An Instructional Coach Explores How to Begin a Department PLC | Barkley

Podcast: An Instructional Coach Explores How to Begin a Department PLC

An Instructional Coach Explores How to Begin a Department PLC

What might a coach consider as she plans to introduce a PLC mindset to a middle school staff? Listen in as this coach shares her questions and wonderings. Steve provides his thoughts, experiences and recommendations as she proceeds with her preparations.

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PODCAST TRANSCRIPTAnnouncer : 00:00 Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud is brought to you by PLS Classes, online and on-site graduate classes and professional development opportunities delivered by master facilitators from eight accredited college partners. Visit to find out more.

Steve [Intro]: 00:15 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. I invite you to listen as I explore my thoughts and learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning, and leading with some of the best and brightest educators from around the globe. Thanks for listening in.

Steve: 00:43 An instructional coach explores how to begin a department PLC. During a virtual workshop that I provided for Ed Service Center 13 in Texas, I was asked to hold a conversation with a middle school instructional coach who was planning, in her words, to introduce a PLC mindset within the school beginning with the math department. We discussed several areas to extend her planning and I responded to some of her predictions about what might happen. I hope you can gain some insights from this coach’s willingness to think out loud.

Coach: 01:41 What I would like to talk to you about today ad I’d like you to coach me on is we are transitioning into the PLC mindset and with the challenges and barriers and a side note – I’m a super optimistic person at heart. I fully believe this is the best campus there is in Texas. Sorry, everybody else. I know a lot of my peers are on here. So anyway, we really want to get started in the PLC mindset. A lot of people still, a lot of our colleagues still believe that it’s checking the box kind of meeting. So I have some questions about that. So I’ll stop now.

Steve: 02:29 Yeah, so you’re going to drive this, okay?

Coach: 02:32 Okay.

Steve: 02:32 Just on what you said, I wanted to give you an initial piece to play with based on, you need to get professional learning communities defined. So you might want to read and share with folks – I’ve written a piece called PWCs PLCs or PD.

Steve: 03:00 So a PWC is a professional working community and that’s teachers who cooperate with each other to get work done. So if we need a seventh-grade common assessment for a unit in math and the teachers get together and design that assessment, that’s a PWC. The outcome of a PWC is work. A PLC is a professional learning community. The outcome of that is learning. And so for me in a PLC, if we look at student math results and we didn’t get the results we want, I’m gonna make an assumption – we don’t know how to. So my assumption is if we knew what to do to get a different result, we’d have already done it.

Steve: 03:51 So the reason we’re in a PLC is to figure out what the kids need us to learn. PD is a book study. And again, good thing to do, good thing to extend, but doesn’t become a PLC unless the book study is specifically connected to kids that I’m working with. So because you’re at a middle school, very often, I have middle schools who have one block of time and they have to do PWC and PLC in the same block. I have him actually split the schedule. They split the agenda. So the first three things on the agenda are PWC – they’re check the box issues. You know, grades need to be in, we need to get this ordered, we need a schedule for this. So we’re going to spend our first 15 minutes on that and now we’re going to switch to the PLC and the PLC is focused on something we need to learn.

Coach: 04:52 So as an instructional coach, what would be the best, or how would be the best way for me to make it happen in my department, but
also not taking a finger off of the whole campus?

Steve: 05:10 Yeah. So, first tell me the size of your department.

Coach: 05:14 I have eight teachers in my department.

Steve: 05:17 And they teach six, seven, eighth grade math?

Coach: 05:21 Yes. And workshop and algebra, everything.

Steve: 05:24 Okay. So the first thing to think about is whether that’s one PLC or whether it’s two PLCs. And if you take the ultimate of PLC for me, is everybody in the PLC has common accountability for outcomes. So failing in any room are failing students of the PLC. Eight people puts you on the verge of too big.

Coach: 06:15 So we do have common planning periods per grade level. So would three smaller PLCs be more appropriate?

Steve: 06:25 That’s where I’d start. That’s where I’d start. And when they were working well together, then look at bringing them together. And then here’s your – let me give you the biggie outcome for a couple of years down the road. Being able to set three-year goals. So imagine that it’s the beginning of the fall and you’re looking at sixth grade kids initial results on an assessment that you do and you set goals for those kids for the end of eighth grade. And so if we wanted – so who are our advanced students in sixth grade? What do we want to see those students doing by the
end of eighth grade? In order for that to happen, then what has to happen in seventh? What has to happen in six? And so then from time to time, you’re bringing your three small groups together where they’re putting their student work out in front of everybody.

Steve: 07:27 So imagine you have a bigger group. And this week, the seventh grade team is putting their student current assessment results in front of your eight member team. And so now on that team are people who had those students last year, and people are going to have those students next year. And now you’re really building that – go back to Wheatley – you’re now really building that relationship around common goals. So as a sixth grade teacher, I’m working on the plan for the end of eighth grade. I’m doing my part of that.

Coach: 08:09 That’s really easy. It sounds so easy.

Steve: 08:14 And then when those kids go to seventh grade that I had last year, I’m now part of that seventh grade teacher’s success with those kids.

Coach: 08:24 That’s amazing.

Steve: 08:26 So when that seventh grade teacher gives an early in the year assessment, and they give the results of that assessment back to the grade six teacher, I’ve got to struggle with the fact that I taught that last year, I tested it last year and the kid doesn’t know it next year. But that’s not my problem, that’s our problem. That suggests as a PLC, we needed to get to the bottom of what would causing something like that to happen.

Coach: 09:01 So if we have a traditional eight period day, about how much time should be spent minimum – I know that there’s no approximate number and I know that some teams are going to be at different stages What would be the minimum amount of time would you suggest to have PLCs, data, 100% data?

Steve: 09:29 I don’t know what you mean by 100% data.

Coach: 09:31 So if – because obviously we’re not going to give a test every week. So let’s say seventh grade gave one assessment and we’re going to be using it because it was a pretty vertical test. So you know, if they gave it on September 1st…

Steve: 09:55 But you want to be having PLCs in between the time you’re there.

Coach: 09:59 Correct. Correct. No, I understand. So I guess my question is, at what point – I’m assuming that I would have then my seventh graders look at the test first, before I would present it to the whole department.

Steve: 10:16 Absolutley.

Coach: 10:16 Okay.

Steve: 10:18 And I just wanna make sure – I love the fact that you’ve now said test, because I get scared when we look at data and we don’t look at the test because data tends to give you questions, not answers. So when you look at the data, we’re wondering why a large number of kids miss this, now we’ve got to go back and actually pull out their work, or if it was a standardized test and we don’t have their work, we realize a lot of a group of kids missed this. We have to take some of those problems, go back to the classroom and give the kids the problems and have them do them out loud and watch them so we can figure out what the issue is. So when the seventh grade team is ready, they’re presenting to the rest of the PLC to help them learn.

Steve: 11:12 You know, so as a seventh grade team, this group of kids did not move in progress the way we were hoping they would move. And we’re looking for the sixth and eighth grade members of our team to assist us. Now, as a coach, imagine you cover some sixth grade teacher’s classrooms while they go and observe kids that they had last year in seventh grade math classes. And as you get closer to the end of the year, you’re taking students that the seventh grade teachers are concerned about, and you’re getting eighth grade teachers to come down and observe those kids so that you’re building that sense of that whole department working together.

Steve: 11:54 You’ll be able to teach three or four teachers to have a PLC without you present. It’ll take a long while before the whole department can have a PLC without you present. They’re going to need – the larger group is going to need your facilitative efforts more.

Coach: 12:29 And not that I wouldn’t, but if you did have someone who was reluctant, I mean, not that I would, if you did have someone on your team who was reluctant or unwilling, I’m sure that there are teachers like that, not here. What would you suggest would be…

Steve: 12:48 Keep the invitation open but but not don’t allow them to stop the rest of the group. So they not be willing to come and observe some kids in somebody else’s classroom but don’t let them stop you. You don’t need everybody’s approval to do that. Am I making sense?

Coach: 13:21 Yes.

Steve: 13:22 If you get it going, it gets too uncomfortable for the resistor to resist.

Coach: 13:31 And partial – what did you say? Partial solutions are good.

Steve: 13:38 Yep.

Coach: 13:38 If we can get partial, we’re good.

Steve: 13:40 That’s right. You don’t wait until we got eight people working effectively as a team. We’ll keep building it.

Coach: 13:48 I think that’s all I have for right now that I can handle.

Steve: 13:51 You got it.

Steve: 13:54 I think this coach’s approach to working on developing an effective PLC process within one department provides a good opportunity for her learning and understanding about how to best support the building of PLC mindsets. Starting with a school-wide move may feel more like a requirement to teachers than to an opportunity for teachers. If you’d like to have a conversation similar to the one you’ve just heard or explore another topic, drop me a note at You can also find a hot topic section on that site that connects directly to resources for PLCs. I encourage you to consider how true PLCs can help build collective teacher efficacy in your school.

Steve [Outro]: 15:02 Thanks again for listening, you can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want 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

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