In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve looks at how to create conversations in PLCs that increase collective responsibility and in turn, student learning.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:17 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For the last 35 years, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. In each of the coming episodes, I’ll explore my thoughts and my learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning and leading. Thanks for listening in.
Steve: 00:42 Creating PLC conversations that increase collective responsibility. Collective responsibility among staff is a tool, a resource, to increase student achievement. As teachers collectively become empowered, learning increases for all students.
Steve: 01:23 Here’s some statements from Stephanie Hirsch of Learning Forward about collective responsibility. She states “collective responsibility” means that all staff members share a commitment to the success of each student. Our teachers take pride in getting to know all the students in their grade level or particular course first and after that they do their best to get to know the students in the grades they will serve next. When teachers learn that any teacher or student is struggling and they have information or strategies that can help, they feel a responsibility to share it. They celebrate with their colleagues when things go well and commit to changes when things do not go the way they had anticipated.
Steve: 02:18 While this collective responsibility is frequently the goal of many PLCs, I find that it takes facilitation of the conversation initially perhaps by someone outside the PLC or by a member of the PLC who has been trained to create a process, a structure, that will assist teachers in focusing the conversation and realizing the rewards of their collaboration. Way too many cases, I find a PLCs occurring without student work present and creating too few opportunities for teachers to focus long enough to create the change in student achievement that rewards the teachers for their effort and continues investment. Collective responsibility requires teachers having some shared vulnerability in order to build a needed sense of trust to work effectively as a team.
Steve: 04:06 On this podcast, I’ll share two recent facilitations that I designed with PLCs to guide them in their initial start of creating this collective responsibility for student success. Five high school teachers from the math department formed a PLC around all of the algebra one students that were taught by these five teachers.
Steve: 04:50 When I sat down to work with them, my first thought was that if they tried to look at all of the students work initially, the conversation would not get focused specifically enough for teacher learning that could be applied to impact student learning. So we made a decision to form a smaller group of students that would serve as the focal point for their PLC conversations and that teachers would take learning from their work and focus on that smaller group and be applying that across to all of their students. So each of the five teachers selected three students from their classes that they would identify as being advanced or highly proficient. Those would be students who would master standards quickly and might be able to focus on additional standards. They identified three students who were proficient. Those were students that our expectation would be that with sufficient instruction and practice, they would master the standards of the course.
Steve: 06:13 They identified another group of students, again, three each, who they labeled as below level. And these might be students who were lacking some prerequisite skills coming into algebra one and may require some additional scaffolding. And lastly, they identified three students each who — we use the label “intensive”, and these would be students who might need substantial learning support. They might focus on different learning outcome goals than the existing standards — levels for the course. These 60 students chosen to be studied throughout the year. In the next step, the PLC designed a common assessment for their current upcoming unit of study. First they selected items for the assessment that address the proficiency at the level of the standard. They then considered what additional problems to add to the assessment that would provide feedback on whether or not the advanced group of students had achieved at a higher level standard.
Steve: 07:43 And lastly, they identified where, within their investment, they would be able to see growth of intensive students even if the intensive students were working under the proficiency level of the given standard. The PLC set this following list of activities that would guide their conversation and work over the coming weeks. They decided that they would examine the assessment of this 60 student study in groupings. So at the next PLC, they might take the work of the 15 advanced students or the work of the 15 proficient students and everyone studying those assessments, looking for similarities and differences and drawing meaning and understanding from it, where problems were identified, working together as to how to approach those issues. They also decided that in future assessment, each teacher would identify a student’s work who was just meeting the proficiency level and the work of another student who was just below meeting the proficiency level.
Steve: 09:25 And prior to their PLC meeting, they would share that with each other so that when they came to the PLC meeting, they could identify the degree to which they were in agreement in how they identified meeting the proficiency of the standard. To move that task to another level, they decided on a following assessment. Each teacher would select one student’s work that was just at standard and one that was just below standard and then without putting their evaluation onto the paper, they would exchange them with each other so that they would now come to the staff meeting having everyone made several sets of decisions about meeting proficiency and not meeting proficiency. These are crucial conversations for teachers to continually to work effectively towards collaborative responsibility. And again, I don’t see them occurring when they’re trying to look through 120 students’ work.
Steve: 10:51 Another agreement that they made was that for some upcoming assessments, they would decide on a group of their students, such as the proficient students and each teacher would send the three assessment papers of the students in that group to each other and that they would all score those papers coming to the PLC meetings. So now you’d have teachers walking into the PLC having each scored the same 15 students’ work and entering into that conversation. There is real value that will come from the teacher learning in these conversations. We just need to create the structure for those conversations to be held. I created another PLC structured conversation for members of an elementary school who are currently focused on increasing achievement in student writing.
Steve: 12:15 Initially, teachers working on grade level teams identified student current writing as being either advanced, highly proficient, proficient below proficient or again, intensive. As a grade level team, having identified students in each teacher’s class that fell under those assessment categories, the teachers then set goals for that group of students for the end of the year. So when you looked at students who we were now identifying as being proficient, what did we expect the writing of those students to look like as the end of the year of May approached? So that grade level teachers together set goals for students that were in each of their classes? Again, if we’re looking at the advanced student, if each of the teachers at the grade level had one or two advanced students, they were now collectively setting goals for what they thought that student achievement would look like for the end of the year. With those goals being set, the teachers then identified what the student learning production behaviors would be for each group.
Steve: 13:47 So, if we were looking at students who were below level writers and we had a goal that we wanted those students to achieve by the year-end, what would be the most important student production behaviors for those students to be engaged in now? And what teacher actions would cause students to be engaged in those student learning production behaviors? And then coming back a few a weeks down the road, to be again looking at the progress those students are making and reassessing. So the teachers are making instructional decisions together on the identification of student production behaviors. And an important side note to this — there is some pushback when teachers feel that taking part in this kind of a PLC activity means they have to go back to their classroom and teach the way everyone else teaches. And I kind of step that ,”I don’t need you to teach the way the other people teach, but what we did is we agreed upon what the student learning production behaviors were”. So if I come into your room, I should see students practicing common skill set, I should see students engaged in certain behaviors that we’ve agreed as a group are the things that should produce the student learning. How you go about getting your students to engage in that might be shared. We might design that activity together, but it doesn’t have to be. To take this faculty’s work to a next step, we later used a faculty meeting to create some cross-grade vertical PLC conversations. So initially, we had the K-1 team together two, three and four, five and in that first conversation, the lower grade teachers picked one of their groups of students and identified the goal that they had for the end of the year.
Steve: 16:11 So, second grade teachers showed third grade teachers the goals that they had for the students who were below level. The upper grade teachers were asked what they noticed as they looked at those student writing examples and what implications there would be for the next year if students came into their class and came into their grade level having met the writing goals that the previous teachers had set and were now going to work on. The lower grade teachers also identified to the upper grade teachers what they saw as the most important learning production behaviors and what strategies the teachers were considering to get students engaged in those learning production behaviors.
Steve: 17:08 Lastly, the upper grade teachers were asked to identify any students that they currently had that needed to be engaged in the same student learning production behaviors as their lower grade level teacher colleagues did. That then led into a conversation around how the teachers might collaborate across grade level. There are times that students might move among the second and third grade classes to be engaged in the most appropriate learning activity for them. Are there simply materials and activities that one teacher has designed to work with that group that could be passed on? If we were struggling with a group of students in both grade levels for whom the current student production behaviors weren’t in the student learning outcomes that we wanted, we’d now be brainstorming and problem solving together as a group. That staff plans to come back again and is next time having similar conversations, but in K-1, two and three, four, five teams. Notice that this creates the opportunities for teachers to become more closely connected with the standards at the next grade level and at the previous grade level as well as teachers starting the next year with a better understanding and a knowledge of who their students are and the learning activities that their students were engaged in, in the previous year.
Steve: 19:11 I’ll close with a further quote from Stephanie Hirsch. “Teachers need time to achieve the goal of collective responsibility. They need time to conduct the work essential to the intended outcomes. As a result of spending consistent time together, they build trust, learn to take risk and recognize the value of reflecting on mistakes.” As you have the opportunity to observe teachers in PLCs, as you have the opportunity to read the minutes from PLC meetings, identify whether or not your staff needs additional support in structuring their PLC conversations to maximize the learning that can occur from the time that they are investing in PLCs.
Steve [Outro]: 20:23 Thanks for listening, folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.