AllThingsPLC Magazine

Page 1

all things


Spring 2017


can experience—restrictions on time and the possibility to earn freedom on how to use time—can be used to get work done, improve personal organization, and reduce stress on teachers. Perhaps the most counterproductive punishment is the use of the average to calculate the final grade, so that the failures of January lead to a spiral of doom in March and April. Rather than using the last two months of the semester to build momentum and finish strong, many students know that, because of a punitive grading system, they are doomed to failure well before the semester is over. There is nothing left for them to do except cut class, be disruptive, or ultimately, quit school. The next year, they repeat the same class, a year older, more cynical, more frustrated, and angrier—and S p r i n gthose2descriptions 0 1 7 apply to the teachers as well as the students.

all things


nization, same ability to follow directions, it was the very same student. Nevertheles sults of this experiment show that the fina teachers ranged from A to F. The differen it turns out, had nothing to do with the and everything to do with the idiosyncr of the teacher. Imagine that your new food services that cafeteria hygiene is a matter of perso any intrusions by the health department ment on the professional independence a manager. Imagine that school bus drivers a rules should not be prescribed by any ex should be the exclusive domain of the ind haps the school security officers have de rules regarding student possession of fi are a matter of individual judgment, and security officers in each school determine whether guns and ammunition should be accessible to students in their

Features Myth #5: Grading Is a Personal Preference

The synthesis of research by Brookhart and colleagues (2016) reveals that grading practices and policies are wildly inconsistent, based on the idiosyncratic belief system of each teacher. The practical effect of this bone-deep belief that grading policy is a matter of personal preference was revealed in a series

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Busting Myths About Grading

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Douglas Reeves

Using methodology and data to lead your team.

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Giving Students What They Need When They Need It

Paul Goldberg


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Sustaining Urban Turnaraound as a PLC


Richard DuFour



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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


Why I do it.



Short bits that you might have missed!

Learning champion


Clara Sale-Davis: Doing PLCs before PLCs were cool.

FAQs about PLCs


Making time to collaborate.

Words matter


Enrichment vs. extension.

Skill shop Practice-centered observation protocol.

The recommender

38 41

An app to PLC by.

Classic R&D


Pygmalion in the classroom.

Contemporary R&D


Trust and collaboration in PLC teams.

PLC clinic Deepening student learning.

Why I love PLCs PLCs foster bonds of mutual trust and support.

47 48

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

AllThingsPLC (ISSN 2476-2571 [print], 2476-258X [Online]) is published four times a year by Solution Tree Press. 555 North Morton Street Bloomington, IN 47404 800.733.6786 (toll free) / 812.336.7700 FAX: 812.336.7790 email: POSTMASTER Send address changes to Solution Tree, 555 North Morton Street, Bloomington, IN, 47404 Copyright © 2017 by Solution Tree Press


First Thing WHY I Do It N

ot every company has made it clear to its customers, let alone its employees, the why of what it does. But as leadership expert Simon Sinek so eloquently says in his TED Talk, “It’s not what you do but why you do it. People don’t buy the what you do; they buy the why you do it.” Which is the reason it is so important to be clear about the why. Since the Solution Tree leadership team first wrote the company’s vision, mission, and values statements, our company has been clear, crystal clear, about the why. Our vision statement is our why: “Transform education worldwide to ensure learning for all.” It is the reason we get up and come to work in the mornings—we are striving to make a difference. An ambitious vision indeed, and yet, it is possible, and here is why. First of all, we seek out education experts to help us with our vision. Our mission statement makes it clear that we intentionally work with the best in the field of education: “To advance the work of our authors.” While it seems counterintuitive not to mention education goals or place students at the beginning of our mission statement, we believe that if we work with the right—which means the best—educators, all of that other right stuff will take care of itself. Our authors’ strategies, applications, and innovations transform the practices of teachers and administrators—thereby transforming education in the classroom for the success of every student. Because of that, our authors are and have to be our #1 priority. Solution Tree is unique in that it pioneered encouraging authors to not only write books, but also to deliver professional development in schools. Our goal, as a company, is to “provide the greatest offering and integration of resources created by our tier one authors, supported by top-quality, hightouch professional

SUBSCRIBE TODAY development, using technology as an accelerator.” We listen carefully to our school customers’ needs, and then our authors and associates customize plans for each school. We don’t own a cookie cutter! Lastly, the Solution Tree staff is central to delivering the best professional development resources to educators—whether that be in the form of a book, an online course, PD delivered to a school, PD in a workshop, or a keynote from the stage or a presentation in a breakout session at one of our events. In addition to our vision, mission, and goal, our staff carries with them our core values: 1. Passion for our purpose. There may be no stronger emotion or motivator than passion, and at Solution Tree, our passion for our purpose, our mission, is our driving force. 2. Dedication to quality. We seek out employees in each area of our business who are dedicated to doing their best work every day. But, we go further. We collect data to benchmark where we are. We ask authors after we publish a book, “How did we do?” We take in thousands of evaluations on our authors and associates who deliver PD. And we survey the tens of thousands of educators who attend our events around the world. We collect the data and then always strive to do better.


Develop individual potential. This means helping not only our authors and associates reach their potential but also our staff. We challenge and encourage each member of the staff to keep reaching to meet his or her individual goals and to collaborate in an improvement loop. Solution Tree is a continuous learning organization. 4. Profitable growth. Nearly any company can have growth at the expense of profit. But for us at Solution Tree, to keep moving toward our vision, we need to make a profit. Without profits, the lights go out and so does the dream. 5. Integrity—period. How do you add to that? Solution Tree is not the biggest education company in the world, but so what? Becky DuFour often quotes Robert Kennedy, “If not us, who? If not now, when?” We may not be a behemoth, but we now have offices in four countries, we are co-publishing in five other countries, and distributing in another 14. And, you know what? We are just warming up. We know what we do—deliver the highest quality professional development offerings anywhere. We know how we do it—by advancing the work of our authors. And we know the why—to transform education worldwide to ensure learning for all. Promise.


Jeff Jones, CEO Ideal for PLCs, our video workshops offer targeted guidance and support for teams working to heighten school performance and student achievement.



MythBusters is the longest running television series in the history of the Discovery Channel. During its 14 years on the air, the show, featuring Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, have conducted 2,950 experiments, explored 1,050 myths, and created 900 explosions (Friedlander, 2015). From ancient legends to Star Wars, Savage and Hyneman break down claims into testable hypotheses, design experiments, and then let the results of the experiments—often dramatic and explosive— speak for themselves. The questions they ask range from the absurd (“Can eating pop rocks and soda cause your stomach to explode?”) to serious inquiries that challenge the audience to gain a deeper understanding of physics, chemistry, and biology. But each of the almost 3,000 experiments follows the scientific method—identifying a hypothesis and testing the hypothesis with objective observation. The more emotional and politically volatile the subject, the more important it is to separate myth from fact. The world of education would benefit from a MythBusters approach to one of its most challenging subjects: grading. This article explores five prevailing myths, and like the legends and fanciful claims exploded by Savage and Hyneman, we will consider each one against the evidence. The first myth is that grades motivate students. This is seductive and appealing because so many of us, including educators and admin-

istrators, found grades motivating when we were students, and we wish very much that our personal experiences could be applied to the universe. This expectation conforms to the principles of behavioral psychology based on reinforcement and punishment—the practices that lead rats to find their way out of a maze, pigeons to play the piano, and many humans to do algebra. The second is that grading homework and practice work improves student achievement. Although effective practice is clearly related to student performance, there is a chasm between the characteristics of effective practice and typical homework. The third myth is that grades accurately predict future performance. This myth, like many, has a grain of truth. Grades are, compared to many other measures such as standardized test scores, relatively better predictors of future student performance. That is, however, damning with faint praise, somewhat like claiming that grades are better predictors of human performance than the reading of entrails. Fourth is the myth that punishment—particularly Fs, zeroes, and other punitive consequences for academic and behavior shortcomings—deters unwanted student behavior. The fifth and final myth is that grading practices are a matter of personal taste and professional judgment and therefore not subject to the collaborative work of colleagues within a school and educational system.

© 2017 by Solution Tree Press. All rights reserved.

By Douglas Reeves


Myth #1: Grades Motivate Students

Myth #2: Grading Homework and Practice Improves Student Achievement Practice is an essential part of learning. Think of students who have made great leaps in performance, particularly in music, athletics, or literal equations. Only in the last instance do they labor alone to understand where Mary and Brooks meet, one having started

Spring 2017/AllThingsPLC Magazine

© 2017 by Solution Tree Press. All rights reserved.

There is a simple way to test the hypothesis that grades motivate students. If rewards in the form of good grades and punishment in the form of bad grades motivate students, then teachers should consistently report that—because of decades of using these rewards and punishments—homework completion, classroom engagement, and overall diligence is at an all-time high and late work, inattention, and overall slovenliness among students is at an all-time low. Perhaps that’s true for some readers, but teachers routinely tell me that their multidecade experiment in grading as a motivational practice is not working. Students are not completing homework in a more accurate and timely manner than was the case a decade ago, nor are they more organized and attentive. Consider the frustrated homeowner who, every year for 30 consecutive years, has patched the roof, and yet for 30 years, the rain continued to pour through the rafters. The frustrated homeowner would not insist that the roof repair was working or defend 30 years of faulty patches with the conviction that the roof sealant should have been effective. At some point, we allow the evidence to force us to reconsider our conclusions.

in Kansas City, the other in Los Angeles, each traveling at different rates and departing at different times. Practice makes, in this condition, perfect boredom. But in the cases of music and athletics, where practice can lead to significant and observable improvement, students are doing something quite different. Ericsson and Pool (2016) define purposeful practice as “the gold standard” (p. 84) that leads to the highest levels of expert performance. Contrast purposeful practice to most homework. Effective practice takes place “outside one’s comfort zone and requires a student to constantly try things that are just beyond his or her current abilities” (p. 89). Thus, the perfectly done homework assignment prized by teachers (and the parents who completed the work) falls short of the mark, just as a basketball practice in which a player stood under the basket and hit 100 percent of the shots was wasted time. Moreover, effective practice “involves feedback and modification of efforts in response to that feedback” (p. 89). This almost always requires a coach or teacher who is present— difficult enough in a classroom of 30 students, impossible in 30 bedrooms. Finally, gold standard practice involves “focusing on particular aspects of . . . skills and working to improve them specifically” (p. 100). This requires differentiated homework assignments, something that music teachers and athletic coaches do routinely but that is generally absent from the academic classroom. What happens when we grade homework and practice? No one ever ventures outside their comfort zone. Why risk Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu when you can play the C-major scale perfectly? No one gets feedback that is meaningful, because the only feedback that matters is that the work was finished on time and



Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” His words capture how the incorporation of a PLC has progressed at my current school. Five years ago, the school had been assigned a new principal who had the vision of creating a new culture within the school. He and I worked together to outline how we could effectively transform the school into a PLC. Fast-forward

I was completely blown away by what [our teachers] shared. to today: Our teachers are collaborating more, achieving higher levels of success than what had previously been the norm. Student learning is the focus of everything we do. This focus is evident in the increasing success rates of our students. They are performing better on assessments, the failure rate in core content areas has dropped dramatically, and the morale of teachers and students is at an all-time high. Recently, my school participated in our annual PLC Showcase, which consisted of two afternoons when each of the teams on our campus shared their journey with the other teams. During this time, our faculty traveled together throughout the school, visiting each team to hear accounts of success and growth over the course of the first semester. Each team of teachers shared how they followed the PLC process, including looking at standards, 48

AllThingsPLC Magazine/Spring 2017

developing SMART goals, collaborating during planning time, creating common formative assessments, reviewing data, assigning students to the schoolwide intervention block each week, and planning for extension activities for students ready to move ahead. While these elements are the skeleton of the PLC work that our teachers do each week, I am a believer in the PLC process especially because of the other things I heard during the showcase. For our teachers, the showcase was their chance to elaborate on what they had chosen as the most important work for their teams as they focus on student achievement. I was completely blown away by what they shared. I heard statements such as “This collaboration between us helps us give every student the best chance to be successful,” and “The biggest success we have had this year is seeing the students’ learning increase because they are able to make crosscurricular connections, and those connections are made because we plan together. . . . We know what the students are learning in the other subject areas, and we support each other’s instruction.” How powerful is this?! Our teachers are not only planning together but truly developing a bond of mutual trust and support. Their partnerships are essential for their growth and for the growth of their students, allowing them to accomplish the real work of teaching: sharing ideas and strategies and troubleshooting and developing plans of attack when their students need more time, a different approach, or just a little further instruction to help them demonstrate mastery.

As the instructional coach, I can see the cultural shift that has swept across our campus. Teachers who once were overwhelmed by the amount of individual work necessary to be successful in this profession are now feeling less pressure because they know that they are not in this alone—they have a team, a community, who supports them. After all, the students are not mine or yours, his or hers; they are ours, and we are all responsible for guiding these students to reach their highest potential. There is no better foundation for pursuing this calling than the PLC. That is why I love PLCs.

MICHELLE DAVIS, a public school educator for 20 years, is the instructional coach at Gamble Rogers Middle School in Saint Augustine, Fla. She enjoys working with the teachers at her school, helping them through the PLC collaborative process. She is proud to have helped her school receive recognition as a PLC Model School for the past two years.


© 2017 by Solution Tree Press. All rights reserved.

PLCs Foster Bonds of Mutual Trust and Support

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