What are the costs and benefits to teachers as they learn within PLC’s? Chad Dumas, the author of Let’s Put the C back in PLCs, answers this question and highlights how teachers can assess the effectiveness of their current PLC process along with strategies to improve its effectiveness.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello and welcome to the teacher edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with teachers in and out of their classroom settings. I have a great respect for the complexity of teaching and I know that all great teachers are continuous learners. I invite you to join me as I explore my thoughts and insights on a variety of topics, connected to teaching and learning. Thanks for listening in.
Steve: 00:33 Teachers as collaborators. On today’s podcast, I am joined by Chad Dumas. Chad is an experienced teacher and school principal, and he’s author of the book, “Let’s Put the P in PLC. So welcome Chad.
Chad: 00:53 Good morning or afternoon or wherever people might be resided and listening to this. It’s great to be with you. Thank you so much.
Steve: 01:00 So Chad, let’s be sure people know what the C is in a PLC to take that from the title of your book.
Chad: 01:07 Yeah, so we know like, you know, in education, we’ve got all this jargon and we like to put everything into short little catchphrases. And so folks who are listening, I’m sure you’ve heard the term PLC standing for professional learning community. And so, C is about this idea of putting community, making sure that we have a collaborative community and environment, a culture, an ethos, whatever you want to call it, but that we have this community as part of our professional learning community.
Steve: 01:40 Chad, I’d like to jump into the fact that lots of schools has have lots of different pictures of of PLCs and teachers have had good and bad experiences. So if you were to if you were to make a presentation to a teacher about here’s the benefits of being in a PLC, but we know that to get those benefits, it comes with certain costs. So how would you describe what the cost and what the benefits are to the teacher?
Chad: 02:11 I think the benefits are kind of like the why, you know? Why do we do PLCs? And that’s because we know that Dufour Marzano would say that no one person has all the knowledge, skills, and tools to meet the needs of each kid. And so, you know, I’ve got best case scenario, 25 kids in front of me every day. I don’t know everything I need to know to meet all their needs beause they all come to me with different experiences and backgrounds and knowledge. And so I need to access the expertise of my colleagues in the building because I firmly believe that the answers are in the room. We don’t need to go find the answers outside, they’re in the room. What we have to do is access those answers with each. And so the benefits of collaboration are being able to then access the expertise of each other, not only access the expertise, but also the skills.
Chad: 03:08 If we truly have a PLC culture in our building, then we’re working together to achieve results. I’ve seen teachers do some amazing things where my first example that comes to my mind is some first grade teachers, a team of two who on a monthly basis, would sit down and identify what are the knowledge and skills that kids are gonna learn during the course of this month and then they would figure out what are how they were going to find out what the kids knew and they, you know, pre-assessed them by skill. And then the teachers divided them up, teacher A and teacher B. Teacher A, I’m going to take these kids during this time, teacher B, you’re taking these kids during this time and they work together. So because we all, you know, just as kids have different strengths, we do as adults as well.
Chad: 03:59 And so when we are working together in a collaborative environment, not only am I able to access each other’s expertise, but we’re also able to access each other’s skills in actually teaching kids. And so those are some of the benefits. Now the costs associated with that is it’s going to take us some time, right? We’ve got to meet together to figure out what do we want kids to know and be able to do so we’re clear about that. We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to know that the kids know it or don’t know it or already know it, and then figure out what are we going to do about it for those kids who don’t know it and for the kids who already know it because we need to be meeting their needs as well. And so there are costs associated with that and the cost is mostly time. And then also there’s an emotional cost as well.
Steve: 04:45 I was just about to ask you if emotions were a cost.
Chad: 04:52 I would say yes. And that’s because, you know, as educators, we weren’t trained how to work with each other you know? In university,
that just wasn’t part of it. We were trained in our content and we were trained in our pedagogy, but we weren’t trained in how to work with each other. And there are specific skills and practices that are really helpful in working with each other or there’s really incredible emotional costs if we don’t have those knowledge and skills. And some of the knowledge and skills I’m thinking about are protocols, you know, processes to help remove the personal. And so it’s a very personal profession, right? When I’m bringing the results of my kids’ work to the table, this is me.
Steve: 05:35 Vulnerability,.
Chad: 05:38 Yes. That vulnerability. And so, there are protocols there’s processes to help remove that personalization to help it become more about us instead of me. And so that’s a cost, right? And then it’s also a benefit too. When we start working together, then we develop closer relationships, we become much more connected with each other, seeing our interdependence with each other, et cetera.
Steve: 06:06 So Chad, as a teacher on a PLC, if my PLC was moving from less effective to more effective, what would you describe as some of the things I’d see and hear as that was happening?
Chad: 06:22 So on this journey of, you know, ineffective to effective teams, I think on the ineffective side, you’ll see people coming together without much connection to each other both in terms of the content, but also in terms of the relationship. You’ll also see people who are coming to meetings, disengaged, unprepared focused on adult needs instead of student needs, right? That’s like on one side of the continuum. And then on the other side is, you know, almost like the flip opposite of that, where we’re coming together, engaged, where we’ve got structured agendas and we know what’s happening. Where we have connection with each other and with the kids. The Dufors talk about the three big ideas of PLCs which I think is just a nice, succinct way of saying, you know, this overall work. And that is, first of all, we’re focused on learning.
Chad: 07:22 It’s not about did I teach it or not. You know, when I was a first year teacher – first several years of teaching, I remember saying to my colleagues, things like “these kids just don’t get it. I taught it and they didn’t get it.” That language doesn’t work in a PLC because it’s not about me teaching it’s about kids learning. And so that’s the first big idea is learning. The second big idea is using our results and I’m not talking just numbers. You know, unfortunately data has gotten a bad name, I think because people think of data just being hard numbers and test scores. There’s a whole heck of a lot of data that we can collect and use in our schools. And so are we using our results? And then the third big idea is working together. Are we actually working together to get things done?
Chad: 08:09 And so those are the three big things that come to my mind in terms of like on the effectiveness side scale and what you see. And then there’s lots of little things that happen, you know? Do we have working agreements where when people come into a meeting and we know that we, for instance, start on time, end on time. That’s one of my working agreements whenever I’m with a group, because I think we need to honor each other’s time. And if we start – say we start at 3:00, then we start at 3:00 not 3:01 but at 3:00 and we end at 4:00, not 4:01. And if we get out a little bit early, hey, more power to us. You know, we don’t have meetings for the sake of meetings, but you know, there’s some, some of these nuts and bolts things that happen as well as part of effective teams.
Steve: 08:56 In my head, when the PLC becomes truly effective, the members are controlling the agenda. Would that align in your thinking?
Chad: 09:06 Yes, absolutely. I think if somebody other than the members are controlling agenda, you’re definitely not acting like a PLC, you know, then it’s somebody else’s meeting.
Steve: 09:18 Gotcha.
Chad: 09:18 And I think maybe early on in a PLC process, there may be some at least suggesting of like, by a certain point in time, we should probably be at X, Y, and Z, you know, as people are training in what they need to do. At some point though, and I would say fairly early on because I’m a believer in learning by doing. So if somebody is just telling people what to do, they’re not actually doing it. And so we as educators need to engage in this learning by doing as well.
Steve: 09:49 So Chad, the last question I wanted to pose to you is it’s frequent that teachers find the membership of PLCs changing. You know, people leaving the school, new people come, people changing job positions. I’m wondering what advice you’d give a person who is joining an existing PLC as the as the new member to that PLC.
Chad: 10:17 Yeah. Brand new person coming in, learning teams functioning at a high level. Yeah. I I guess I would have two pieces of advice. One is, you got this. You were hired for a reason. And so don’t underestimate your own knowledge and skills. You have unique experiences as well and so don’t hold back just because you’re new. And then the second piece of advice was don’t let that get to your head either.
Steve: 10:52 [laughter] I was just betting you were coming back with the opposite of what you just said.
Chad: 10:55 Humility goes a long way. Being a humble learner and willing to engage with your colleagues in learning is – yeah.
Steve: 11:03 Powerful. Powerful, powerful. Well Chad as we wrap up here, would you tell listeners the easiest way to connect with you and find out about your book?
Chad: 11:15 Yeah, probably the easiest way is on Twitter with the simple handle @chadumas. No numbers, no underscores, no anything. Just @chaddumas. And then if you also want to check out my website, you’ll get, you can get connected through Twitter as well, but my website is nextlearningsolutions.com.
Steve: 11:33 Okay. Chad, we’ll be sure to post those on the lead-in to this podcast. Thank you so much for joining us.
Chad: 11:38 My pleasure. Thank you. It truly is an honor.
Steve [Outro]: 11:43 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.