Teaching Teams as Professional Learning Communities

I was recently asked to assist a middle school faculty that is using common times to meet as grade level teams and as vertical teams. Students are divided into three grade 6-8 houses and will remain in one house during their middle school career. The administration is anxious for teachers to use meeting time as professional learning community time.

The following is a sequence of questions I used to facilitate conversations among grade level teams (4 or 5 teachers at a grade level-math, science, language arts, social studies, reading).

My approach is that teachers need to find LEARNING and ACTION flow from their PLC time. By focusing on a few individual students, I find teachers are more specific in developing plans. Plans designed for a small group or for individuals often have application among far larger student groups.

We began by having teachers individually identify two or three students who fit these descriptions–

a. Meeting required standards, but likely capable of significantly higher performance.

b. Performing below standard but very likely capable of meeting standard

c. Question whether or not student is prepared to meet the standard

After selecting and naming the students, PLC’s began exploring the students from the category Meeting Standard-should be Exceeding.

• Discuss these students. How are they alike/different?

• When have each of you seen the individual student most engaged/least engaged?

• What is the best work that each student has produced so far?

• How grade conscious is the student?

• What interest does he/she have outside of school?

• How do each of these students perform in exploratory classes?

PLC’s were then asked to turn the conversation into an action by…

• Developing a plan for this group of students or for individuals.
• Who on your team will do what?
• Set a timeline to report back in on everyone’s observations.


• Identify questions that you have that need more information to be gathered.
• Who will gather what information from whom before next meeting?
• Agree to bring samples of the students’ work to next meeting.
• Use the next meeting to gain insights and develop a plan.

The goal was to have action after 15-20 minutes…minimum action was homework of gathering more information. Several groups decided they didn’t know enough about their students and created an inventory for a starter.

PLCs then moved to a discussion of the second group-Students not meeting standards who by all accounts should.

We approached this group with the same questions listed above, plus these…

• How does the student’s current work compare with past grades?

• Do you have any indications as to the student’s learning style preference- Visual, Auditory, Tactual, Kinesthetic… More of a sequential or global organizer?

• Might the student be missing a “how to learn or how to study skill” more than a specific content problem?

• How much effort is the learner extending?

Lastly we discussed… Students who appear to be missing prerequisite skills needed to master a standard.
• For each student identify the signs that indicate missing prerequisite skills.

• What seems to be most critical skill set for each student?

• Discuss these students. How are they alike/different?

• List the common missing skill sets and the isolated (just an individual student) missing skills.

With this group, we considered two action steps. The first was finding ways for the team to remediate the missing skills.

What strategies can the team implement to address missing skills?
-Remedial Groupings
-Peer tutoring
-Extra Support
-Differentiated Direct Small Group Instruction

Who can we ask for extra help?
What immediate steps do we agree to take? Who will do what? How will be measure effectiveness of decision?

What additional information do we need to gather or explore? Who will do what before our next meeting?

Then we explored strategies to scaffold the students during the current instruction in the classroom.

What strategies can the team implement to minimize the growing gap as the classroom instruction progresses?
-Cooperative Groups
-Reading assistance-
Teacher assistance during independent work, etc.

What immediate steps do we agree to take? Who will do what? How will we measure effectiveness of decision?

What additional information do we need to gather or explore? Who will do what before our next meeting?

On my next trip back, I will provide a similar set of questions for initiating conversations with vertical team mates. If you experiment with this approach or use some of the questions, I’d love to hear about your experience.

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2 Responses to “ Teaching Teams as Professional Learning Communities ”

  1. Robert Jacobs Says:

    Excellent set of guiding questions for PLCs. I need to add these to my “toolbox.” Great results begin with great questions

  2. Stephen G. Barkley Says:

    Thanks Rob

    I am finding some great PLC sessions happening from having teachers observing student learning in each others’ classrooms. Then debriefing strengths observed and questions that arise. Then take questions back to PLCs, One question from an elementary school recently:Is it too quiet in reading classes? (Not enough student talk?)

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Steve Barkley

For the past 35 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…