What are the teacher mindsets concerning PLC’s that encourage practices that impact teacher and student learning? How does teacher vulnerability, sharing student work and peer observation among PLC members increase the impact of PLCs?
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Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello, and welcome to the teacher edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out loud podcast. The complexity of teaching is both challenging and rewarding. And my curiosity is peaked whenever I explore with teachers the multiple pathways for facilitating student engagement in the exciting world of learning. This podcast looks to serve teachers as they motivate coach and support their learners.
Steve: 00:31 Reaping the benefits of PLCs. I’m joined on the podcast today by Darby Tobolka, who is a instructional coach in Leander, Texas. She has quite a few years of experience as an elementary teacher prior to stepping into her role in instructional coaching. I found Darby because she posted a note on Twitter about how her learning in in PLCs and about PLCs has been important. And so I contacted her and asked her if she would join us on the podcast and share some of her thinking. So Darby, welcome.
Darby : 01:18 Thank you so much Steve, for having me.
Steve: 01:20 Darby, when you look back at your earliest experiences as a teacher leading PLCs, what do you believe were some of the benefits for teachers and learners that you experienced?
Darby : 01:36 So originally, I just kind of figured we were trying to figure out the best way to make use of our planning and conference time. But when we got in and started really digging in, I knew what we were doing was best for kids, but it was still very teacher focused. So we knew we were selecting those essential outcomes, creating common assessments. We knew we were doing all of that. Once that became part of the way that we do business, it kind of felt like there were some missing pieces because we were all focused on the teacher. So we brought in some reflection pieces. So now that we’ve said we were gonna do all of these things and we’ve looked at the data, how are we reflecting on it? And then again, something, once we got used to doing that, still felt missing and it was that student work piece. So just kind of bringing in actual student samples and digging in to what students are actually thinking and having those conversations together as a team, that was my stage of learning about PLC. It was about the teacher so that I could have a good impact on the kids, but then once I learned really about the kid work and what am I learning from that? And what can I do with that information?
Steve: 02:50 It’s interesting, I label that transition as moving from what I call a PWC, to a PLC. And the PWC is professional working community. And it’s a good thing to do. It’s teachers coming together and working together to get our work done. So our planning done, our resources, maybe unpacking the standards kinds of things. I move the PLC to the L really being learning. And so then it’s not only student learning, but teacher learning. So what is it as we look at student work, what is it that we need to learn in order to advance that to the next to the next step?
Darby : 03:43 Yeah, I think early on, when you join a team and you hear PLC, you think, oh, I’m going to dig in together with my team, but the more that you can get in that student work piece, it really does take your PLC to a totally different level and give you some of that understanding on what you’re actually doing together as a team.
Steve: 04:02 Historically, schools had common planning time. And so when PLCs rolled out, there were lots of schools that just took their common planning time, changed the name to a PLC, and they stayed engaged in the common planning time. And again, not a bad thing. I see the PLC actually like action research.
Darby : 04:26 Absolutely. I will say I went back and looked at some of my early on PLC agendas from leading a team, I think this is probably 2009ish, and the things that were on those PLC agendas now I just giggle at, because it was basically exactly what you said. We’re just gonna take what we used to be our team time and then put it on an agenda and turn it in. So it’s just different and it’s funny how much I’ve learned over time what I thought we were doing that was PLC to me, but now that I’m really in, it is so different.
Steve: 05:04 If you were a teacher now joining a PLC, what would be some of the expectations you’d have of yourself and of your colleagues as you said, around the PLC table?
Darby : 05:19 So for myself, I would definitely think about the quality of what’s on the agenda and really trying not to pack in a whole bunch of things on an agenda and really taking time to talk about a few things and really dig in and understand and come up with action steps and carry out those processes. Another couple of things that I think are important to me, I’ve seen this bring teams together is, time to just get to know each other as a team. Team building, bringing in snacks and food. Everybody loves to engage when you’ve got snacks. It just makes everything seem a little bit lighter. But also, the importance of my energy and my mood that I bring to the team meeting to help people feel comfortable and show that I value other people’s opinions and want to hear from lots of different people in the meetings.
Darby : 06:17 I think from colleagues, if I were to go back and join a team’s PLC, I would definitely wanna sit early on and have some expectations around what engagement should look like for each of us. How can we contribute and feel like participating members of the team? Create those expectations together, and then evaluate maybe at the end of the PLC, how we’re doing for those expectations, and then making sure that every person on the team knows that that time together is our safe space where we can say, it’s okay to say, I don’t know what happened, or I don’t know how to do this, can somebody share? I think those are some things I would take back to a PLC with me now from all I’ve learned.
Steve: 07:05 It’s really interesting, I frequently use the definition of a teacher leader as someone who’s willing to be vulnerable before the trust has been built. So my example is, I don’t need the strongest teacher to be the head of the science department, I need the person who’s most comfortable laying down a lab that didn’t produce the learning outcomes that you wanted in front of your colleagues and being able to ask them for thoughts or ideas on where the tweak or switch might be that would’ve led to it having having a greater impact.
Darby : 07:50 How do we build that comfortable space early on? I know for example, one time we were at a PLC and it was early in the year, teams were bringing in their data, we were looking at student work and it’s just standard practice. You kind of show scores, right? And the new people on the team, their eyes got really big like, oh my gosh, my scores are up there for everybody to see. But we just kind of kept talking to them about this is how we learn and grow together and this is how we know which teacher ask great questions to what they did and that’s how we change and change our practice. We have actual actions from the data. But still their face was priceless. It’s always scary those first few times.
Steve: 08:34 You bet. Another point that you that you mentioned there that I’d love to reinforce and especially in elementary PLCs, I find they have a tendency to tackle too many things and therefore can’t stay on something long enough to work it through the cycle. So, last week we looked at we looked at student writing samples and next week we’re looking at math scores and you gotta really be able to let some of the things kind of – well, it’s part of when I describe working and the PWC is where you work and the PLCs where you learn, something’s just gotta leave in the working condition so that you can create a long enough time to study something in depth and have an impact and then we can go back and get a, get another piece. But most teachers can get caught in that rat race of, I’m leaving the PLC exhausted when I should be leaving the PLC kind of energized because I’ve got some idea of a new direction that’s gonna move me closer to where it is I want to get.
Darby : 09:46 Yeah, action research takes time and it happens and develops over time, but we get so bogged down as teachers and people in public education in the time factor that you’re like, oh, I need to do this, but I also need to do this. And I need to focus here because that’s what you’re hearing from external factors. And so, when you’re in that PLC time, you do need to feel the freedom to – yes, I’m worried about everything else that’s happening, but if I’m digging into math work as a PLC, then we just need to focus on that for a while so that we can really make some change and do things differently because that’s what we said was important to us.
Steve: 10:31 I wonder if there’s some questions teachers share with you about PLCs that you might tell us and add how you respond to those questions.
Darby : 10:42 Well, so it kind of depends. I think sometimes teams that are starting out, or maybe I should say, team members that are starting out on a PLC team, tend to have questions about – still the why questions, like what are we doing? How is this w? And so I think really helping them see that we’re taking this important chunk of time to have these deep conversation about instruction so that you can do things differently rhe next time around, we don’t just keep doing something. What’s the quote? I think it’s, “when you know better, you do better.” So if we’re exploring this topic together, then we know better. So now when we go to teach the next topic, we can use everything we’ve learned just with a different topic and change our practice based on student needs.
Darby : 11:38 I think teachers maybe are hesitant to share student work. So I’m not a big fan of bring three samples of student work. Even if you say high, medium, low, because really the only person that knows that is classroom teacher. I really just want you to bring all your samples so we can dig in. And I think some of our most experienced teachers, I think when they lay out their samples and then you have some new teachers that come in and lay out their samples, it really does help the new teachers. Like, oh, okay that’s what work should like look like. Or, oh my kids aren’t that far from what is happening down the hall. I think it really does bring that team closer together when they’re digging into that work.
Steve: 12:26 I’d reinforce, I think that’s critical. I jokingly say, I hate the idea that there is actually a report card on file somewhere that I put a grade on during my first years of teaching because there’s no way I had any idea what I was doing.
Darby : 12:48 I know I sometimes get some flashbacks of things that happened my first year and I cringe, like how did I do that? Oh my gosh. But now that I know better, I definitely do better and I take every moment I can to drop some learning in with teams to kind of help them think a little bit differently about the work that they’re looking at, or maybe what a student’s input is. I guess an example I could give of that is some writing samples. A few years ago, we had a PLC team bring writing samples to PLC and when we’re asking, okay, what are you noticing? The teams were very focused on there’s no punctuation, there’s no capitalization, there’s capital letters randomly throughout. And I kept saying, but what about the writing? What do you notice about the writing? Did the students get their thoughts down? I mean, we can work on those other technical skills, but can they get their thoughts out of their head and put them on paper efficiently? And the teams are like, oh, I didn’t really think of that.
Steve: 13:50 So a powerful thought is that when other people look at my students work, they ask questions that I wouldn’t have thought to ask myself and I see that as really powerful. When you said about bring all your students’ samples, but what we’re gonna do first is take one of our sets of student example and have everybody take a look at it. Because if I get four people looking at my student work, they’re gonna see things that I didn’t see, they’re gonna raise questions that I wouldn’t have thought of and that that’s where that empowering learning can come away from me. I’m wondering as we close out here, one or two thoughts for teachers walking into a PLC as to how they can gain the most from it?
Darby : 14:45 Yeah. I think just coming prepared to engage in conversations with your team, come ready and willing to share and express your thoughts, what you’re noticing, your opinions, your ideas, and to stay curious. Ask questions ask your teammates what they’re doing. Be curious about how people are getting the results that they’re getting or how they want certain results and how they’re not getting it. Ask good questions. When we opened a new campus, the teams had a misunderstanding of what we mean by being all on the same page. We mean essential outcomes and they were thinking it was more, every instruction should the same in each classroom. And so then when we would say, okay, well how did you teach it?
Darby : 15:39 They’d say, oh, well, we taught it the same way. So then we took teams on learning walks and what we noticed was, we planned this
lesson together, but it looked different in each room. And I said, yes, that’s what we mean by staying curious and asking questions. Just because you planned it together, doesn’t mean people are interpreting it and delivering it the same. Some people are using different questions, some people are using graphic organizers. The instruction looks different regardless of who’s on that planning team. And so it’s important to get in and see each other teach. And it’s important to just stay curious about what your team’s doing.
Steve: 16:15 You said the magic words.
Darby : 16:17 That’s my favorite thing to do is get in and see eachother teach
Steve: 16:21 It hits for me, teaching is a team sport and needs to be a public act. So for a PLC to work effectively, they need to take on shared
accountability for the student success. That’s the team sport, and then it’s gotta be public. If we take it back to the Hatty research today, the strongest indicator is collective efficacy. I can’t build collective efficacy which is my belief in my colleagues if I never have the opportunity to to see them interact with with learners. So yeah, you are just right on.
Darby : 17:07 And then, you know you’ve really got that team or the campus when teachers are begging like, hey, can we please go see each other teach? We just need that. And that’s a great feeling because it’s very scary going in, especially your first couple of times and having people come watch you teach or whatever. It just feels kind of intimidating, but when people have experienced that, then they start to do it again because you do learn so much from each other. So powerful.
Steve: 17:38 Before we sign off, I have to say that you also said the other magic word for me and that’s curiosity. So if you carry that curiosity into the PLC meetings, into other teachers classrooms, that’s gonna drive your learning and the students are gonna reap the payoffs of that.
Darby : 17:58 And we can make that difference that we all set out as educators to do is make those differences. And that’s how you’re gonna make it by staying curious and asking questions. Absolutely.
Steve: 18:08 Well, Darby, thank you so much. And I’m so glad that you’re on Twitter and I’m on Twitter. And how about telling folks who are listening in how they can find you on Twitter?
Darby : 18:17 Absolutely. So my Twitter handle is @darbyt_ic. I love Twitter so follow me, let’s chat. I have learned so much through the power of Twitter and education. So please let’s get in touch.
Steve: 18:38 And I’ll also put your email address on the lead-in to this podcast so folks can find you there. Thanks so much and have a wonderful
Darby : 18:48 Thank you, Steve. You too.
Steve [Outro]: 18:52 Thanks for listening in 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.