We examined three critical elements of PLCs:
- They are results driven…… (student achievement).
- They focus on learning more than teaching.
- They are collaborative…(the whole team is responsible for each student’s success).
This discussion led to the need to separate grade level group work (planning, pacing, assessing, data review) from PLC learning (staying on a specific learning focus long enough and deep enough to produce teacher learning that positively impacts student success). While grade level team work must tackle everything that needs to be done, PLC time needs to stay focused until teacher and student learning goals are accomplished. The value being that learning in a PLC will have long-term applications in the next learning unit and next year.
Pam Gindoff, a fourth grade teacher, at Live Oak conducted a pre-conference with me to demonstrate how peer coaching can extend the learning in PLCs. Here is a section of our conversation:
Steve- What area is currently a focus of your 4th grade PLC?
Pam-We are working on building writing stamina behaviors of our students; getting started writing, spending more focused time writing, completing a piece.
Steve- How would you currently place your students on a writing continuum? Pam placed her students on a continuum of advanced, proficient, basic, and below basic.
Steve- Is the learning activity I’m observing for all your students or just one of those groups?
Pam- Everyone will be writing but I’m most interested in the 8 students in that basic group. Are they writing?
Steve-So you’d like me to focus on how long it takes them to get started writing.
Pam-No, what happens after they write two or three sentences. Do they keep writing? Do they use strategies when they get stuck?
Steve-What will you be doing during this time?
Pam-I’m conferencing with individual students.
Steve- So it’s important that they independently find ways to keep writing and complete the writing tasks.
Pam – Yes, I’ll review strategies to use when one gets stuck writing before they begin and I start conferencing.
Steve – So I should record the strategies that you review and then note what the 8 students do as the writing time continues and you are unavailable to them.
Pam- Sounds good.
If each person in Pam’s PLC observed in each other’s classrooms with this structure, the PLC would have information that either reinforces the writing strategies they are providing students or pushes them to learn other approaches. Peer coaching can build teachers’ collegiality. Observations of the team member’s teaching and learning can create shared responsibility for all students’ success.