Podcast: Collaboration is Critical to PLC’s - Steve Barkley

Podcast: Collaboration is Critical to PLC’s

steve barkley ponders out loud, Collaboration is Critical to PLC’s

Chad Dumas, the author of Let’s Put the C Back in PLC’s, shares strategies for instructional coaches and school leaders to support the effectiveness of PLCs. The conversation includes the skills that teachers need to gain to work effectively as team members and the understanding that as long as leaders are directing PLC’s, the true power cannot be achieved reached. (Please note, the guide referenced in this podcast from Washington State ACSD can be found here.)

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PODCAST TRANSCRIPTSteve [Intro]: 00:00 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: 00:28 Collaboration is critical to PLCs. On today’s podcast, I am joined by Chad Dumas. Chad is an experienced teacher, principal central office administrator, researcher, and consultant, who is the author of “Let’s Put The C in PLC. Welcome Chad.

Chad: 00:53 Good morning or good afternoon, wherever people are listening. Thank you. It’s great to be here. It’s an honor to be with you.

Steve: 00:58 So Chad, let’s just be sure right from the get-go, what is the C we gotta put into PLC?

Chad: 01:05 Well, yeah, so PLC, you know, is kind of like some educational jargon in the education world, you know, people refer to PLCs as meetings and times and this and that and the actual term is professional learning community. And so, the intent of my work is around putting community inside of professional learning community. And so what does it take to be able to create that collaborative environment, that culture or ethos so that we’re working together in community? Because it really does take all of us to be able to meet the needs of each and every kid that comes to us every day.

Steve: 01:41 Chad, as I read a little bit about your background, I know that your research and studies took you into the field of collaboration. What prompted you to focus on collaboration for educators?

Chad: 01:57 Yeah, so from my very early years as a vocal music director in Lincoln public schools, I had the opportunity to engage with some colleagues collaboratively to improve our practice and was introduced the idea of PLCs through some of the work of PDK and my amazing principal. And that kind of piqued my interest, you know, what our PLCs and how do they work and how can we make sure that we’re meeting the needs of all kids? And so that kind of launched me in, you know, investigating more and more about what PLCs are and was able to attend an Institute with the DuFour’s in Omaha, Nebraska back in 2005 and then learn and study and learn by doing, you know, working with other teachers about, you know, how do we go about building a professional learning community where we’re focused on learning, we’re focused on, using results that we get, and we’re focused on working together to improve our practice?

Chad: 02:49 And so that led to, you know, then work towards a dissertation. And I was explaining to my wife on a long trip out to Colorado to visit my parents about how we know that from 50 years of research, we know that if we want to improve student learning, what we’ve got to do is create a culture where we’re working together to improve our own practice as educators. And you know, all these silver bullets that come around this technology or that technology they’re they’re faux silver bullets, they don’t work. But we do know that working together does work. And I was explaining this to my wife and how, even though we know what’s happening, there’s a knowing doing gap. Kinda like, you know, I know that I should exercise 30 minutes a day, but I don’t do it, right?

Chad: 03:34 There’s this gap between knowing and doing. And so I was explaining this to my wife and she kept asking over and over and over again saying, you know, “how do you know that people know what they need to do? Like, maybe there’s not a knowing doing gap.” And I I just kept blowing her off and saying, you know, “well, you know, all these principals they’ve been teachers” or, “you know, of course the teachers know how to work together,” you know, all these things. And she just kept persistently asking, “well, how do you know that they know?” And finally, the light bulb went off in my head. It said, you know, maybe it is true that we don’t know what we need to do. And so that’s where my dissertation took me, to then look at the research. And so I come through, you know, all the journals and studies and this and that.

Chad: 04:15 You know, you’ve got people like Todd Whitaker who talk about, you know, these are leadership practices and the DuFour’s talk about specific PLC practices and Learning Forward talks about professional development practices. And so all these different folks talk about lots of different aspects of building a community of professional learning and what I then realized was there wasn’t a list that says here, principals or school leaders – I use the term school leaders more broadly because anybody can be a school leader, it’s not just the principal. But what do school leaders need to know and identify – here’s 10 things, 10 elements of principal knowledge to be able to put the C in PLC to build this collaborative environment because building a collaborative environment is much more than a meeting, you know, on one day after after school or a team of people getting together, you know? A PLC is the ethos, the culture, the way in which we do things in a school. And so, that’s kind of where it all started back as a teacher and then evolved through this time and dissertation and then writing the book that really lays out these elements that have stories and tools and resources to go with it.

Steve: 05:22 The word that I like to use in my work with PLCs is team.

Chad: 05:28 Yeah.

Steve: 05:28 My early teaching background had me spend a lot of time in teams, but when I got out and began working with most educators, I realized that that word was being used across schools. But the reality is most teachers had never actually experienced being on a team.

Chad: 05:49 Yeah.

Steve: 05:49 I pulled the word franchises, what they were mostly doing. I labeled it, they were going to franchise meetings. So teachers owned second grade, they met once a week and exchange tips and strategies then went back and ran their own franchise. It was surprising for me to discover that a real sense of team where you have joint responsibility for outcomes was pretty foreign.

Chad: 06:14 Yeah. And I think there’s a lot of aspects to that. Partly because we are trained in isolation from each other when we’re, you know, at university or college level. We’re not trained how to really collaborate with each other and work as teams. And I think you’re absolutely right that this idea of what is a team, how do we as school leaders and coaches help facilitate teaming? What are nonverbal skills that can be really powerful in helping this? What are some of the structures and processes and protocols that can facilitate creating team? It’s far more than, hey, there’s the three of us. We get together every Tuesday at 10 o’clock.

Steve: 07:01 So to ask teachers to be part of a PLC when they haven’t had that background or training or to ask building administrators to be responsible for having valuable PLCs when they haven’t had it, it’s a pretty far stretch.

Chad: 07:15 Yeah. And two of the elements that I focus on in these 10 elements of building a collaborative community – one is, first of all, you have to team effectively. What does a team make? It’s not just a matter of saying, okay, you, third grade teachers and Special Ed and ELL, you’re going to meet every Tuesday at 10 o’clock. That doesn’t create a team, it creates a structure. But that structure, there’s some elements. And it’s like, for instance, size. Size matters. We know that three to five people in a group is like the optimum size. You get more than six, it can work, it’s not that it won’t work, but the need for skillful group members and skillful facilitators increases dramatically when you get over six.

Steve: 07:56 I’m laughing – my number’s seven.

Steve: 07:57 Okay. [laughter]

Steve: 07:58 I describe at seven, you almost need an outside facilitator.

Chad: 08:03 Yeah. I heard the other day, I think it was Peter Dewitt, said that there was a study done by the NEA or Gallop or somebody, I’m not sure, I can’t remember who it was. But the most hated term in all of education these days is PLC. And what a sad statement of what we have interpreted PLCs to be because we don’t understand how to structure it. And then the second aspect of that is we don’t know how to support them. And so that’s one of the elements as well that I identify as resources have to be allocated. And some of those resources are not just tangible resources like money and time and space and equipment. That’s important. We also have to have intangible resources allocated, like building trust. That’s an intangible resource that has to be developed. And having training on protocols and and procedures, having expertise in the group, both internal and external. And so there’s these element, to make teams effective – I love your analogy of franchise, that it’s not just, here you go, 10 o’clock Tuesdays, you’re going to meet. There’s effective grouping and then allocating the resources to make sure that it’s effective.

Steve: 09:14 I think you’ve answered part of my next question, but I want to give you a chance to not leave out anything important here. What would you identify as some of the most important things that administrators and instructional coaches should be doing to tap the true value of having time set aside for PLCs?

Chad: 09:42 Yeah. So when I think about like, basically you’re asking like maximizing our effectiveness, right? How do we make sure that we’re actually being effective. So my mind goes lots of different places but some of the first things that come to my mind is – I guess there’s three things that come first. First is, an attitude of learning by doing. That book knowledge is good. We need book knowledge. And we have to apply that knowledge and reflect on it. I think it was John Dewey that said that we don’t learn from our experiences, we learn from reflecting on our experiences. So we have to have the book knowledge first. And second of all, we have to apply that book knowledge and have the experience. And then third of all, we need to reflect on that. And so having that attitude of learning by doing is kind of the first thing that comes to my mind.

Chad: 10:37 The second thing that comes to my mind in terms of maximizing our effectiveness is really being centered on the idea that relationships are at the center of everything that we do. And for me, that comes down to what I call three plus one moves. And the plus one is – I think you should call it one plus three, but three plus one sounds better. But the plus one is like the context in which we build our relationships. And that is, are we in rapport with each other? Are we having an attitude of dialogue with each other where I’m seeking, as Stephen Covey would say, I’m seeking first to understand then to be understood. And so there’s this overarching plus one of being in rapport with folks. And then then three specific moves, if you will, that help build relationships.

Chad: 11:32 And that is, comes from the cognitive coaching world, adaptive schools world – pausing, paraphrasing, and posing questions. And in my experience, when members of a team are engaging in those three specific moves, in a context of dialogue and rapport, then the relationships become even more powerful because we’re truly listening to each other. We’re taking time to think about my thinking and inquire instead of, you know, responding. So many times we’re in conversations with folks and we’re thinking to respond as opposed to inquire, or we don’t even think we’re just responding. [laughter] I’ve seen that a lot in the body politic of the world, right? Am I paraphrasing? Like, am I really understanding what you’re saying? Am I paraphrasing so that you can clarify for yourself what you’re thinking? Because many of times, we’re just, we’re thinking out loud, right? I mean, we’re coming into a meeting, we haven’t had a chance to think about A, B and C. And so we’re coming in and we spew our stuff all over and powerful groups paraphrase for each other.

Steve: 12:45 You’re really labeling their critical skills you would expect that trained facilitator or the instructional coach to have. And I think I’m hearing, we need to develop those skills within the team members so that they use them themselves.

Chad: 12:59 Yes, exactly. Yeah. The most powerful group member is the group members themselves who are skilled. And when group members are skilled in pausing and paraphrasing and posing questions to mediate thinking, then these groups become more effective and more efficacious, both, right? And then the third thing that comes to my mind in terms of helping teams become more effective is the structures and the processes that we put in place to help them become more effective. So things like what are the protocols that we’re using? It’s one thing to bring data to a meeting, it’s another thing to use a protocol to dig into it to maximize our effectiveness in looking at that data. Or student work, right? We all bring examples of student work. Well, let’s have a protocol to follow. Do we have agendas that are set up and that are systematic in those processes? You know, are staff meetings organized in such a way that people know what to expect? You know, from staff meeting a staff meeting, it’s not just a surprise, you know? So these types of things, that’s where my mind went in terms of how do we how do we help teams become more effective. Learning by doing, the three plus one and making sure we’ve got structures and processes in place to to facilitate the work.

Steve: 14:20 What’s running through my head as a conversation that Jim Knight and I had on a podcast sometime back about instructional coaches and PLCs. And in many places, we sent instructional coaches in to train teachers how to have PLCs and they never came out.

Steve: 14:44 Two deficits. One, the teachers aren’t developing the skills and they aren’t taking the ownership of the PLCs because it’s seen as the coaches meeting. And then secondly, I mean, I’ve worked in buildings where half of a coach’s schedule for the week is made up of of PLC sessions, which chunks out a major chunk of time for them to be doing the coaching feedback with teachers. So, I see the development of that skillset within teachers as critical.

Chad: 15:16 Yeah. I’ve been able to do some work with the adaptive schools, which is kind of taking the ideas of cognitive coaching, you know, one-on-one individual and then saying then, okay, we can have individuals who are highly efficacious, who are very successful in doing their work and then they get into a team with other people and everything goes South. And so the adaptive schools work is saying, okay, how do we help groups of people, whether that’s a team of third grade teachers or a school improvement team, or an administrative team, or a school or a district, how do we help the group develop itself? And one of the things that’s early on done in the training is looking at three different roles. And that is, the role of the facilitator, the role of an individual group member and the role of the development of the group.

Chad: 16:08 And we asked participants, where would you like rank these in terms of most important? And I would say probably two thirds or three fourths of the time, people first say that the most important is the having a skillful facilitator. And what we raised in adaptive schools is that it’s actually the skillful group member. We all have this idea of this you know, knight in shining armor coming in and saving the day.

Steve: 16:39 [laughter]

Chad: 16:39 The reality is that you can have a really skillful facilitator and highly ineffective group members and they will not move that group forward. On the other hand, if you have highly skilled group members and really poor facilitator, that group will take off. It’s the highly skilled group members that, that really help the team become better.

Steve: 17:00 As I listen to that Chad, it’s the same problem we have in the classroom. As long as we’re thinking that the teacher is the skilled facilitator causing the communication and learning to happen, we’re way short of what can happen in there at the moment that the student participants become the empowered facilitators of the learning.

Chad: 17:22 That’s a really great connection. I really appreciate you raising that. And it makes me think about how much overlap there is between good practice with students and good practice with adults, good practice with adults and good practice with students. That’s just a really great connection in so many ways.

Steve: 17:39 It’s really – and I’ve had this throughout my career, once I stop and drive everything back to learning, then that lays out the path that we need to take.

Chad: 17:48 Yeah.

Steve: 17:48 I’m wondering if you’d have some comments about the time that we’re in right now with quarantine and hybird in some cases as to the role of teachers in PLCs during this time.

Chad: 18:06 Yeah. Actually, part of what was the impetus for me getting this book out now as opposed to waiting later, was this COVID issue. And my publishing guide really encouraged me and said, you know, yeah, we need to get this out sooner than later because this need to address student needs is – if we didn’t know it before, it’s become really apparent now. And so I think for a number of reasons. First of all, we know that there’s inequities. And what COVID has done and remote learning has done has really exacerbated those. And if it hasn’t exacerbated, which I think it has, but even if it hasn’t, it’s made it more obvious to us that they exist. And so we need to address these. We’ve always needed to address them but now it’s more obvious that we need to.

Chad: 19:01 And then second of all, kind of going back to this idea earlier on that we know that collaboration works. There’s a great quote from – there’s a couple of quotes that come to mind. One is from Rick DuFour and Bob Marzano and they say that no one person can have all the knowledge, skills, or tools to meet the needs of every student or to improve school. And so we can’t like, you know – best case scenario, I’m one teacher with 25 kids in front of me. I don’t know everything I need to know to meet the needs of those 25 kids because those 25 kids come to me with different experiences and backgrounds and levels and go on and on. And so we need to work together. And so what our challenge is, is how do we work together effectively in this remote environment through the technology.

Chad: 19:51 And so fortunately, there’s been some great tools that have been published and brought out. There’s the Washington State, ASCD put together a really wonderful guide and I encourage people to take a look at that, that has – here’s a strategy. here’s how it plays out, here’s what it looks like on Google meet or on Zoom or on Microsoft teams. And so thinking about these tools to help us, because it is all new in this environment. And I think what it’s done, sort of two things, I guess, if I would summarize all of my thoughts up to this point is, first of all, is this time has really highlighted the need for us to work together. And second of all, there’s a number of tools that can be helpful in making that happen.

Chad: 20:43 Well Chad, as we close out, I wonder if there’s any last one big piece of advice you’d like to leave with with school leaders in having their students benefit from PLCs? How did teachers and PLCs lead to the maximum benefit for kids?

Chad: 21:06 Yeah. I guess my one piece of advice, because that’s a hard question, you know? Of all the things that you could say to somebody, what would be one thing that you’d leave them with? I guess the one thing I would leave administrators, coaches, teachers, really anyone whether in education or out of education, is to be a humble learner and to know that learning comes through doing and reflecting. If we have that attitude of a humble posture of learning, then gosh, a whole heck of a lot of things are gonna take care of themselves.

Steve: 21:43 Chad, if you haven’t sent that statement out on social media yet I would advise you to. That is very powerful. I can promise you I’ll be quoting it in the future.

Chad: 21:54 Oh, thank you.

Steve: 21:54 Thank you so much. Chad, before we sign off here, would you tell folks the best way for them to locate you and find out about your book and perhaps follow up with any questions they might have?

Chad: 22:07 Yeah, best way, probably the easiest way is Twitter. And my handle is very, I must’ve gotten on Twitter early enough because it’s just @chaddumas. Simple, there’s no numbers or anything just @chaddumas and that’ll get you connected, but there’s also my website is nextlearningsolutions.com.

Steve: 22:26 Okay. Well, we will put both of those in the lead in to to this podcast. Chad, thank you so much for joining us.

Chad: 22:33 My pleasure. Thank you so very much. It’s an honor.

Steve [Outro]: 22:37 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 barkleypd.com.

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5 Responses to “ Podcast: Collaboration is Critical to PLC’s ”

  1. Jen Reinhart Says:

    During the podcast Chad mentioned a document by Washington ASCD. I’ve searched but can’t seem to locate it. Can you provide more information about that document?

  2. Steve Barkley Says:

    Hi Jen – Thank you for reaching out. You can find the article that was mentioned here: http://wsascd.org/wp-content/uploads/Article_Virtual-Engagement-Strategies.pdf

  3. Morgan Says:

    I enjoyed listening to this podcast. Do you have a link to the ascd article Mr. Dumas refers to?

  4. Steve Barkley Says:

    We’re so glad you enjoyed the podcast. Here is a link to the article that was mentioned by Mr. Dumas: http://wsascd.org/wp-content/uploads/Article_Virtual-Engagement-Strategies.pdf

  5. Lucille R Burch Says:

    As a leader, I began to understand that there are two essential characteristics of an effective professional learning community (PLC) that are difficult to master and not explicitly taught to aspiring teachers: fostering a culture of collaboration and managing the process of collective inquiry. Focusing on these two aspects of my PLC became paramount for me to run a truly effective team.

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