overall mission. Teachers are expected to be transparent, humble, and willing to work with others to do whatever it takes to help all students learn. It is just the way things are done at MCES. This commitment to building a collaborative culture was never more clear than when the school was interviewing prospective staff members. As Mason Crest was preparing to open its doors in 2012, the school received 3,500 applicants for about eighty positions. A team of teachers and administrators interviewed almost three hundred individuals, and, while many experienced teachers wanted to join the MCES faculty, most weren’t chosen because the school was consciously looking for educators who expressed a willingness, even a desire, to learn and collaborate with others. Mason Crest designed Summer 2016/AllThingsPLC Magazine

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SolutionTree.com/atplcmagazine its selection process intentionally to identify candidates who were predisposed to believing that the adults working at the school had to be committed to learning and collaborating with others on behalf of children if the school was going to achieve its mission. Since then and on an annual basis, staff members make collective commitments to each other describing how they will collaborate in order to achieve their mission of high levels of learning for all. They continually revisit, refine, and reflect upon the collaborative process to ensure that they are using a common language, common knowledge, and common expectations. “We have come to realize that every time we add a new person to our staff, we have a new staff,” said Jacquie Heller, a reading resource teacher. “So each year, as new staff members join the school, we cycle back through our collective commitments to build common language, common knowledge, and common expectations. We do this together, every year.”

THE BREAKDOWN MASON CREST ELEMENTARY SCHOOL Annandale, Virginia Fairfax County Public Schools www.fcps.edu/masoncrestes Principal: Brian Butler School opened in September 2012 to alleviate overcrowding in four other nearby schools. Mason Crest is also the regional site for students with intellectual disabilities. In addition, the school has four preschool special education classrooms plus two Head Start classrooms.

ENROLLMENT 635 students

STAFF About 100 teachers and staff

AVERAGE CLASS SIZE 22 students

DEMOGRAPHICS White 22%

“The intentionality around our instructional practice began on day one. We are constantly working to improve our effectiveness.”

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­—Jacquie Heller, reading resource teacher

Black 8% Hispanic or Latino

43%

Asian American

23%

Two or more races

4%

FREE AND REDUCED-PRICE LUNCH 51%

PERCENT OF LIMITED ENGLISH PROFICIENCY 43%

PERCENT OF SPECIAL EDUCATION 17%

MASON CREST IS INTENTIONALLY IMPROVING. Mason Crest’s teachers are intentionally focused on improving their instructional practice. They emphasize teacher effectiveness, and the faculty invests a great deal of time reflecting on the link between the most essential standards and the most effective ways to deliver instruction. Teachers begin their work by identifying the essential standards. Teachers differentiate between the standards that are nice to know and those that are essential using the R.E.A.L. criteria (see related article on page 34 for more information on how teams use the R.E.A.L. criteria). Once they have identified essential learning targets, teams commit to teaching the essential standards to mastery. Because teams work together to identify what’s essential, teachers leave team meetings with greater clarity around their grade-level expectations. Likewise, students benefit from 10

AllThingsPLC Magazine/Summer 2016

Brian Butler, Sherry Shin, and Diane Kerr


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SolutionTree.com/atplcmagazine having a guaranteed and viable curriculum that is more consistent from classroom to classroom. The faculty further ensures the curriculum is guaranteed and viable by planning their lessons together. Teams use a common planning format, and each lesson follows this pattern: • Link to prior knowledge • A focus lesson delivers new content • Guided practice differentiated for student needs • Reflection about how the new content is connected to future learning Teachers leave team meetings with at least one week’s worth of lesson plans that include differentiated resources and instructional strategies as well as plans for assessing student learning. The process of planning lessons as a team is deeply embedded in the MCES culture and ensures that the link between teacher effectiveness, instructional practice, and what students must know and be able to do is conscious and intentional.

EVIDENCE OF SUCCESS

“We are more focused, more deliberate, and more intentional than any other school where I have ever worked.”

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—Sherry Shin, assistant principal

MASON CREST IS INTENTIONALLY REFLECTIVE. The school’s use of data is a deliberate process that goes far beyond the average score to look deeply at the learner. The faculty has fine-tuned its data analysis and includes evaluating student work, identifying student misconceptions or misunderstandings, and targeting instructional strategies that need improvement. Teams consciously reflect on data in two ways. First, they identify which students need more time, and second, they identify which instructional strategies warrant further study and improvement. The commitment to reflect on data for both of these purposes not only identifies students who may need more time and support to be successful

Two examples of how students are learning at higher levels since we began the PLC process:

1.

What evidence do you have that more students are learning at higher levels since you started the PLC process?

Mason Crest has forty-seven students who attended second grade at the school and are still at Mason Crest as fifth graders. Of those forty-seven students, 76 percent read on grade level at the end of second grade; 89 percent of those same kids are reading on grade level now.

2. In Virginia, fifth graders who are enrolled in advanced math are able to take the sixthgrade state assessment at the end of the year. In Mason Crest’s first year, no students took the sixth-grade math exam; in year 2, twenty-six students took and passed the sixth-grade test; in year 3, thirty-five students took and passed the sixth-grade test.

Results from Virginia’s statewide assessment

FAIRFAX COUNTY SCHOOLS

FAIRFAX COUNTY TITLE I SCHOOLS AVG PASS RATE

FAIRFAX COUNTY SCHOOLS

82

82

75

84

78

81

74

92

81

85

79

MATH

70

92

80

79

71

93

86

81

74

95

84

83

79

HISTORY

70

97

85

89

85

96

80

90

84

97

84

90

86

SCIENCE

70

89

72

83

81

79

73

84

80

87

70

84

82

VIRGINIA

85

MASON CREST

75

VIRGINIA

MASON CREST

ENGLISH

SUBJECT

VIRGINIA

FAIRFAX COUNTY TITLE I SCHOOLS AVG PASS RATE

PERCENT PASSING 2014–2015

MASON CREST

FAIRFAX COUNTY SCHOOLS

PERCENT PASSING 2013–2014

ACCREDITATION BENCHMARK

FAIRFAX COUNTY TITLE I SCHOOLS AVG PASS RATE

PERCENT PASSING 2012–2013

Summer 2016/AllThingsPLC Magazine

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SolutionTree.com/atplcmagazine but also helps determine next steps and future professional development for collaborative teams. A major part of realizing the school’s vision is accomplished by learning together. Based on the insights generated by assessment data, MCES uses a very intentional program of professional development to ensure that all teachers continue to improve their practice and develop common language, shared knowledge, and consistent expectations. Teachers observe other teachers when they believe they will benefit from an observation, and the entire staff (every teacher and all instructional support personnel) routinely participates in onsite courses, book studies, and job-embedded staff development to reflect on their practice, explore new ideas, and engage in action research.

“We celebrate progress; we create a trajectory designed to get our students to grade level. We look for more than a year’s worth of growth in a year because if we can accomplish that, eventually they will reach grade level.”

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—Jenn Deinhart, mathematics specialist

MASON CREST IS INTENTIONALLY ASPIRATIONAL. A final example of MCES’s intentionality is evident in the staff’s belief that with the right amount of support, all students can learn to high levels. The faculty and staff demonstrate their commitment to this aspirational goal by systematically responding to students who are not learning. MCES has a sense of urgency about ensuring that all students achieve at grade level. To accomplish this goal, MCES makes it a priority that students receive the additional time and support they need in a timely fashion. Like many schools, Mason Crest teachers create plans, identify resources, and differentiate instruction. Teams use resources such as leveled texts, tiered tasks, effective questioning techniques, language supports, and instructional student choice menus to meet the needs of all students. What sets the MCES faculty apart is its intentional focus on the timely, almost immediate delivery of targeted support. The faculty does not wait for students to fail before initiating a schoolwide system of support. When students first begin to struggle, teachers quickly identify their learning deficits and then target and plan interventions so students receive the right kind of support, in the subject in which they’re struggling, at the time they need it most. Opportunities for additional time and support are ubiquitous and readily available to all students without missing direct instruction in another subject. Teachers provide interventions daily within extended blocks of time for language arts and mathematics. Using a workshop model, students work on the learning targets essential for their grade level while simultaneously working in small groups to master missing foundational or prerequisite skills. A student may meet with a teacher for guided instruction twice a week in a content area or work in small groups for targeted support six to eight times a week. Students often move to other classrooms or meet with a variety of different teachers based on their needs as articulated in the individualized plan created for each learner. The faculty’s objective is clear: deliver timely and targeted support as soon as students show any signs of difficulty. 12

AllThingsPLC Magazine/Summer 2016


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SolutionTree.com/atplcmagazine The message that rings through from Mason Crest is about the value of being intentional in every step along its path to success. The school’s leadership team initially embraced a plan to develop as a professional learning community. That guided decisions about which teachers would be hired to join the school. Collaboration and inclusiveness were woven into the school’s culture from day one. Because teachers knew the expectations before they began work, they shared an understanding about how they would work together to improve their own teaching and ultimately student learning. Throughout, they have been guided by a belief that student learning could improve only if they first improved how they worked individually and collectively.

THE MASON CREST PLEDGE IN ORDER TO CREATE THE SCHOOL WE HAVE DESCRIBED IN OUR SHARED VISION, WE MAKE THE FOLLOWING COMMITMENTS. WE PLEDGE THAT WE WILL . . .

• •

Promote and protect our shared mission, vision, values (collective commitments), and goals and keep them at the forefront of all decisions and actions. In doing so, we will confront staff whose actions are incongruent with our shared purpose and priorities and will attempt to buffer the staff from competing initiatives so they can devote their full energies to the professional learning community process. Build shared knowledge around the term collaborative team and the various structures they can take. Support collaborative teams by providing them with sufficient time to meet, clear direction regarding the work to be done, ongoing feedback, and the training and resources necessary to help them succeed at what they are being asked to do.

Provide all teams the Program of Studies and ensure the specialists working with those teams facilitate dialogue to promote a deep understanding of essential outcomes. Build shared knowledge around team-developed common formative assessments and provide training that will enable them to easily and effectively disaggregate data to: ››

Better meet the intervention and enrichment needs of individual students

››

Inform and improve practice of individual members of the team

››

Improve the team’s collective ability to achieve its SMART goals

• • •

Provide examples of systems of intervention and enrichment and work with staff to create an effective system for Mason Crest. Model open communication by sharing important information in a timely manner. Create opportunities for leadership throughout the staff based on individual expertise and interest. Model, encourage, and plan for celebration as part of our culture and approach initial efforts that do not achieve the intended results as opportunities to begin again more intelligently rather than as failures. Engage staff in a process to develop and agree on a plan to ensure a safe, orderly, and welcoming environment for our students and families.

THOMAS W. MANY has served as a classroom teacher, principal, and superintendent—all at the elementary level—and authored or coauthored more than fifty articles, books, and blog posts. Although he now lives in Colorado, Many’s favorite city is Chicago, where he indulges in deep-dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs and hopes the Chicago Cubs will someday win a pennant. Follow Tom on Twitter @tmany96.

Summer 2016/AllThingsPLC Magazine

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Singletons don’t have to go it alone By Aaron Hansen

“How does all of this PLC stuff work when I’m the only one in my school who does what I do?” If you’re thinking this, you are a singleton! Band, auto mechanics, welding, physics, consumer science, reading, technology, choir, special ed, art, K–5 in a small school, psychology, speech, business, drama, dance, graphic design, counseling . . . the list goes on and on. Traditionally, principals and teachers attend a PLC at Work™ Institute, listen to a PLC turnaround story, or read one of the books about this topic and immediately see the potential power that the PLC framework offers. They get it: Working together achieves so much more than working alone. So they start by organizing collaborative teams. Math teachers with math teachers, science teachers with science teachers, language arts with language arts, the band teacher with . . . uh, well, hmm. Wait a minute! What about that band teacher? A similar problem occurs for many small schools. For example, a small elementary school may have just one teacher per grade level or even one teacher for multiple grade levels. A small secondary school may have only one biology teacher, one algebra teacher, one English 9 teacher, and one world

history teacher—singletons! These schools hear the PLC message, agree with it, and then stumble upon the inevitable singleton questions: With whom do our singleton teachers collaborate, and what do they collaborate about? How do you build common assessments when you’re the only one who teaches your subject or grade level? Can this really work for us? Yes, it can and does.

If you want to build a culture of collaboration, it needs to be collaborative for all.

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AllThingsPLC Magazine/Summer 2016

Making the problem worse

In a school’s haste to begin the PLC process, singletons are often left out or assigned to a team as an afterthought. Understandably, guiding coalitions often make the mistake of focusing only on subjects that are part of high-stakes testing. Inadvertently, they marginalize singleton teachers and their importance to the school community by not being thoughtful about the roles singletons can play in this new collaborative culture. When this happens, singleton teachers can become resistant to the process. They can feel it is a waste of their time—largely, because it is. Without direction or a clear personal purpose for meeting, team meetings for singletons wind up having no effect on their work or their students. Even worse, efforts to create a new collaborative culture can inadvertently isolate people. We can do better.


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3 ways to get singletons into the mix A huge advantage to being a singleton is that you’re able to think outside the typical structures of PLCs. You can imagine a variety of ways that you could work with other teachers that go way beyond grade-level or subject-specific teams. That freedom to work with more than just other third-grade teachers or other algebra teachers, for example, can enable you to focus long-term on enduring skills that transcend content. This will allow you to learn about the work and the thinking of teachers that you would not have typically worked with. The opportunity is there to stretch your professional practice and your students’ learning in ways you haven’t yet imagined.

1

Mix it up! Create interdisciplinary teams.

Interdisciplinary teams are groups of teachers who teach different content but work together by focusing on essential skills that transcend content. By focusing on the skills that they’re teaching, teachers can build common assessments despite differences in their content disciplines. Let’s look at a typical scenario. Imagine you have just become part of a social studies team at a small, traditional high school. Your team has three members. You teach world history, another member teaches U.S. history, and another teaches government. There are some obvious overlaps in content, but largely, the content varies substantially. You want to fully participate in the collaborative PLC process, but you aren’t really sure how to proceed. You might have some conversations about some of the obvious similarities, but how do you get to the level of collaboration for creating common assessments—what DuFour, DuFour, and Eaker call “the linchpin” to the PLC process? What does a common assessment look like when the content is so different? Summer 2016/AllThingsPLC Magazine

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SolutionTree.com/atplcmagazine Think skills. What are the intended skills each teacher on the team wants students to learn? This is where your team must find common ground. After reviewing state standards for your subject, you might list a few skills such as analyzing primary documents; summarizing, making and defending an argument in writing; comparing and contrasting the past to the present; comprehending maps and diagrams; comparing authors’ points of view; researching; evaluating claims; vocabulary acquisition; and so on. None of these skills is specific to the content of world history, U.S. history, or government, but each skill is crucial to student success in any social studies class. After listing the common skills, your team collectively decides to focus on making and defending an argument in writing. As a team, you decide that this skill matters. Next, you might read professional journals together to ensure you’re all on the same page about what a good argument looks like. Then your team might develop a rubric, models of student writing, and a series of common assessments (not specific to course content) to measure student progress. In short, once your team is empowered with a mindset to place student skills at the center of the collaborative process, you’re ready to dive into answering the four critical questions and begin functioning as a true PLC. Another common example of an interdisciplinary team is a school-to-careers team. Such a team might include teachers

from auto tech, culinary arts, welding, woodshop, robotics, graphic design, and accounting. Although these teachers don’t teach similar content, they may have more in common than they think. While regularly working with such groups, I often ask, “What is your biggest challenge as you try to empower kids to be ready for the world of work after leaving your program?” The conversation often starts with content concerns, but, as we drill a little deeper, they begin to list so-called soft skills as the most essential skills. They describe employability skills like interviewing, written and verbal communication, collaboration, taking direction from a boss, filling out an application, and problem solving. A mechanic’s ability to listen to and respond to the concerns of his client are not all that different from the abilities of a nurse as he listens to and responds to his patient. Many interdisciplinary school-to-careers teams have discovered that they can dramatically improve students’ chances for future employment success by focusing their collaborative efforts on these most essential of skills. By using common rubrics to assess students’ development of employability skills, these interdisciplinary teams are able to gather rich data. They use these data to respond to student deficits, improve teachers’ professional practice, and, in turn, dramatically affect life opportunities for students wishing to go straight into the world of work in their chosen careers. Despite differences in content, interdisciplinary teams can be

Interdisciplinary teams can be highfunctioning collaborative teams when they focus on skills that transcend content.

2

Vertical and interdisciplinary teams can: • Organize based on what learning goals teachers have in common • Focus on skills that are common rather than content that is not • Identify the most enduring skills in common that teachers are trying to teach • Develop a method of assessment, a rubric, and anchors • Calibrate scoring and evaluate results • Come back to the table to find ways to intervene and decide on common strategies designed to improve teaching and learning

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high-functioning collaborative teams when they focus on skills that transcend content.

2

Think vertical! Reach up, reach earlier.

A vertical team is a team of teachers who all teach the same subject but at different grade levels. A powerful example of vertical teams is Bluff Elementary, a school of about one hundred students in a remote area of southeastern Utah. Most students are Native American and not native English speakers; 87 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Bluff has only one teacher per grade level. While they believed in the power of the PLC framework, teachers asked, “Who do we collaborate with? The nearest neighboring school is more than fifty miles away!” Their initial solution was to organize into two vertical teams: one K-1-2 team and one 3-4-5 team. They began by answering the first of the four critical questions: What do we expect students to learn (know and do)? Teams hung poster paper around the library walls and began posting on sticky notes the essential standards

students needed to meet to be successful on the state test and, more important, in life. As they pored over state standards, the fifth-grade teacher provided input to the fourth-grade teacher, the fourth-grade teacher provided input to the third-grade teacher, and so on. Over

Vertical teams are teams of teachers who all teach the same subject but at different grade levels. the course of numerous discussions, the teams articulated essential standards and learning targets at each grade level. The next question to address was: How do we build common assessments when we teach different grade levels? They asked themselves, “What skills at each grade level do we have in common that

we are working on in kindergarten that we are still working on in second grade, albeit at different levels?” Looking at their language arts charts, they found that many of the skills they were teaching spiraled up the grade levels. They listed the skills: reading fluently, building vocabulary, comprehending text, summarizing stories, summarizing informational text, making predictions, asking questions related to the text, writing complete sentences, recognizing text features, and so on. Teachers had more in common than they thought. After reviewing state, district, and school data, the K–2 team agreed that they shared a concern that students struggled with writing complete sentences, a foundational skill. They had determined a starting place. The K-1-2 team discussed what they were seeing in student work, particularly among English learners. With excitement, the team identified the commonality in their students’ struggles, even though these students were at different grade levels and

I wrote some letters or words.

Sentence Rubric

I wrote a simple sentence with a noun and a verb.

My sentence has a noun, a verb, AND correct capitalization, spacing, and a punctuation mark. My sentence is about one topic using a noun, a verb, and an adjective or elaboration. I used a capital letter, spacing, and punctuation. My sentence is about one topic using a noun, a verb, and an adjective. I used a capital letter, spacing, and punctuation. I used correct grammar including tenses, pronouns, etc.

Source: Hansen, A. (2015). How to develop PLCs for singletons and small schools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press, p. 9.

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ages. The teachers built a simple star rubric for assessing complete sentences, as shown on page 17. Teachers agreed that the learning target for a kindergartner was to produce a twostar sentence, while the target for a second grader was to produce multiple five-star sentences. The team established inter-rater reliability by grading student work together and gathering example anchor papers at each level. These success criteria were published for the students, along with time frames for when students should be able to perform at the identified levels.

Virtual teams can be composed of teachers who teach the same subject but who work in different schools, different districts, even different states. The teachers regularly assessed student progress and kept simple progress-monitoring charts for each student. The teachers then designed flexible interventions based on need, not grade level. The teacher who was best equipped to provide that level of intervention would provide it. The team engaged in rich discussions about strategies they were using, what was working, and what they still needed to learn to help students 18

AllThingsPLC Magazine/Summer 2016

improve their sentence writing skills. By repeating this process over time with other essential standards, the school became an amazing PLC success story. It dramatically improved student achievement and became a model for others to follow. Read more about Bluff Elementary’s story at www.allthingsplc .info under Evidence of Effectiveness. Although the vertical team in the scenario is an elementary school example, vertical teams at the secondary level can be powerful too. Imagine if the high school English department had common rubrics that described good writing in grades 9 through 12, even though the performance expectations on the rubric would be different for a ninth grader than for a twelfth grader. How powerful would that level of clarity and consistency be for students to track their progress over a four-year high school career instead of just jumping through the hoops of the current class? What about science? What if the high school science team chose to collaboratively work on the essential skill of critical thinking or applying the scientific method to problem solving and gave students clearly articulated learning targets each year for four straight years? What kind of effect would that have on students’ abilities as scientific thinkers? What if the math department worked collaboratively to improve problem solving in real-world situations and had a common scoring rubric for how students approach real-life problem solving? Even though the performance expectations on a common rubric would undoubtedly be different for a ninth grader in algebra than

for a twelfth grader in calculus, students and teachers could discover a common path that progressively moved toward the ultimate goal of being a problem solver.

3

Go virtual! Think outside the building.

Welcome to the 21st century! By using technology readily accessible to almost anyone, singleton teachers can find others who do exactly what they do and meet virtually to do the work of a collaborative team, regardless of where they live. It just takes a little tech savvy, a strong commitment, and other people who are just as committed. However, prospective virtualists, beware, it isn’t as easy as you might think. Virtual teams typically comprise teachers who teach the same subject or grade level but aren’t in the same school. A virtual team could be composed of teachers working in the same district when the distances between schools are great or a virtual team could include teachers who teach the same subject but work in many different parts of the country or even just different parts of the same state. When Casey Rutherford, high school AP physics teacher in Shakopee, Minn., heard the expectation from his school leaders that the school was going to become a PLC, he was excited. However, it quickly became apparent that collaboration for him was going to be a challenge, since he was the only AP physics teacher in his building. Using his substantial


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How to Develop PLCs for Singletons and Small Schools addresses how singletons—solitary subject-area teachers—and small schools can achieve collective visions in forming teams in a PLC. PLCs carry great potential, but without careful implementation, they can foster divided cultures rather than collaborative ones. To better involve singletons and address small schools, author Aaron Hansen presents five methods for structuring PLC teams. With each method, he provides effective strategies and real teacher experiences detailing success with collaborative teams.

K–12 administrators and teachers will:

• Learn what it means to practice and support team collaboration in a PLC • Discover scenarios, principles, opportunities, challenges, and recommendations for including singletons and small schools in a PLC

Learn more . . . HOW TO DEVELOP PLCS FOR SINGLETONS AND SMALL SCHOOLS

professional learning network (PLN) that he had already established through Twitter (@rutherfordcasey), he reached out to other physics teachers inviting them to join him as a true collaborative team. After sifting through multiple responses, Casey was able to form a team with five other AP physics teachers who met in the evenings using Google Hangouts, Google Docs, and other Google forms. His team, composed of teachers from upper New York State, New York City, Minnesota, Iowa, How to Develop PLCs for and Pennsylvania, got to work answering the four criticaland Small Schools Singletons questions, determining what’s essential in physics, developing common assessments, analyzing student results, and determining what to do in response. (Learn more about Casey’s experience by reading his blog post at AllThingsPLC: www.allthingsplc.info/blog /view/210/a-physics-plc-collaboration-at-a-distance.) Casey proved that the tech tools make it possible to have rich collaboration without being in the same room or even the same time zone. That’s not to say there aren’t challenges. Virtual teams often struggle with finding others who are willing to commit to the process and finding a common time to meet since school schedules often don’t converge to provide a common time. Technology itself can be a challenge. The technology has to work, district filters have to allow access to tech tools, and teachers have to be proficient at using the tools. Although virtual teams are generally more complex to establish, tech tools aren’t what’s holding people back. Virtual teams must have a strong commitment to work together because they probably don’t have a shared expectation from a supervisor as most traditional teams do. As with Casey, the opportunity is there to find others who are just as committed and passionate about your subject as you are and you can form a virtual team to do the work of a true PLC team. Find other interested teachers by reaching out via Twitter or another favorite social network, post your query on the forum at allthingsplc.info, or just start to ask teachers at your next district meeting or professional learning opportunity. • Review the steps for establishing and promoting successful teams in a PLC

• Read sample dialogues and tips on how to build teams in a PLC

Visit go.solution-tree.com/PLCbooks to access materials related to this book.

solution-tree.com

AARON HANSEN

Solutions Series: Solutions for Professional Learning Communities offers K–12 educators easy-to-implement recommendations on professional learning communities (PLCs). In a short, readerfriendly format, these how-to guides equip practitioners with the tools they need to transform their school or district or take their PLC to the next level.

Portions of this article were excerpted from Aaron Hansen’s How to Develop (2015) book, How to Develop PLCs for Singletons PLCs for Singletons and Small and Small Schools Schools. Look there for more detailed tactics used for singletons and small-school PLCs or at www.allthingsplc.info. Another Solution Tree Press book is also great on this topic: Professional Learning Communities at Work™ and VirtuAaron Hansen al Collaboration by Richard DuFour and Casey Reason (2016). To get a taste of what’s in this book, read Casey Reason’s blog posts about virtual teams on the Solution Tree website: Solutions for Professional Learning Communities

• Virtual teams: How to improve instructional practice and jump-start your PLC www.solution-tree.com/blog/virtual-teams • Virtual teams: Technology as the tipping point www.solution-tree.com/blog/virtual-teams -technology-as-the-tipping-point

AARON HANSEN started his career as a high school English and sociology teacher in Ely, Nev., and now works as a leadership consultant with the Northeastern Nevada Regional Professional Development Program. This father of five—ages two to thirteen—is an avid outdoorsman and fly fisherman who went to college on a golf scholarship and also speaks Danish. Follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaronhansen77.

Summer 2016/AllThingsPLC Magazine

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Free resources for your book study We have the tools to help your book study reach its full potential. • Study Guides

• Video Library

• Reproducibles

• The Network newsletter

• allthingsplc.info

• Webinars

Free Resources

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Struggling to keep team norms and collegial commitments

Q

As an administrator, I feel like I spend a lot of time trying to help adults “play nice.” Although we’ve developed collegial commitments that should govern how we interact with one another, I still have several staff members who just aren’t keeping our commitments. I’ve had several staff meeting roundtable discussions and spoken to individuals about their actions, but maybe I’ve missed something in the process that could help. It’s frustrating because we don’t work things out as professionals, and I’m constantly dealing with the backbiting issues. Any suggestions for protocols staff could use to solve professional disagreements?

A

There is a psychological phenomenon that suggests guards will take on the general persona of inmates. This has implications in many fields and institutions, including education and schools. Teachers undoubtedly do take on the general persona of students when they’re in meetings or taking classes with peers. Model the behavior you expect from a group of well-behaved students, in essence, treat them as students. This has been effective and positive in relatively healthy organizations.

A

Putting staff in role-playing activities may be helpful and eye-opening for them. People who do not play nice may be surprised when they’re in a role where they are spoken to unkindly and are asked to respond. Also, staff members may realize how immature and unprofessional they are being when they play the role of the aggressor and realize the role they’re playing is actually them.

A

We have thirty-minute team time every day, and it becomes very difficult to keep five adults on task. Assigning a role to each person in the group seems to help. The roles we use are timekeeper, resource manager, two facilitators, and note taker. This allows everybody to have a part in the teamwork.

A

The model of direct instruction is traditionally “I do, we do, you do.” We must model acceptable behavior for each other just as much as we expect students to model acceptable behavior for us. You can use YouTube videos to show teamwork versus no teamwork. Perhaps before-and-after examples would provide team members with a visual on the behaviors they are exhibiting that are hindering the progress in the meeting, within the school, and consequently of students.

A

I’ve had success with the following resources. They’re all great books with ideas on building a strong collaborative culture. Maybe they’ll work for you too: How to Create a Culture of Achievement in Your School and Classroom by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Ian Pumpian and several books by Jon Gordon—The Energy Bus, Soup, and The No Complaining Rule.

Adapted from an exchange in the AllThingsPLC Community Forum (www.allthingsplc.info/forums). Visit the following exchange, and add your own questions or suggestions. www.allthingsplc.info/forums/topic/199/struggling-to-keep-team-norms-and-collegial-commitments

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Learning

Champion Héctor García:

PLC vision improves learning for all students Héctor García is nothing if not persistent. A chance discovery that honors students had different opportunities than he had as a low-track English learner (EL) student in high school propelled García on a journey that eventually led to a career in teaching and a commitment to providing that same level of quality to all students. Today, García is superintendent of the 2,300-student Plano Community Unit School District about forty miles west of Chicago. But, first, here’s his story of discovery. Fifteen-year-old Héctor García was a lackluster student at Morton East High School in Cicero, Illinois, when he found an excuse to leave a class for English learners one afternoon and happened across a different world of learning. “In the ELL class, they would lecture to us endlessly and make us read basic books,’’ he said. En route to the bathroom, he wandered past a class where students were out of their seats, smiling, and very engaged in learning. When a boy from that class stepped into the hall, García learned the class was an honors class. Soon García was badgering his guidance counselor to get him into one of those honors classes. The guidance counselor refused. García’s grades

and eighth-grade test scores were terrible, he said. García was not honors class material. For two years, García kept returning; for two years, the counselor kept refusing. Finally, during his junior year, García came up with another tactic. “I heard you’re retiring,” he told the counselor. “If you put me into one of those honors classes, what do you have to lose? By the time anyone figures it out, you’ll be gone.” The counselor was tired of his annual requests, so he gave in and registered García for not one but three honors courses during his senior year in high school. But the story does not end there. Near the end of the first marking period, one of his honors science teachers summoned him to the front of the room. “Mr. García,” she began. “Do you know what grade you’re getting in this class?” “Maybe a C minus or a D plus,” García responded. “That’s right. You’re getting a D plus,” she said. “And that is not an acceptable grade in this class. I will not accept anything lower than a B in this class. So get ready to shape up, Mr. García, because I’m going to help you get that better grade.” “I have never forgotten that conversation. Talk about high expectations! I felt like saying, ‘Lady, did you know that last year, I was in a completely different world where they expected Cs and Ds out of a guy like me?’ They never would have called me


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SolutionTree.com/atplcmagazine up here, never would have called me ‘Mr. García,’ never would have told me that grades like that were unacceptable,” García recalls. “That really changed my life. My life could have gone in about fifteen different directions. But from there on, I started believing that teachers can make a profound difference. “So I started to wonder what would happen if every teacher had high expectations for kids, including those kids who were like me. I thought about becoming a teacher just to see if I could do the same thing for other kids that had happened to me. I wanted to identify ways that I could inspire that kind of energy and enthusiasm for learning that was sparked me,’’ he said. AllThingsPLC: After earning a degree in education, you went back to your old school district as a history teacher. How did that go?

García: (Laughing) I thought that I would solve all of the problems in two to three years. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do for the rest of my career. It felt great. I was so energized by the belief that educators could transform the lives of students. As in most schools, I received the schedule that veteran teachers did not want. They put me with the lowest-skilled kids and with a challenging schedule. But that’s what I wanted! I felt like the luckiest man on earth. Then I realized how much learning I had to do for my students to be successful. ATP: Did you get any support from teachers to ease the way into the profession?

García: No. We had the old-fashioned sink-or-swim mentality. My mentor for the first two years would say hi to me at the beginning of year and at the end of the year. That was it. My department chair said, “Héctor, I need you to teach current world events and world history and U.S. history.” Three preps. I said, “Great, I love it, I can do that.” Then, I said, “What exactly would you like me to teach?” She looked at me as if I had three eyes. She said, “What do you mean what are you supposed to teach? Didn’t you go to college to be a history teacher? Just teach whatever you think is important.” Well, I took Latin American history courses from some pretty radical professors and courses from professors who believed that U.S. history was shaped tremendously by Latinos. So, I proceeded to give great importance to nontraditional topics and omitted areas of history that I just didn’t think were important.

Héctor García Age: 45

Personal: Lives in Elmhurst, Illinois, with his wife, Tricia, and their four children. Has coached his son and three daughters in baseball, soccer, and lacrosse. Fluent in Spanish and English. Passionate foodie who enjoys the multitude of great places to eat in the Chicago area. Competitive tennis player who was once a certified tennis instructor. Listens to the Marshall Memo on podcast during his long commute between Plano and Elmhurst as well as a variety of nonfiction authors like Howard Zinn, Jim Collins, and Thomas S. Kuhn. Has an eclectic taste in music ranging from Billy Joel and U2 to Enrique Iglesias and Coldplay. Enjoys the poetry of Luis Rodriguez and has been inspired by the artwork of Diego Rivera.

1993 1996 2003 2004 2006 2009 2010 2012 2015

First job in education as a history teacher at Morton West High School in Berwyn, Illinois.

First encounter with PLCs when he joined Adlai E. Stevenson High School as a dean of students.

Became principal at Morton East High School, Cicero, Illinois. Expanded the advanced placement (AP) program there by 117 percent and the number of AP exams by 154 percent. Earned his doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies from Loyola University Chicago.

Became director of curriculum and instruction at Plainfield Community Consolidated School District #202, Plainfield, Illinois. Increased the percentage of students who met or exceeded standards in reading, mathematics, science, and writing and significantly expanded Latino and African American student enrollment in AP courses. Became assistant superintendent for educational services at Glenbard High School District #87, Glen Ellyn, Illinois. AP enrollment for Latino and AfricanAmerican students increased substantially. First presented for Solution Tree. Became superintendent at Plano Community Unit School District, Plano, Illinois.

Published his first book with Solution Tree, Game Plan: A Playbook for Developing Winning PLCs at Work™.

Summer 2016/AllThingsPLC Magazine

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Sound bite Why do you believe in PLCs? PLCs give schools the fundamental structure that lets staff develop innovative ways of addressing the needs of their students. The more effective teams become, the faster the school culture continues to overcome the challenges that naturally exist in every school. What’s exciting about PLCs is that you end up becoming almost hungry for better practices, better things that you can do in your school, with your team. You know that every time you put in one of these pieces, more students improve, more students achieve their growth target, and we eventually start to ensure that every student experiences success at school. For me, that is the addictive part of a PLC and of education. Every day, I look forward to seeing what our staff have solved and the pieces they have added to help a student be successful.

I was twenty-two years old, and I was deciding arbitrarily what was important and what was not important in U.S. history. There were several other teachers in the department, but everyone worked in complete isolation, and nobody said anything about it.

her every unit in terms of skills and knowledge and some activities to go along with those. She didn’t need my binder. I wish I would have had that level of support when I started teaching.

ATP: You eventually became assistant

García: Yes, you could see all of the different pieces at Stevenson, whether you’re talking about collaboration among teachers, identifying the essential skills and knowledge, or discussing intervention strategies for struggling students. You could see all of that in 1996. I was part of a student support team with two guidance counselors and a social worker. We monitored students. We talked about different levels of supports, different levels of intensity. We regularly used data to monitor students and developed new ways to support them.

dean of students at Morton East High School and then moved to Adlai E. Stevenson High School as a dean of students. How was your experience at Stevenson different from your experience at Morton East?

García: Everything that Rick DuFour talks about now in terms of PLCs, you could see it being established at Stevenson. Let me give you one example. Not long after I started as a new administrator at Stevenson, I met a new history teacher there. I told her I had had a terrible experience when I started teaching history so I developed a curriculum and that I would be happy to give it to her. She smiled and said, “Oh, Héctor, thanks for that.” Then she pulled out these binders and said she had just met with the history team, and they had given

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ATP: That’s a powerful example of the difference between the two cultures.

ATP: Did you have an aha moment when everything sort of clicked?

García: Not one moment, no. Rick DuFour, Tim Kanold, and others were always willing to share insights into why they were structuring programs or services in a certain manner. I would also

ask a lot of questions about how they progressed from a very traditional system to one of the best schools in America. They were passionate about helping all kids learn, deeply committed to working collaboratively, and relentless in their pursuit to continuously improve. I used to drive this old Chevy Cavalier that was all rusted out. For whatever reason, Rick would call me to give him a ride to the airport on my way home and that would become my graduate class for the week. During those trips, Rick would go into great detail about how to overcome certain challenges, implement programs, or simply avoid traditional mistakes. I learned more on my trips with Rick and from my experience at Stevenson than in several of my graduate courses. ATP: What was Plano doing with PLCs when you arrived there as superintendent? Since arriving in Plano, how has the district progressed in terms of PLCs?

García: Our staff have truly challenged themselves to shift from intentions to results as a district. Like most schools, we always had pockets of excellence, but our staff have moved beyond that and found ways to ensure that we garner the power of everyone working toward a common goal. Over the years, staff members have worked together and improved every aspect of what it means to be a true PLC. ATP: So what advice would you have for someone who comes into a situation where it is more window dressing than a true PLC? Where do you start?

García: I would suggest that the leadership team establishes clarity and focus on what it conceptualizes as a true PLC. At Plano, we created what we call a PLC road map along the four essential questions and established basic guiding principles. The road map encompasses both the action as well as the product. We can clearly articulate what we’re trying to accomplish when answering the first critical


ROAD MAP Everyone is on a team.

Every team has clear expectations of the work that needs to take place.

Teams are given at least one period every week to meet and collaborate.

Collaborative teams have a process for communicating the products and progress of their team with others.

Plano Community Unit School District #88

Critical Question #2 Critical Question #1 What do we want students to know and be able to do? • Teams have clarified what each student should know and be able to do by unit and grade level or course. • Learning targets or power standards have been formalized in a template. • Common pacing guides (semester plans) have been created. • Outcomes are vertically aligned in the school to ensure that there are no gaps, overlaps, or omissions.

How will we know if students have learned the skills? • Common assessments of learning practices exist and have been consistently implemented. (Summative) • Common assessments for learning practices exist and have been consistently implemented. (Formative) • Teachers have developed a common understanding of what constitutes a successful result. (Mastery/Exceed Level) • Collaborative teams frequently analyze student work to ensure equity. (Assessments and Grading)

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Critical Question #3

Critical Question #4

What will we do if students are struggling?

What will we do if students already know the skill?

• Teachers use data to determine students who need extra time and support of learning outcomes. • RTI (Teacher Level)—Teachers continuously define the problem, analyze possible solutions, implement interventions, and evaluate outcomes. • RTI (Team Level)— Teams continuously move through the RTI process. • RTI (School Level)— The school has implemented a formal RTI process.

• Standards are in place for identifying students who exceed standards. • Teams have formalized a process for enriching a student’s academic experience. • A sequence of courses or programs is in place for students who exceed standards. • The school closely monitors and increases the number of students who exceed standards.

Summer 2016/AllThingsPLC Magazine

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SolutionTree.com/atplcmagazine question. We wanted better clarity about the meaning as well as the products that would show evidence. It’s so easy to assume that everyone understands a concept the same way rather than working toward greater clarity and evidence. It’s the difference between saying we have a guaranteed and viable curriculum and showing evidence that we have units that outline the essential skills and knowledge. In our case, the PLC road map is a tool that guides our efforts and also monitors our progress. We know the PLC journey doesn’t have a finishing line, but it is essential to feel a sense of accomplishment when teams achieve another component and student achievement rises. Establishing clarity and focus sounds so darn simple but is so elegantly powerful. Yet, like everything else, you must continuously challenge yourself as a leadership or classroom team to keep that as a high priority. I’m convinced that people fall in love with the vision but struggle and become disillusioned if they don’t feel there is structure or guidance toward the goal. ATP: The entire Plano district is about half the size of Stevenson High School. How do you translate the model you saw at Stevenson into a district that is so very much smaller than that single high school?

García: Yes, Plano has 2,300 students with great ethnic and cultural as well as socioeconomic diversity (64 percent low income, 40 percent white, 40 percent Latino, about 10 percent African American). One of the pressing challenges that we faced was the need to ensure that every teacher was on a meaningful team including our singleton teachers. In Plano, we talk about the power of establishing vertical teams rather than spending all of our efforts exclusively on horizontal teams. In music for example, directors from each school worked on

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establishing consensus on the essential skills that needed to be secured at every level. Furthermore, they also wanted to communicate which students were above the norm as well as which students would

We are obviously not waiting until we are able to eradicate poverty before we help some of our most vulnerable kids. need extra assistance when they moved to the next grade level. We wanted to erase academic gaps that seem inevitable when students move from one school or grade level to another. That eliminates the frustration that comes with having to teach a skill that should have been secured in the previous year. In terms of establishing collaborative culture, you can’t just go with horizontal teams and think that’s going to address every challenge. Vertical teams have to become a part of the conversation anytime a school or district has singletons. ATP: Plano has a high concentration of poverty. Do PLCs help inoculate a staff or a school against the kind of challenges that confront schools with many students who live in poverty? Can the energy and the morale that are generated by a PLC make it easier for staff to confront those kinds of external issues that they really can’t control?

García: I absolutely believe that teachers working collaboratively with the right vision are able to overcome major challenges such as the effects that poverty has on the academic performance of students. Our staff continues to focus on the variables that we control rather than those that are outside of our influence. Therefore, the conversation continues to focus on what can we do to improve our efforts rather than the percentage of low-income students in our schools. Continuous improvement has become our number-one challenge rather than poverty. We are obviously not waiting until we are able to eradicate poverty before we help some of our most vulnerable kids. In my home, my parents never changed. We spoke Spanish at home every day. My neighborhood, it never changed. It was the opportunities at school that changed. And that changed me.


about PLCs s FAQ Balancing time for all kids do we do with students who have already Q: What learned it while some students receive interventions?

A:

If a school includes flexible time in the master schedule to provide students with interventions, there is no reason why teachers cannot also use this time to extend the learning of students who have already learned it. This time can be used as follows. • To extend a student’s learning on an essential standard from proficient to advanced: For example, a student who scored a “3—Meets Proficiency” on a fourpoint rubric in persuasive writing could receive additional time and support to reach a “4—Exceeds Proficiency.” • To teach the nonessential curriculum: When teachers identify essential standards, they do not represent all the curriculum that they can teach but instead the minimum a student must master. That means that teachers can instruct students who have already mastered the essentials on the rest of the curriculum. That is a lot of available curriculum.

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Notice that we used the word extend, not enrich. Extension means to deepen students’ knowledge and skills in their core instruction. Enrichment is traditionally the term we use to represent special and elective subjects like art, music, computers, drama, and physical education. We highly recommend that schools do not view these subjects as nonessential content that students receive only when they have learned the essential English language arts and mathematics content. Electives are essential for two reasons. Electives teach universal skills, often through different modalities. If a student has difficulty in fractions, then learning three-quarters time in music can be an excellent way to teach him or her the concept where repeated abstract whiteboard problems and worksheets failed. Home economics can teach the same skills, as students double a recipe for cookies while at the same time engaging in real-life applications of mathematics. Students often see enrichment and electives as the fun part of school, increasing their interest, enthusiasm, and

attendance. Many schools complain that their most at-risk students are apathetic while they strip away the coursework these students might excel in and enjoy. When schools view intervention and extension as two sides of the same coin, and use their supplemental intervention time to achieve both, it is much easier to ensure that all students receive enrichment as well.

Have a question about PLCs? Check out Solution Tree’s effort to collect and answer all of your questions in one great book: Concise Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Professional Learning Communities at Work™ by Mike Mattos, Richard DuFour, Rebecca DuFour, Robert Eaker, and Thomas W. Many. This question and answer are in chapter 5, “How Will We Respond When Some Students Don’t Learn and When Some Do?”

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ESTABLISH A SOLID FOUNDATION

NEW!

ATPLC–DVF071 $174.95 USD | $219.00 CAD UPC 81179601 47-minute DVD; 56-page Facilitator’s Guide (in print and on CD)

This video workshop outlines the four pillars—mission, vision, values, and goals— essential to implement and sustain a successful PLC. K–12 leaders, administrators, and teacher teams will explore the importance of aligning practices, policies, and procedures with a common, shared foundation.

READ MORE!

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Includes exclusive video content of authors role-playing members of a PLC.


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STUDENT UNIT OV E RV I E W SHEETS

Tu r n Feedback into

Detective Wo r k by William M. Ferriter

Let’s start with an unsettling truth: despite our commitment to college and career readiness, today’s schools are doing a poor job preparing students for the modern workplace. In fact, statistics detailing the perceptions of employers leave little reason to believe that schools even recognize the importance of producing people who can do more than master an explicit curriculum (Hart Research Associates, 2015): • Only 14 percent of employers believe graduates possess the skills necessary to complete a significant applied learning project. • Only 23 percent of employers believe graduates can apply learning in real-world settings. • Only 42 percent of employers believe schools are doing a good job preparing students for entry-level positions—and only 36 percent of employers believe graduates are ready to move into advanced positions. What are today’s employers looking for in new hires? Perhaps most important, they’re looking for employees who can learn on the fly—pulling together disparate pieces of information in order to make well-informed decisions regardless of the situation. They’re also looking for employees who can independently identify meaningful goals worth pursuing, who can develop cogent plans for making progress toward accomplishing those goals, and who can accurately and honestly reflect on, react to, and revise their plans during any work cycle. MIT mathematician, scientist, and educator Seymour Papert once went as far as

to argue that this ability to set goals, design plans, and monitor progress is the only outcome of education that really matters: The model that says learn while you’re at school, while you’re young, the skills that you will apply during your lifetime is no longer tenable. The skills that you can learn when you’re at school will not be applicable. They will be obsolete by the time you get into the workplace and need them, except for one skill. The one really competitive skill is the skill of being able to learn. It is the skill of being able not to give the right answer to questions about what you were taught in school but to make the right response to situations that are outside the scope of what you were taught in school. We need to produce people who know how to act when they’re faced with situations for which they were not specifically prepared. (Papert, 1998, emphasis added)

In my experience, developing this “one really competitive skill” in K–12 students starts when we turn any feedback that we give into detective work—an idea advanced by assessment expert Dylan Wiliam (2015). Our goal as teachers should go from grading papers and telling students what we see to helping students unravel the mystery in their own learning. We have to commit to the notion that the real power in feedback doesn’t come from delivery; it comes from discovery. When students have regular opportunities to think carefully about the work they’re being asked to do, to create Summer 2016/AllThingsPLC Magazine

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and compare their work against examples of accomplished frequently as possible during your weekly lessons, and at the performance, and to draw conclusions about next steps worth end of every unit shows every learner that progress is possible. taking based on an understanding of their own strengths and “In effect, we use such repeated formative classroom assessweaknesses, they become confident, action-oriented learners ments as a mirror permitting students to watch themselves grow,” according to Rick Stiggins and Jan Chappuis. “As they chart progress, who thrive in moments of uncertainty. So how can you turn feedback into detective work? Start they gain a sense of control over their own learning. This can be a by working with your team to develop student unit overview powerful confidence builder” (Stiggins & Chappuis, 2005, p. 3). sheets. These are short documents written in age-appropriate language that detail the content and skills covered in an indi- OVERVIEW SHEETS BENEFIT MANY Using student unit overview sheets offers advantages to vidual unit of study, give students opportunities to track their progress toward mastery, and encourage students to record con- students, teachers, and professional learning communities. #1. Overview sheets or learning cards permit students to crete evidence of their learning. If you teach students in grades 4–12, list all of the objectives watch themselves grow. This is more than just a confidence for one unit of study on the same unit overview sheet. Doing builder. They can have a tangible effect on student achievement. so makes it possible for students to track their progress from In fact, four of the highest leverage instructional behaviors identhe beginning to the end of each unit on the same document. tified by educational researcher John Hattie (2009) in Visible If you teach primary students, consider developing learning Learning can be enhanced in classrooms that embrace overview sheets or learning cards. Specifically, overview cards that you can hand out, one objective at a time. sheets and learning cards allow teachers to Doing so ensures that younger students aren’t challenge student expectations, a beoverwhelmed by the number of objectives havior that Hattie calls self-reporting they’re expected to master during a unit grades. Overview sheets and of study. learning cards also help teachOnce you’ve developed student Our goal as ers bring clarity to their lesunit overview sheets or learning teachers should go sons, change the nature of cards that detail the content and the feedback they’re givskills that will be covered during from grading papers and ing students, and make a cycle of instruction, begin intemetacognition a regular telling students what we grating them into your work part of daily instruction. with the kids in your classroom. see to helping students Given that self-reporting Setting aside regular time for grades is the top-ranked students to reflect—on where unravel the mystery in instructional behavior in they’re going, how they’re doing, their own learning. Hattie’s (2009) study—and and what’s coming next (Hattie, that teacher clarity (8), feed2009)—at the beginning of back (10), and metacognition (13) a new unit of study, as

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SolutionTree.com/atplcmagazine all place in the top 15—teachers who use overview sheets or learning cards with students can be confident that this one simple change to their practice will make a real difference for students. #2. Developing student unit overview sheets or learning cards also can make a real difference for professional learning teams that are struggling to find collaborative starting points.

Because teachers are already deciding what to teach during a cycle of instruction, developing unit overview sheets will feel comfortable and familiar—an important characteristic of the tasks that teams new to collective inquiry are likely to embrace. More important, developing student unit overview sheets or learning cards forces teams to wrestle with the first key question of a PLC—What

STUDENT UNIT OVERVIEW SHEET

do we want our students to know and be able to do?—and results in the creation of a guaranteed and viable curriculum that can be delivered to every kid in every classroom on every grade level in a school. Finally, determining which outcomes are need to knows versus which outcomes are nice to knows provides early opportunities for teachers to engage in the kind of higher-level conversations about learning that are characteristic of the most accomplished learning teams. #3. Student unit overview sheets and learning cards also can push teams toward more advanced collaborative behaviors. Developing and delivering common assessments, tracking progress by both student and standard, intervening on behalf of students who are struggling and providing extension to students who have mastered essential content before a unit even begins are far more manageable once teams have a shared understanding about the content and skills that will be covered from unit to unit. Questions that novice learning teams struggle to answer—What concepts should we study together? What content should we assess together? What skills do we need to develop remediation and enrichment opportunities for?—are all answered in the same way: we will study, assess, and intervene around the concepts, content, and skills listed on our unit overview sheets or learning cards. #4. Student unit overview sheets and learning cards can become valuable communication tools across a professional learning community. People who have a deep interest in the content and skills being covered in individual classrooms—think special educators, guidance counselors, instructional coaches, media specialists, parents, and principals —can pull up the unit overview sheets or learning cards developed by collaborative teams and instantly understand the outcomes that students are expected to master. What’s more, if teachers develop unit overview sheets and learning cards

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SolutionTree.com/atplcmagazine for every content area and grade level, they can lead to important conversations about vertical alignment. Spotting areas of conceptual overlap is a lot easier when every team has detailed essential content in approachable language on documents that are widely available to everyone in their building. One of the most practical bits of advice that PLC expert Rick DuFour ever shared with me is that the best way to drive change in schools is to use products to emphasize processes. Want teams to

start having conversations about the best way to measure learning? Ask them to create a common assessment. Interested in seeing teachers study the characteristics of high-quality instruction together? Require them to develop a sequence of lessons with one another. Teachers appreciate the focus and direction inherent in creating products together while leaders appreciate the opportunities that collaborative teams have to experiment with the core behaviors that define collaborative inquiry.

That’s why student unit overview sheets and learning cards can be such valuable tools for your PLC. Not only do they reinforce high-leverage instructional behaviors, encourage teachers to think differently about the role that students can play in assessing their own learning, and give kids the chance to develop skills that modern employers value, but they give teams an approachable starting point for taking action together.

Works Cited Hart Research Associates. (2015, January). Falling short? College learning and career success: Selected findings from online surveys of employers and college students conducted on behalf of the Association of American Colleges & Universities. Washington, DC: Author.  Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses  relating to achievement. New York: Routledge.  Papert, S. (1998, June 2). Child power: Keys to the new learning of the digital century [Blog post]. Accessed at www.papert.org/articles/Childpower .html on April 26, 2016. WILLIAM M. FERRITER is a sixth-

grade teacher in a North Carolina public school as well as a senior fellow at the Center for Teaching Quality and author of The Tempered Radical blog (http:// blog.williamferriter.com). When Bill isn’t busy teaching, writing, or presenting, you can find him riding bikes or camping with his six-year-old daughter. Follow Bill on Twitter @plugusin.

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Stiggins, R., & Chappuis, J. (2005). Using student-involved classroom assessment to close achievement gaps. Theory Into Practice, 44(1), 11–18. Wiliam, D. [dylanwiliam]. (2015, November 22). Or, to put it another way, “Make feedback into detective work” [Tweet]. Accessed at https:// twitter.com/dylanwiliam/status /668635191531958272 on April 26, 2016.


Words Matter LOOSE What does it mean

VS

TIGHT By Richard DuFour

when you say that the culture of a PLC must be simultaneously loose and tight? Think of tight as synonymous with nondiscretionary. Think of loose as the equivalent of empowered to make decisions. When the culture of a school or district is simultaneously loose and tight, there are established parameters and priorities that everyone in the organizations must honor and adhere to. There are also aspects of the work in which members are empowered to make decisions—individually, collectively, or both— and encouraged to be creative. These elements are loose.

TIGHT

LOOSE

The following aspects of the PLC at Work™ process are tight.

1.

Educators work in collaborative teams and take collective responsibility for student learning rather than working in isolation. As members of a team, they work interdependently to achieve common SMART goals for which members are mutually accountable.

2.

Collaborative teams implement a guaranteed and viable curriculum, unit by unit.

3.

Collaborative teams monitor student learning through an ongoing assessment process that includes frequent, team-developed common formative assessments.

4.

Educators use the results of common assessments to:

1.

• Build the team’s capacity to achieve its goals • Intervene or extend on behalf of individual students

Establish their own norms and SMART goals

2.

Determine the specific knowledge and skills students must acquire in each unit

3.

Establish pacing for each unit (the length of time they will devote to the unit)

4.

Determine the standard of proficiency each student must attain

5.

Gather evidence of student learning through an assessment process that includes one or more common formative assessments the team creates for each unit

PLCs are also loose when it comes to empowering individual teachers to:

1.

• Improve individual practice

5.

Aspects of the PLC at Work™ process that are loose empower teams of teachers to:

Use the instructional strategies that they feel work best for them

2.

Use their own ongoing assessments as they teach

3.

Pace the content as they deem appropriate within the window of time the team has established for the unit

The school provides a systematic process for intervention and enrichment. Intervention is timely, directive (not invitational), and diagnostic (focusing on specific skills), and it does not remove a student from new direct instruction.

Decisions at all levels in the PLC process are the result of collective inquiry into the most promising practice. Members of PLCs don’t just share opinions or follow unexamined precedents. They learn together in a constant effort to improve their effectiveness in helping all students learn.

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33


SKILL

SHOP

Is it R.E.A.L. or not? By Thomas W. Many

Teams that prioritize the standards they teach learn that the process is as important as the product. Carefully analyzing the standards, debating the merits of individual standards, and coming to a consensus on the most essential standards help everyone gain a more thorough understanding of what teachers should teach and what students should learn. Identifying the essential standards for every subject and every course is at the heart of the work that PLCs do

when they answer the question “What do we want our students to learn?” Here’s one strategy that PLCs can use to aid in this important work. Ted Horrell and his colleagues at Germantown High School in Germantown, Tennessee, created the R.E.A.L. criteria to determine if a standard is essential. They drew on the work of Larry Ainsworth in Power Standards: Identifying the Standards That Matter the Most (Advanced Learning Press, 2004).

The four R.E.A.L. criteria are:

R

Readiness

The standard may be essential if it provides students with essential knowledge and skills necessary for success in the next class, course, or grade level. An example of a standard meeting this criterion: Algebra 1 standard—Manipulate formulas and solve literal equations.

Students would need this skill to be prepared for geometry or algebra 2.

E

Endurance

The standard may be essential if it provides students with knowledge and skills that are useful beyond a single test or unit of study. An example of a standard meeting this criterion: English 9–10 standard—Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

Knowing how to write an objective summary of written passages would be necessary for many high school and college courses as well as many professions.

A

Assessed The standard may be essential if it is likely to be assessed on upcoming state and national exams.

An example of a standard meeting this criterion: Algebra 1 standard—Order and classify rational numbers.

Questions on the ACT and PSAT require students to use this skill, which might make this a priority standard.

L

Leverage

The standard may be essential if it provides students with knowledge and skills that will be of value in multiple disciplines. An example of a standard meeting this criterion: Physical science standard—Choose, construct, and analyze appropriate graphical representations for a data set.

Students will be expected to apply these skills in future science classes as well as in other content areas such as social studies, career and technical education, and mathematics. If a standard aligns with these criteria, teachers should consider it an essential standard and teach it to mastery. 34

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Is this standard R.E.A.L.? Proposed standard:

Readiness If students meet this standard, will they be prepared for the next class, course, or grade level?

What classes or courses might expect students to have the knowledge acquired by meeting this standard?

Endurance If students meet this standard, will they have knowledge and skills that will serve them beyond a single test or one unit of study?

What knowledge and skills would students acquire by meeting this standard?

Assessed Would students benefit from having met this standard when they take an upcoming state exam or a college-readiness exam?

Upcoming state exams?

Yes

No

College-readiness exams, such as the SAT or ACT?

Yes

No

Leverage By meeting this standard, will students have knowledge and skills that they can use and would need in multiple disciplines?

What knowledge and skills would students acquire by meeting this standard?

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Implementation Mistakes in Building a PLC By Eric Twadell

Transforming a school into a professional learning community is no easy task. Everyone is bound to run into speed bumps on the implementation highway. Here are ten of the most common road hazards on that journey.

1 The Compliance Before Commitment Conundrum Every school seems to have a mission statement—“All Students Can Learn,” “Success for Every Student”—but very few schools have a vision statement. Educators often use mission and vision interchangeably, and when we toss in values and goals, we get even more confused. Once a mission is in place, most schools jump right into setting goals and figuring out how to measure them. This can lead to a school culture of compliance where the focus is on getting things done rather than doing the right things. Schools that are restructuring and reculturing as PLCs will want to focus on more than mission and goals; they also need to articulate their vision and values. Mission, vision, values, and goals are the building blocks to 36

AllThingsPLC Magazine/Summer 2016

laying the foundation of a school as a PLC. • Mission statements answer the why question: Why do we exist? • Vision statements answer the what question: What will our school look like as a professional learning community five to seven years from now? • Values answer the how question: How are we going to act in order to achieve our mission and vision? • Goals answer the what and when questions: What steps are we going to take? When are we going to take them in order to achieve our mission and vision? There’s little doubt that having a mission and goals is important, but schools wishing to lay the foundation of a PLC must also be able to articulate their vision and values.


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The Silver Bullet Syndrome

“This Too Shall Pass” Syndrome With the constant change, turnover, and various “reforms” that many schools have experienced, teachers are often skeptical about the excitement of leaders rolling out the PLC initiative. “It’s OK, this too shall pass,” they say to themselves, if not aloud. They’ve seen it happen before, and they will see it happen again— unless leaders and the leadership team have the patience to focus on building their schools as PLCs. Schools that have successfully transitioned from being teaching-centered to being learning-centered have shown us this process takes time. Nothing about this happens overnight. Leaders focused on building their schools as PLCs must be relentless in their pursuit of redundancy. The work of a PLC does not change from year to year; it remains the same year to year. We simply get better and better at it. Staying the course will convince skeptics that this will not pass.

3

Teachers and leaders often say that so much of the PLC process “just makes sense” so they fall into the trap of putting their time and energy into just one aspect of the work. This one-size-fits-all mentality ignores the fact that the PLC process is as much about a cultural change that affects all elements of the school. Principals and teachers often suggest they’re going to focus on developing and implementing a common formative assessment process in the first year of their work. Common formative assessments are an integral component of the PLC process, but collaborative teams cannot focus only on that work. Schools must embrace the work of building the individual and collective capacity of every collaborative team or risk falling short of shaping the culture that will enable deeper work over time.

2

ERIC TWADELL is superintendent of Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois. He’s been a social studies teacher, curriculum director, and assistant superintendent for leadership and organizational development. But his true passion is skiing, and during most school breaks, you’ll find him on a ski slope trying to catch up to his wife and two teenage daughters. Follow Eric on Twitter @ELT247365.

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4 The Lee Iacocca Trap Lee Iacocca, the former CEO of Chrysler, is often cited as one of the most effective business leaders of the 1980s and 1990s. He’s credited with turning around Chrysler by introducing the K-car, which helped Chrysler go from the verge of bankruptcy to the most profitable of the Big Three automakers. What happened after Iacocca left Chrysler provides an important lesson for school leaders: Chrysler fell apart. During the Iacocca years, the company had failed to build shared leadership and capacity. Too often, schools fall into the Iacocca trap and fail to invest in developing leadership and building capacity. Such work is a cultural norm and should be systematically built into our individual and collective work. No leader lasts forever. If the ideas you help put in place are going to outlast your tenure, you have to build the individual and collective capacity within the organization to make that happen.

The One Retirement at a Time Problem If we’re unwilling to embrace the fact that some folks in our schools may be resistant to change and unwilling to embrace the need to work with them, then we’ll be stuck making improvements one retirement at a time. Most schools simply can’t wait that long. Most principals did not become school leaders because they were looking for teachers to dislike them. Unfortunately, many leaders shy away from conflict for the same reason. For those leading a PLC however, we lean into our resistors in order to work with them and learn from them on how to improve our schools. We must understand why teachers resist so we can respond appropriately. Generally speaking, resistance to change often occurs when teachers lack knowledge, skills, or commitment to the new work. Leaders and leadership teams must address the fear and anxiety that manifest as resistance by supporting teachers in closing the gaps in their knowledge by providing background information and professional development in PLC work.

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5

6

The Breaking Back(s) Dilemma There are sixteen words that nearly all teachers fear hearing from their principal during their opening day presentation: “I went to a couple of conferences this summer, and I have some great new ideas!” Too many teachers suffer from initiative fatigue, which results when leaders pile on new ideas and new initiatives year after year after year. Successfully implementing and leading schools as PLCs isn’t a race to get lots and lots of work done quickly. Solid PLC work involves having a laser-like focus on a small number of initiatives and being willing to just say no to anything that might take time away from that work. Just as suspension bridges have a maximum load, school cultures can only take so much weight before they crack under the weight of too much work and not enough support. Leaders in PLCs must make it their daily, weekly, and yearly priority to ensure that teachers have the time, support, and focus to do a small number of initiatives very well.

7 The Where’s Waldo Conundrum If the collaborative team is the most important element in the PLC process, a school’s leader is not too far behind. A school can’t make significant and lasting improvement without the support of the school’s leader and leadership team. Leaders cannot be absent or disengaged from the school’s work to become a PLC. While teachers are doing the important and hard work within their collaborative teams, the leader and leadership team must be building coherence and clarity, aligning systems, and facilitating shared responsibility.


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10

The “Are We There Yet?” Effect Working in a professional learning community can be a lot like those long, long road trips from our childhood: “When will we get there?” “Are we there yet?” Creating a culture of continuous improvement is hard work, and eventually teachers and principals realize that “No, we will probably never get there . . .” When we step back and think about it, there is always room for improvement. We can always ask ourselves, “How can we improve our ability to answer the four critical questions of a PLC? What do we want students to know and be able to do? How will we know when they have learned? How will we respond when they do not? How will we respond when they have learned it?” We can always improve on our ability to respond to those questions. A culture of continuous improvement can be tiring; it can seem like we will never arrive. Leaders must create opportunities for celebration that: • Ensure that recipients feel valued and appreciated • Recognize the importance of collaboration • Provide living examples of the school’s vision and values in action • Are fun The antidote to a culture of continuous improvement is thoughtful, sincere, and constant celebration.

8 The Nike Effect While some leaders are not engaged, others suffer from the Nike effect. “Just do it!” may get us off our butts and into the gym, but it doesn’t do much as a mantra that translates into creating and sustaining schools as PLCs. Leaders who take the “get ’er done” approach may be effective in creating some new structure —time for collaboration, common formative assessments—after a year or two, but they’ve failed to build coherence and clarity about why the work is important. Leaders who like to “just do it” usually fail to recognize the important difference between structure and culture. Putting a new structure in place does not change the school’s culture, which is required for sustainable PLC work. Changing the culture—the values, beliefs, habits, and expectations that define the school—is the primary work of leaders in a PLC.

The Pronoun Problem

9

Cultural anthropologists tell us that culture can be found in myriad ways, but most easily found in what people do and what they say. We can tell a lot about a school and where it is on the PLC journey by listening carefully to the language staff use. In schools that are early in their journey, we typically hear a pronoun problem that infects quite a bit of the daily language of teachers and leaders: “I wish they would leave me alone and let me teach my kids.” “I need to get my teachers to work hard and create common assessments.” “How are your kids performing on the assessments?” When we hear the pronoun problem of I, my, and you, we know a culture of isolation and individual autonomy is still at work. A school with an effective PLC culture uses language that is more inclusive and reflective of a culture of collaboration and collective responsibility. We hear more of a focus on us, we, and ours—“How does this affect us?” “We can work together collaboratively to achieve our goals.” “I am working hard on behalf of our students.” The way that we communicate is important and can have a meaningful and profound effect on how we work. Overcoming the pronoun problem is an important step in our PLC journey.

As we lead and work in schools as PLCs, we must be willing to take risks. The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, has been quoted as saying “You will always miss 100 percent of the shots that you don’t take.” There will be plenty of missed shots working in PLCs and leading the transformation of schools into PLCs. We must be willing to learn from the mistakes that we do make in order to avoid more down the road.


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PLC

AT WORK

TM

You want to . . .

Here’s how we can help

• Create a collaborative culture.

Professional learning communities have been proven to dramatically improve schools and increase student achievement. We work with the foremost authorities on PLCs and offer a variety of resources and services that will give your team the expertise they need to sustain a thriving PLC where all students learn at high levels.

• Sustain successes districtwide. • Align your resources and time to focus on results. • Increase student achievement.

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Websites to PLC by

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To close the knowing-doing gap in our schools, we have to do more than help students memorize the content in our curricula. We must also help students master the kinds of tacit skills that modern employees value. William M. Ferriter, a sixth-grade teacher in North Carolina’s public schools, recommends the following resources to help you make that shift.

MindShift ww2.kqed.org/mindshift A partnership between Northern California public television station KQED and NPR, MindShift is a provocative blog exploring the changing nature of learning in today’s world. Examples of topics covered include the role that inquiry should play in modern classrooms, the

Most likely to succeed

characteristics of lessons that engage and empower modern learn-

http://amzn.to/20Nsppz

ers, and the implications that new research should have on modern

Another leading thinker working to rede-

instructional practices.

fine schooling is Tony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators and The Global Achieve-

The surprising truth about learning in schools http://bit.ly/21hVZWc Will Richardson is one of the most provocative thinkers about the future of schools. Richardson is a former classroom teacher who’s now a full-time consultant working to help schools and districts around the world rethink the role that formal education can play in the lives of learners. His TED Talk—“The Surprising Truth about Learning in Schools”—forces viewers to wrestle with an uncomfortable truth:

ment Gap. Most Likely to Succeed is coauthored with Ted Dintersmith. Wagner’s central argument in Most Likely to Succeed may surprise you: students in today’s public schools might graduate with credentials, but they lack the skills necessary to contribute to society, and to succeed professionally in our changing economy.

AllThingsPLC

sometimes our practices don’t align with our stated priorities.

www.allthingsplc.info/blog

Why school?

your building, collective inquiry in service of student learning—the

http://amzn.to/1Q9bQmm Often, the greatest challenge to reimagining schools isn’t convincing educators that change is necessary. Instead, it’s earning the support of parents and policymakers, who are comfortable with traditional schooling because it resembles the learning practices that they know best. That’s what makes Will Richardson’s Why School? such an important read. A short (fifty-one-page) book designed to challenge

No matter what changes you decide to make to the priorities of defining characteristic of high-functioning professional learning communities—should still stand at the center of the work that your teachers and teams are doing. The simple truth is that collective strength beats individual talent every time. To improve the collective strength of your building, bookmark the AllThingsPLC blog, a constantly updated stream of suggestions and strategies for mastering the kinds of collaborative practices that matter.

long-held notions about the role that schools play in the lives of kids and communities, it is the perfect title for any leader interested in starting a community book study about the future of education.

Summer 2016/AllThingsPLC Magazine

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a 90s was 9 1 D I HE M chools OUGH T bled s R a H n T e s t 0 to wha and TE 197 ion in uFour t D a r d THE LA o r l a Rich heir h exp

. f ric from t arning time o ideas ent le y d e u k t s r know e rove togeth at you h t w h to imp g p u o o l br This o deve Eaker arch t ities. e n s u Robert e m r m o hat ning c earch g of t l lear he res a t n readin o o i t s fes briefly his as pro hare t ce you S u today d . o s r a t e n o key id will i ers wh those column f o icymak e l m o g o p s d an and di ying eagues PLCs, underl l l r o o c f h base is wit search e synops r e h t wn. about your o r n e o d n e o r w rn mo to lea deeper

Professional communities

Improve The study

student learning By Robert Eaker

Newmann, F. M., & Wehlage, G.G. (1995). Successful school restructuring: A report to the public and educators. Madison, WI: Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools. Accessed at http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED387925.pdf on April 21, 2016.

FROM 1990 to 1995, the Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools at the University of Wisconsin–Madison analyzed data from more than fifteen hundred schools throughout the United States and conducted field research in forty-four schools in sixteen states to learn how the tools of restructuring could be used to elevate learning for all students. Lead researchers Fred Newmann and Gary Wehlage concluded that school structures can improve student learning. To do that, they said restructuring must focus on four factors. 1. Student learning 2. Authentic pedagogy 3. School organizational capacity 4. External support No single factor can by itself improve student learning. Teachers must share a vision for high-quality intellectual work by students, and teachers must teach according to that vision. But: 42

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Learning of high intellectual quality is difficult work for students, and authentic pedagogy places complex, demanding challenges on teachers. . . . Schools with strong professional communities were better able to offer authentic pedagogy and were more effective in promoting student achievement. (p. 3) External agencies helped schools focus on student learning and enhanced organizational capacity.

Organizational capacity

Although all four factors must be present in order to improve student learning, of particular relevance to PLCs were the findings on school organizational capacity. “We found that professional community improves student learning” (p. 30). “If schools want to enhance their organizational capacity to boost student learning, they should work on building a professional


Classic Classic Research Newman & Whenge

R&D

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community that is characterized by shared purpose, collaborative activity, and collective responsibility among staff” (p. 37). In making the case for professional community, the researchers said that individual autonomy can reduce teacher efficacy because teachers can’t count on colleagues to reinforce their objectives. Having clear, shared goals can maximize teacher success because many teachers are reinforcing the same goals. Collaboration, they said, also makes teaching more effective by enhancing a teacher’s technical competence and by sustaining his or her professional interest. In addition, the close working relationship between teachers also creates the critical school culture that students need for higher learning. Teachers in these schools take collective—not just individual—responsibility for student learning and for constantly improving their teaching practices: If teachers and parents leave it up to students to choose whether or not to learn, many students will be left behind. Instead, adults must take active responsibility for student success. Strong teacher professional community provides a consistently demanding and supportive environment that pushes students to do their best. (p. 31)

Newmann and Wehlage also pointed to teams of teachers as the way to develop collaboration among teachers. Working in groups that require coordination, by definition, requires collaboration. “When groups, rather than individuals, are seen as the main units for implementing curriculum, instruction, and assessment, they facilitate development of shared purposes for student learning and collective responsibility to achieve it” (p. 38). But schools must provide time for teams or other groups to communicate and work together and not assume collaborative work will emerge simply because school leaders have organized teachers into teams. Schools that were most successful in building professional community also had high levels of school autonomy and opportunities for teachers to influence a school’s program and policy. “Teachers’ control over their practice and over school policy contributed to professional community” (p. 40). “Schools that operate as strong professional communities contribute to student achievement and to equitable distribution of achievement” (p. 40). Robert Eaker is professor emeritus of education at Middle Tennessee State University.

Summer 2016/AllThingsPLC Magazine

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SolutionTree.com/atplcmagazine , sound might a e id ? rk an s it wo OOD OW G ut doe tructional H b , R s E e s , “Y AT T know , my in NO M ant to sroom s w la llect s c r o e c y ion ften ct m o e ff ls a a practit ely cip search positiv ers and prin scholarly re it LCs n a C akes P but each , m T ls ” t ? o a e o h w practic m other sch fly to nding ou brie fro dersta y s n e u ie c r o u o t . st trod utes ractice will in rs ontrib Cs in p L lumn make P also c o y t c c u li is o o h b p T a . d e iv an ely, search effect agues effectiv e e ll ary re r r o o c o p m ith m s work psis w conte ke PLC ur own. is syno a h t m e o r t yo Sha how ore on onder arn m le o t who w r deepe and dig

Used right,

DATA can change practice By Robert Eaker and Heather Dillard

The study Marsh, J. A., Bertrand, M., & Huguet, A. (2015). Using data to alter instructional practice: The mediating role of coaches and professional learning communities. Teachers College Record, 117(4), 1–40. During the 2011 to 2012 school year, researchers Julie Marsh, Melanie Bertrand, and Alice Huguet conducted a comparative case study of six low-performing middle schools in four districts across two states. Each district supported teachers’ use of data by providing either data or literacy coaches coupled with the PLC process. Two schools used PLCs as their primary source of support and coaches second; the remaining four used PLCs second with coaches as their main source of support. The researchers sought to learn how working with a coach or in a PLC affected teachers’ responses to data and the factors that influenced these interactions. The researchers concluded that coaches and PLCs played a significant mediating role in assisting teachers with making data-based 44

AllThingsPLC Magazine/Summer 2016

decisions to alter their instruction. When teachers have a strong level of both vertical and horizontal expertise, the effects of working with a coach or in a PLC are significantly higher. Central to the development of these interactions is the use of dialogue focused on both data and instruction. Additionally, structural elements provided or withheld by the schools acted as either a support or deterrent for the teachers. Vertical and horizontal expertise The study highlights the connection of vertical and horizontal expertise as a factor in data-driven decision making. Knowledge and skills built over time were referred to as vertical expertise, and horizontal expertise was defined as professional interactions leading to co-created knowledge. The study found that the two “operate synergistically,” and it “highlights the dynamic relationship between the two” (p. 9). “Horizontal and relevant vertical expertise in PLCs appeared to foster change in


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delivery, whereas a lack of these impeded it” (p. 20). For example, one struggling collaborative team experienced “weak vertical expertise in interpersonal skills [which] inhibited the development of effective working relationships, in turn hindering horizontal expertise” (p. 21). Conversely, a strong collaborative team demonstrated “vertical expertise in interpersonal skills . . . listened to one another’s ideas . . . toward the end of the year, the sharing of ideas flowed more evenly” (p. 22). This experience enabled the collaborative team to share classroom strategies and develop horizontal expertise, which led to changing teachers’ instruction. This experience “allowed for the development of horizontal expertise, which served to facilitate change in delivery in response to data, specifically in the form of sharing discrete classroom strategies” (p. 23). Dialogue The use of instructional dialogue “was especially important in fostering horizontal expertise, providing teachers the necessary support to make changes in delivery” (p. 24). One example involved members “sharing teaching strategies, often in conjunction with a reflection on data” (p. 24). The members “responded to data by discussing past and future lesson plans and jointly planning upcoming instruction” (p. 24). When asked, teachers “rated these opportunities for dialogue as effective ‘to a moderate extent’ in improving their understanding of data and informing their instruction” (p. 25). However, “dialogue about data alone did not appear to encourage change in delivery” (pp. 25–26). When teachers had “dialogue about data, disconnected from a consideration of instruction, [it] may fail to provide adequate guidance

for teachers to respond to data in substantive ways” (p. 25). Additionally, “a heavy focus on . . . accessing and analyzing data, without a comparative focus on . . . translating data into actionable knowledge and responding, appeared to limit the possibilities for change in delivery” (p. 27). Structural supports Teachers said support from administration could be either positive or negative. For example, one teacher noted, “The principal did not seem to fully embrace data-driven decision making, appearing . . . as though he was simply concerned with following district mandates” (p. 28). In contrast, another school had restructured its day to provide a planning period and a collaboration period for teachers, allowing them to collaborate four days per week. “With the added collaboration time—providing more opportunities for dialogue and enactment of horizontal expertise—the potential for change in delivery increased” (pp. 28–29). This school experienced nineteen instances where teachers changed their instruction and over nine at another school in the same district where teachers met only once per week. Conclusion In summary, the study found that coaches and a PLC culture can play an important role in how teachers use student learning data to change instructional practice. The district context, school leadership, and the quality of dialogue influence how and when those changes take place.

Robert Eaker is professor emeritus of education at Middle Tennessee State University. Heather Dillard is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Middle Tennessee State University and a former middle and high school social studies teacher.

Summer 2016/AllThingsPLC Magazine

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COMMON FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT

JUMPSTART “Common formative assessments are the absolute linchpin of the PLC process.” —RICHARD DUFOUR

IT’S CHALLENGING WORK, BUT IT’S THE RIGHT WORK

Common formative assessments are essential for evaluating how instruction translates to student learning. When you’ve developed common formative assessments, you use the results to appraise individual and collective teacher practice and identify students who need intervention or enrichment.

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This process is often the last and frequently overlooked step in becoming an authentic professional learning community, since student data is exposed teacher by teacher. Let us help your team focus on the practice and not the person, in order to complete this part of the PLC journey successfully.


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Too much teamwork? Too much teamwork exhausts employees and saps productivity, write the authors of an article in Harvard Business Review.

The authors say that time devoted to collaboration increased by more than 50 percent over the last two decades. But only 3 percent to 5 percent of employees were responsible for contributing the bulk of the ideas, encouragement, and follow-up on plans developed in meetings. The rest of the employees said they were distracted by such meetings and stressed at having to get their real work done during the rest of the work day. They also found a gender imbalance at work: “The lion’s share of collaborative work tends to fall on women. They’re stereotyped as communal and caring so they’re expected to help others with heavy workloads, provide mentoring and training to more junior colleagues, recruit new hires, and attend optional meetings. As a result, the evidence shows, women experience greater emotional exhaustion than men.” Read more: “Collaborative overload,” by Rob Cross, Reb Rebele, and Adam Grant. Harvard Business Review, January–

February 2016, pp. 74–79. https://hbr .org/2016/01/collaborative-overload

Real PLCs “We urge schools to avoid labeling themselves as PLCs without engaging in the hard work that goes into becoming a PLC. Too many schools have adopted the label without committing to the substance of the professional learning community processes. Specifically, educators must focus on the four questions of PLCs as an integral part of their meetings, use common formative assessments in a way that has a specific effect on teaching and learning, and analyze data not as a way to humiliate teachers but rather as a way to elevate the learning of students and faculty members. Finally, real PLCs include specific interventions that lead to measurable improvements in student performance. When the PLC process is implemented deeply and sustained over time, schools can experience dramatic improvement in learning by both students and adults. PLC Lite is an exercise in futility that helps neither students nor the educational systems that serve them.” Read more: “The futility of PLC Lite,” by Richard DuFour and Douglas Reeves. Phi Delta Kappan, March 2016, pp. 69– 71.

PLCs don’t always equal leadership “As valuable as PLCs might be in fostering collaboration, they usually fall short of plugging the leadership gap. That’s because they aren’t typically led by an empowered leader with the responsibility,

time, and authority to help those within the community materially improve their instructional practice. They rely on meetings and group discussion rather than empowering the PLC leader to work closely with team members through observation, coaching, and feedback. In our study, 38 percent of the PLC leaders said they felt responsible for the performance of the teachers in their group, and just 32 percent said they are responsible for those teachers’ student outcomes.” Read more: Transforming schools: How distributed leadership can create more high-performing schools, by Chris Bierly, Betsy Doyle, and Abigail Smith. Boston: Bain. www.bain.com/publications/articles /transforming-schools.aspx

Riddle me this

Q: When is a summative assessment not a summative assessment? A: When a student has not yet mastered the content or skills and needs more instruction. Then the summative assessment is actually a formative assessment. Q: When is a formative assessment not a formative assessment? A: When a student has already learned. Then it becomes a summative assessment that sends the message that this student is ready to move on!

Summer 2016/AllThingsPLC Magazine

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Why I Love PLCs Students Benefit When Teachers Work Together

BY LAURA WOODS

When I started working as a high school English teacher right out of college, the PLC process meant very little to me. I saw it as something that gave us early release days twice a month when departments could develop common assessments and share planning ideas. I did not yet understand its power. Fast-forward a few years. After I took on the role of English department head, our district began talking about moving toward personalized, “move on when ready” learning. During that time, I began doing some personal research on effective grading practices and mastery learning. With support from administration, our English 9 team volunteered to pilot standardsbased learning in our classes. The time, energy, and brainpower needed for this endeavor forced us to rethink what it meant to be a “professional learning community.” We no longer worried about just our own students; we worried about ALL of the students. We began meeting once a week on our own time to plan together and write assessments together. We began teaming up to hold common remediation sessions after school so we could help each other’s students as well as our own. During these early months, a wise friend of mine from the team remarked, “We have really formalized the PLC process.” And it was true. Something extraordinary was happening in our department: We were evolving, together, into a true collaborative team. We were identifying what students needed to know and be able to do. We were rethinking assessment to be sure we knew what they did and did 48

AllThingsPLC Magazine/Summer 2016

And as accountability measures continue to overwhelm us, there is confidence in knowing that none of us is an island. At any given time, four to six people are scaffolding instruction, planning remediation, and designing assessments together. There is definite security in collaboration. To me, one great Most importantly, our professional teacher still pales learning community is affecting our kids. In addition to making unprecedented gains in comparison to our standardized test scores over the past four or five people in four years, our students are experiencing a working together. more cohesive, deliberate education. When teachers work together, students benefit. In the past four years since we began That’s why I support PLCs. this transformation, I have seen the value of our PLC time and again. We have greatly improved Tier 1 instruction for all of our students. We work together to create flipped lessons to introduce new skills and to make sure that all students receive the same initial instruction using common language; in doing so, we are eliminating gaps in their learning and refining our vertical articulation. Though I’m now one of the veteran teachers in our department, I know that I’m a better teacher each year because of our collaborative process. To me, one great teacher still pales in comparison to four or five people LAURA WOODS teaches English working together. And new teachers are at Fraser High School, Fraser, Mich. no longer left to figure it out as they go as She is also the English curriculum I once was; they now work in teams and leader and leads a department of can benefit from the experience of their about a dozen teachers. Like most colleagues while bringing valued new apEnglish teachers, she loves Harper proaches to the table. Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, but she As our jobs continue to ask more and also loves to teach dystopian novels more of us, we must share the load, work like Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. together, and rely on those around us. not know, and we had created a system to intervene when students needed the support. Student achievement improved, and before long, our “pilot” spread to all English courses.

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