Vertical PLC Conversations - Steve Barkley

Vertical PLC Conversations

I recently designed facilitation for bringing elementary grade level PLCs into a vertical conversation to examine key student learning behaviors. I believe the process can be repeated in different settings.

The principal scheduled a half hour for Kindergarten teachers to meet with grade one teachers. Then Kindergarten teachers left and second grade teachers entered. Thirty minutes later, first grade left and third grade entered, etc.   A team of rotating substitutes allowed for the conversations to happen for all the vertical grades pairs in a single afternoon. At end of the day a faculty meeting pulled the discussion together.

The leadership team in this school chose the following agenda as the topics they wished to explore:

Student accountability during Daily 5 and Math Workshop

Reading stamina expectations for the next year

Student learning production behaviors expected by next year’s grade level teachers

Each conversation followed this format:

The younger student’s teachers answered these questions and the upper grade teachers confirmed or probed for clarity and understanding

#1 What are the most important student learning behaviors you have been focused on developing during the Daily 5 to build student reading success?

#2 Describe what one would see over several days during the Daily 5, observing students who were…

…starting to practice these skills

…developing the skills

…implementing the skills

How many students are in each category?

#3 Lower grade teachers then responded to these same questions regarding Math Workshop.

#4 Lower grade teachers described the current length of independent reading stamina their students possessed. Upper grade teachers described the reading stamina they would look to develop by the end of the following year.

#5 Upper grade teachers identified some of the most important learning behaviors for students to possess for a successful start at the grade level while lower grade teachers confirmed or probed for clarity and understanding. Together, teachers discussed ideas for practicing and building these behaviors in the remaining weeks of school.

At this point the lower grade teachers left and the next grade level came in and the conversation was repeated. We continued until all the vertical grades had met.(K-1,1-2,2-3, 3-4, 4-5) The specialist teachers each joined one of the conversations and contributed their observations: such as the PE teacher’s input regarding students’ ability to read and implement written directions on a whiteboard at the start of his class.


At the end of the day a short session was held with the entire faculty. I asked them to form groups with a three grade range, 2 3 4 or K 1 2 etc with a specialist teacher joining each group. I facilitated conversations with the following questions, first in the small groups and then shared with everyone. The principal and instructional coach, who had listened in on all the conversations, were also able to share observations.

What did you hear during the vertical conversations today that should be celebrated?

What did you discover today that you didn’t know was happening?

Is there anything you are interested in observing in another classroom based on information that was shared today? (Interested teachers were asked to record this on a sticky note for the coach, as she agreed to facilitate the observations. She received 15 requests as the meeting ended.)

I believe these conversations added to building teacher collaboration in the school and gave the leaders a very quick read on teacher beliefs and practices across the school. I can envision a modified version of this process taking place among grade level teachers at a middle school and within departments at a high school. There is a definite need to create an opportunity for these conversations to connect schools 6-8 and 8-9.


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