In the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to coach several high school department and elementary grade level professional learning communities. Here are some of the common suggestions I provided:Separate department and grade level “meeting issues” from the work of the PLC.
Due to tight time demands I found groups scheduled for an hour PLC, but handling the usual request for information from principals or curriculum offices or testing coordinators. Not ideal, but if necessary, consciously stop the meeting and begin the start of PLC time. Provide a purposeful shift of mind and focus. Teachers’ meeting behaviors are different from PLC behaviors….or should be. I suggested to one team that meets in a small conference room with a white board at each end that they actually turn the direction to the other side of the room as the PLC begins.
When examining data in PLCs look for the questions that it raises rather than for answers or solutions.
Rare that data will tell you “what to do”. It should raise questions, ”I wonder why?” or “How might more student ownership of learning change the success rate?”. These questions drive the work of the PLC. I observed a group spending 45 minutes collating and comparing their data to find common “most missing” skills of their struggling learners. Not getting a clear pattern they decided that they would do another assessment. Spending too much time collecting more data often frustrates time pressed teachers.
Avoid jumping to problem solving too soon.
Here is the opposite effect of spending too much time on the data. A school wide PLC of specialist teachers, who work with all the students, had examined the schools behavioral referrals and was listing patterns that they had identified.(substantially more in 4th grade than other grades, more often happened in less supervised areas). Before they finished the list of patterns, someone mentioned a cause and solution for one of the patterns. The group veered off debating the ideas. Without my intervention, they may have never returned to the listing of patterns. When they did a pattern emerged that they identified as most critical and the area of study for their work.
Use PLC minutes for continuity, focus, and accountability:
Continuity: Recording the key discussion points provides a way for the next session to pick up where the last one left off. The PLC studying behavioral referrals can begin the next time reviewing the patterns they listed, adding any new insights, and moving on.
Focus: When possible use the ending of a PLC session to set the agenda for the next one into the minutes. This often identifies “homework” or materials to bring to the next session (We will examine student lab work from all science courses. Bring a class set with you.).
Accountability: Minutes that list members’ commitments to the group encourage accountability to the group. (At the next PLC we will have the input from the specialist teachers concerning the target students’ performance and behaviors in their classes (Bill checks with PE, Rosa- Music, Melissa-Art, and Steve –Guidance).
Coaching PLCs in practice, like coaching teachers in the classroom, creates opportunities for the conscious practice of skills. All PLC members can develop skills to facilitate the group’s work. As PLC members gain skills and strategies working and learning as a team, the rewards of the investment in PLCs grows for them and their students. How can your PLCs be provided coaching feedback?