Thursday, December 4, 2014

Are we talking or planning in our PLCs?

This week as I visited a campus, a teacher shared something that really resonated with me.  As we discussed the strengths of her campus she talked about how far her particular team had come in the area of planning lessons together.  She was proud of her PLC and shared that they had realized that last year they were “just talking” but when they really focused on things that mattered, like planning for the learning by looking at data that included student work and results from classroom formatives.  She also talked of studying the content and talking about what the expectations for students will be for the lesson.

What a genuine moment!!  And what I loved most about it was the real connection she had made from focused lesson planning to student learning. 

She was excited and so was I!! 

On many campuses this year, I have spoken with teacher teams about four characteristics of effective schools outlined in Jim Knight’s book, Impact Schools.  These traits provide a focus for campuses as they strive for increased student achievement.

1.       Content Planning- Do the teachers know exactly what is supposed to be taught and how they are planning to teach it?  Are they planning collaboratively or in isolation?  Are they just “talking” or are they designing lessons together?

2.       Instruction- How are the plans being implemented? Having an effective PLC is like having an effective game plan, but teachers still must execute the plan.  If teachers cannot effectively facilitate the learning, they will not have near the impact that they could have.

3.       Assessing for Learning- How do we know the students have actually acquired the knowledge that was expected?  Maybe the most difficult thing a teacher does is correctly diagnose students’ learning, but it is also the most important.  How well we assess our students learning is the ultimate measure of a school’s success.

4.       Community Building- This can be defined in a variety of ways.  Relationships among students, parents, teachers, etc. can define a school and have a great impact on the learning.  The best schools capitalize on positive relationships to make their planning and instructions stronger.

I have no doubts that the teacher I spoke to this week was part of a school that had all four of these traits.  I also have no doubts that it didn’t come easy….she talked about going through the motions of compliance and spinning the wheels of mediocrity, but once it clicked and “talking” turned to “planning” the sky is now the limit!