Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Chapter 1: The Business of PLC’s

"On many teams people are committed to their individual goals but on great teams they're also committed to each other." -Jon Gordon

When I started to select a book for our District’s Leadership Academy this year, it took me quite a while to decide which title would have the most impact.  There are so many wonderful books on teaching and learning that it wasn’t hard to find plenty of relevant topics, but I chose The Practice of Authentic PLCs by Daniel Venables for three very distinct reasons: 1. As we like to say in our District, “we learn best, with and through others!” 2. Last summer at the Leadership Academy and throughout the school year, we focused in on John Hattie’s research and the impact that teachers evaluating each other’s work can have on overall student learning in a school.  3. Finally, this Spring, our School Board adopted our “Profile of an NISD Educator”.  This document sets forth our not only our aspirations, but also our expectations for educators in our District.  Highlighted in the document is the key word “committed” but also throughout, it shares words like collaborate and shared responsibility.  These three reasons and countless others we will find in the book, demand that we all work together in the process of getting better.  It’s the growth mindset, so let’s get started.
Profile of an NISD Educator - Adopted 2015
In Chapter 1, Venables sets the stage by sharing some of the research behind PLCs and their purpose.   The definition on page 10 probably states the purpose of our PLC’s as well as any I have read…. “PLCs exist to improve student learning by making teachers more effective in the work of teaching.”  That is really the bottom line.  If your PLC is not making you and your teammate’s better teachers, then they are a waste of time.  How does that happen?  The author suggests that a narrow focus within a PLC that provides for specific tasks to occur will be the most effective: 
  • Looking at student and teacher work; 
  • Designing common formative assessments; and 
  • Reviewing and responding to data.  
Later this summer, as we continue to work through the book, we will share different ways to do these things together in perhaps more effective ways than we have in the past. 
As you read through Chapter 1 this week, please pay attention the chart on page 13 and reflect on your own PLCs from this past school year.  My guess is you did many of the things the book will advocate, but as we stretch our own thinking and learning, I hope we will all work together to make ourselves a better Professional Learning Community!!!
Reflective Questions:
1.       Who is the lead facilitator in your PLC?
2.       Where did your PLC spend most of its time? What items were on the agenda on a regular basis?
3.       What training or understanding does your team need?

4.       For the good of the group, please share some of the most effective activities you do in your PLC’s?

You can share here or feel free to share at #impactNISD


  1. My favorite statement from the introduction is "I learn from failing." This is such a telling statement, a true statement, and a harsh reality for learners. Failing is hard for any person; it is hard to admit we weren’t successful. However, "I have a love-hate relationship with losing. I hate how it makes me feel, which is basically sick. But I love what it brings out." (Pat Summitt) Do you dwell in the sick feeling or do you strive in the desire to be better? We need to leave our "egos on a distant back burner" for PLCs to be objective and truly effective. If we strive to be better and not dwell on the things that did not go the way we planned, we will get to where we want to be. “PLCs are not an add-on” for our teachers, PLCs are how we learn, plan for learning, and how we grow in our craft. Having protocols for our learning helps us stay on track and be more effective.
    Reflective Questions:
    I will be more thoughtful in my agenda planning than I have been in the past. By having a deeper focus on student and teacher work, we will be able to ensure more authentic alignment across the campus. Our agendas will look at our student and teacher work through the lens of our POP/Instructional Focus.
    Modeling/Participating in an authentic campus leadership PLCs will help build capacity in our team leaders to be more authentic in their grade level PLCs, which in turn, will make us better teachers.
    The Practice of Authentic PLCs is going to be a great resource to help us guide our PLC into being the most effective learning community it can be.

    1. Thanks so much! "Egos on a distant back burner" is tough! Great thoughts!

  2. Chapter 1 has been a "hot topic" at Tidwell....both at our Leadership Team retreat last week and with my fellow campus administrators. While I feel we have a strong sense of compliance in the PLCs, the Leadership Team feel our conversations are growing in authenticity and depth, but the PLC protocol we used didn't reflect that. I'm left wondering, "What evidence do we have that PLCs are effective?"

    In discussions with my campus administrators regarding PLCs and Chapter 1...we focused quite a bit on what role the grade level APs must play in order to facilitate as a PLC Coach. We feel strongly this may be the missing piece to our puzzle at Tidwell. In addition, we have been discussing ways to incorporate the other topics listed in Ch 1 as a part of our PLC. During the 13-14 school year, we did incorporate other topics and I saw tremendous growth in our staff.

    And the final topic that arose out of Chapter 1 is the use of mulch-disciplinary PLCs. The book suggests that PLCs are larger than 2-3 individuals. At a middle school, even a large one like Tidwell, we only have 2-3 teachers per content area per grade. A possible solution is to facilitate PLCs where Science and Math meet together and ELA/SS. We'll be including Electives and Special Education teachers as well.

    1. Multi-disciplinary and other groups included are great next steps! Can't wait to see that in action.

  3. Bottom of page 15...Our job is to foster the growth of our campus leaders, not interject our brilliance every two seconds. These "burning comments" should be kept to ourselves and instead we should coach the PLC leaders to become interdependent. #impactNISD

    1. Or you could tweet out those burning comments....but yes, you are very right!!

  4. Our most effective PLCs involved all grade-level collaboration on preferred math vocabulary, misconceptions and preferences as to how an objective was taught, and cross-curricular collaboration with our science teachers to solidify how math concepts were being taught. As a math department we valued these items as areas which would have the greatest impact on students and performance.

    We also found that it was paramount to teacher and student success to discuss the implementation of our new curriculum. Teacher isolation was avoided as we valued the discussion of our math teachers with regards to what was working, what teachers were struggling with, what teachers were finding success with, and areas of growth with our new curriculum. This was an area we revisited fairly frequently during the first semester.

    Areas of PLC growth on our campus this year would involve consistently reviewing data and designing interventions to improve student achievement and to decrease gaps in achievement. I'm intrigued by the debriefing of the PLC which seems to be like the closing with the workshop model, and would like learn more about it and potentially implement it in our PLCs.

  5. Thoughts from chapter 1:
    -Effective teaching equals improved student learning.
    -The essential tasks of PLCs form an ongoing cycle.
    -PLCs are not so much a "thing" but instead a culture that's grown and nourished over time.
    -Our school and district as a whole is very good at reviewing and responding to data throughout the year and not just when results of state assessments come in.

    Figure 1.3 provides an excellent visual on the differences between traditional meetings and true PLCs. Some key differences:
    -Meetings often have an attitude of compliance so that it can "get done."
    -PLCs, on the other hand, embrace questioning and disagreeing. A PLC requires truthfulness which may not always equate to positivity.
    -Most importantly, in my opinion, is that PLCs are focused on what' s best for the student instead of what's best, or even easiest, for the teacher.

    Questions remaining:
    -What are the logistics of meeting several times a week as suggested by the author?
    -What's the protocol for looking at student work?
    -What PLC structure will work best for our school: subject specific, grade specific

  6. I really liked the detailed and optimistic nature of this chapter concerning the organization and purpose of PLCs. I love this quote on p. 10: "Arguably, PLCs can be the most efficient, least costly way of improving student learning." This is IT. I also love the fact that Venables calls PLCs a culture and focuses on the "pursuit of having authentic dialogue" (p. 17).

    But what really blew me away, which was nice to have a gentle reminder, was the section on the role of the administrator. It is basically our job to keep quiet and to model listening and reflective practices. In essence, we only offer insight AFTER the PLC meeting is complete. And in full disclosure, I struggled with keeping mum when I think back on my participation in last year's PLCs.

    One more personal note, since professional learning was my passion topic for my dissertation: how often can we truly say we and our teachers are growing professionally through our PLCs? I am glad we are reading this book to serve as an intense focus onto the why and the how.

    1. Great thoughts Chery....what evidence do we have that our teachers are growing through PLCs? If they aren't growing, neither are our students!

  7. We know that our most effective PLCs are those in which each member understands the WHY behind our time spent together. When we attend PLCs to be compliant, we don’t fully show up.

    However, when we see the purpose behind the PLC, we work to move each other forward. By looking at student work, asking each other the hard questions, and problem solving together we impact student learning.

    My goal this upcoming year is to support our PLC leads by coaching and encouraging them to take their PLCs to the next level. This will also work to build capacity in them as teacher leaders.

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  9. PLCs become successful when the all members understand the true culture of an effective PLC and value the importance of collaboration. This requires a lot of trust in one another. Teachers need to openly listen, accept mistakes, and truly analyze and respond to data in order to make improvements in our classrooms. I plan to present Figure 1.2, on page 13 at our first PLC meeting as norms are discussed. It’s a great comparison to typical teacher meetings, and something that needs to be clearly communicated to all members! If we begin by encouraging each other to dig deep, stay focused, and have authentic discussions, then we’ll be off to a good start in laying the foundation we need.

    Reflecting on last year, I plan to put more thought into each agenda for our grade level team and emphasize the importance of all members attending each meeting. As aim4lsu posted, “PLCs are not an add-on,” and I think too often we postpone the meetings or cover agendas too quickly due to our busy schedules. I also agree with Liz, that our grade level needs to review data more consistently in order to design the interventions our students need. I'm looking forward to learning more for next school year.

  10. As I reflect on this past year, student data drove the majority of our conversations. I'm interested in reading about the protocols to see how we can improve those conversations. Then a look ahead to next year- I think looking at student and teacher work more often would be a goal we could have. "PLCs exist to improve student learning..."

  11. Meredith ScheerleJune 22, 2015 at 8:01 AM

    As a first time facilitator, I am pleased to have this information regarding PLCs. I believe that all teachers should read this chapter so that we all understand the importance of PLCs and everyone will be on the same page. Figure 1.3 is helpful to see how a PLC should be planned and the amount of time that needs to be devoted to each activity.

    Reflecting on last year, I believe that the framework that is provided in this chapter will help my team to stay focused on the task. I plan to have an agenda that will guide our meetings. Last year our grade level PLCs spent the majority of the time looking at learning targets, high level questions, and Blooms. We did spend some time looking at data, but I feel that at times that can be challenging when you have a small team and it's departmentalized. It can be difficult to analyze data and discuss the next steps that are needed for students when you do not teach the subject.

    This year my team will be very small, only three teachers. According to the first chapter, there should be at least four teachers. I wonder how this will impact the results of our PLCs. As I continue reading this book, I believe that this book will help me to plan a PLC that will benefit student learning.

  12. As someone who has spend many years working outside of the classroom, I feel the importance of authentic and effective PLCs can not be overstated. In many other career fields, peer review and collaboration is unavoidable. When I returned to teaching, it was surprising to me to realize how easy it might be to slip in and out of my classroom everyday with little to no knowledge of what was happening in the other parts of the building. Thankfully, we were encouraged and directed to have PLC’s within our grade level and amongst the teachers of the same subjects. Authentic PLCs appear to be an invaluable tool to effective teaching. I look forward to learning more about the attributes of authentic PLCs.