Medium 9781942496649

<p>Concise Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Professional Learning Communities at Work<sup>TM</sup></p>

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Get all of your PLC questions answered. Designed as a companion resource to Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work (3rd ed.), this powerful, quick-reference guidebook is a must-have for teacher teams working to build and sustain a PLC. You and your team will turn to this invaluable reference tool again and again as questions and complications arise along your PLC journey.

Benefits

  • Address the four critical questions that guide teacher collaboration through the PLC process.
  • Review essential PLC vocabulary.
  • Understand the qualities educators need to cultivate school improvement.
  • Outline what students need to learn, and ascertain how to react when students either do or do not learn it.
  • Gain tips on additional PLC books to read to dig deeper into the topics covered in this book.

 

Contents

Introduction

1              Laying the Foundation: Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals

2              Building a Collaborative Culture

3              What Do We Want Our Students to Learn?

4              How Will We Know When Our Students Have Learned It?

5              How Will We Respond When Some Students Don’t Learn and When Some Do?

6              The District’s Role in the PLC Process

7              Consensus and Conflict in a PLC

Afterword: It’s a Journey, Not a Destination

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Chapter 1 Laying the Foundation: Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals

ePub

Becky’s brother, Russ, has been a building contractor in the Central Virginia area for more than thirty-six years. Over the course of his career, Russ and his team have built some beautiful residential and commercial structures of various styles and sizes. All of Russ’s projects—even the smallest structures—start with the crew laying a solid foundation on which the structure will stand. A building contractor who neglects to lay a solid foundation would be foolish at best and vulnerable to a lawsuit at worst. The lack of a solid foundation may not be apparent at first, especially to someone not involved in the building project, but it won’t be long before the structure will begin to leak, crack, settle, and ultimately tumble down.

Educational leaders committed to building high-performing PLCs that will withstand the test of time must establish a strong foundation before expecting educators to embrace the new and different work that drives continuous cycles of improvement in a PLC. Leaders do this by engaging members of the school and district community to consider the questions posed by the four pillars that represent that foundation of a PLC. See figure 1.1 (page 12).

 

Chapter 2 Fostering a Collaborative Culture

ePub

The single biggest obstacle educators must overcome if they are to transform their schools into PLCs is the long-standing tradition of teachers working in isolation. The assumption that the fundamental structure of the school is the isolated classroom in which a single teacher is responsible for his or her students must give way to a new model in which the collaborative team of teachers serves as the core structure and the engine that drives the school improvement process. Team members work interdependently to achieve common goals for which they are mutually accountable. The team is part of a collective process to promote both student and adult learning.

In order to move from a culture of isolation to a culture of collaboration, teachers must be:

•Assigned into meaningful rather than artificial teams

•Provided with time to collaborate on a regular basis

•Absolutely clear on the nature of the work they must do

•Furnished with oversight, resources, and support to ensure they can succeed at what they are being asked to do

 

Chapter 3 What Do We Want Our Students to Learn?

ePub

Responding to the critical question, What do we want our students to learn? is the first step toward ensuring that all students learn at high levels. Responding to this question and identifying essential standards shifts the conversation of a teacher’s school, department, or team from an emphasis on teaching to an emphasis on learning. Agreement on what is essential helps teachers focus their time and expertise very specifically in the areas that will be most beneficial for student learning. With agreement in place on what matters most, teachers can be assured that they are applying their energies and professional expertise to what is absolutely essential to student success in the classroom and beyond.

Ensuring that students acquire the standards is different from merely covering the standards. Essential standards identify the what of the curriculum, but it remains the teachers’ responsibility to determine how to present the essential material most effectively. Nothing in the process of identifying the essential standards dictates pedagogy.

 

Chapter 4 How Will We Know When Our Students Have Learned It?

ePub

The second critical question that drives the work of collaborative teams in a PLC is, How will we know when our students have learned the essential standards? This question serves as the linchpin of the PLC process. Before a team can answer it, members must agree on the answer to the question, What do we want our students to learn? Once an assessment has taken place, the team and school turn their attention to the questions, How will we respond to students who have not learned? and How can we extend the learning for students who are already proficient? So the questions that drive the work of a PLC flow up and down from this second critical assessment question.

Because members of a PLC are committed to high levels of learning for every student, they focus on each student’s proficiency on each essential standard. In other words, their assessments are designed to provide evidence of learning by the student and by the standard—by name and by need. This attention to each student’s learning takes place in the classroom as individual teachers use a variety of strategies to check for student understanding almost minute by minute as they teach. They direct questions to randomly selected students and ask classmates to respond to or expand on the answers. They ask students to write their answer in their notes and do a quick check around the room. They work out signals with students—for example, thumbs-up or thumbs-down—so students can indicate their level of understanding. They use clickers, whiteboards, and exit slips to gather evidence of student learning in real time and make adjustments in instruction based on that evidence. Learning how to use effective formative assessment in the classroom each day should be a focus of professional development for every collaborative team.

 

Chapter 5 How Will We Respond When Some Students Don’t Learn and When Some Do?

ePub

How a school responds when students don’t learn is where the rubber hits the road in the PLC process. A school can do everything described in the previous chapters of this book, including:

•Build consensus on its mission, vision, values, and goals

•Dedicate weekly collaboration time

•Form the right teams

•Identify essential learning outcomes

•Create and administer common assessments

•Identify students who have not mastered essential standards after core instruction

But at this point, if the school does not effectively help the students who are not learning at high levels, and extend the learning for the ones who are, then what has it truly achieved? The same students failing before the team started collaborating are probably still failing—the only difference is the teachers now fail these students as a team instead of individually.

Like all the elements of the PLC process, we are tight on the school’s systematic and collective response when students don’t learn but loose on how each school responds. The specific steps a school takes to intervene for struggling students will likely look different at an elementary school than at a high school, and different at a school that serves a large number of at-risk youth in comparison to a school where a majority of entering students have already mastered prerequisite skills and knowledge. Nevertheless, there are frequent, common questions we receive from PLC schools at all levels regarding how to best respond when students don’t learn. In this chapter, we share research-based answers that can help accelerate your school’s success on the PLC journey.

 

Chapter 6 Defining the District’s Role in the PLC Process

ePub

In the late 1970s, researchers, writers, and educational leaders began to focus on the instructional behaviors of the classroom teacher as a key factor associated with student learning. This period is often referred to as the era of teacher-effects research. During this time, the focus of researchers shifted from the more personal characteristics of successful teachers to identifying specific teacher behaviors that have a positive correlation with higher levels of student learning (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001). During the 1980s, researchers expanded their efforts to address the issue of school effects—the characteristics of highly effective schools and how the culture of individual schools can affect student achievement (Marzano, 2003).

Years of research have validated the fact that the particular teacher a student has, as well as the school a student attends, can have a significant impact on student learning. In more recent years, researchers have extended this logic to the role that district-level leadership plays in student achievement. The findings are clear: what district leaders do—or do not do—has an impact on schools, teachers, and, ultimately, the level of student learning throughout the entire district.

 

Chapter 7 Addressing Consensus and Conflict in a PLC

ePub

The PLC process works best when educators spend some time learning together about both the rationale for and key elements of the process. “Focus on why before how” is one of the mantras of the consensus-building process. Building consensus requires more than merely averaging opinions. It requires building shared knowledge among the entire staff on both the current reality of the school and the evidence of best practice in our field. Ask uninformed people to make decisions, and the end result is uninformed decisions. So the initial challenge in achieving consensus is building shared knowledge among the entire staff. We have found that when people of goodwill have access to the same information when making a decision, they are likely to arrive at similar conclusions. Building consensus does not eliminate conflict, but it offers a solid framework for dealing with conflict.

No. There is a difference between consensus and unanimity. The staff might strive for unanimity but will probably have to settle for consensus. If everyone on the staff must agree in order for the school to initiate change, if each person has veto power, the school is certain to languish in stagnation.

 

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