Classroom Practices, Education, Leadership, Learning, PLC, PLN, Uncategorized

Putting PLCs Into Practice

Putting Professional Learning Communities Into Practice on an Elementary Campus

*Note: This post includes downloadable templates and videos of some artifacts I created, feel free to use anything you see!

img_2589This year, we are focusing on PLC work. Focusing, as in, starting them up. Yes, we have had PLC time on the calendar. Yes, our teachers have “met” during that time. But would I say we had strong Professional Learning Communities engaged in purposeful PLC-ish type work? Work that drove our instruction and informed our practice as a learning organization? No. And I don’t feel ashamed telling you that. For one thing, I know every educator on my campus would agree. But most importantly, because I believe that if you want to grow and improve in anything, you have to call it like it is. So this year, we took on the task of designing and establishing a vision and framework for supporting PLC work on our campus. To say this was a big, heavy goal would be an understatement. In this post, I am going to reflect on what we have done so far, and where we hope to go on this first leg of our PLC journey.

Developing our Vision

The first thing that my principal and I did was decide on what impactful PLC work would look like for us. We consulted many resources. Our district PLC framework was the guiding focus. It establishes the 3 district PLC principles and some ideas that might fall within each. We consulted  books, web resources, journals, people and blog posts  which helped tighten up our ideas and inform our processes. Our amazing Director of Professional Learning, Shawna Miller, provided our staff with an introductory PLC training to get us up and going. Finally, we dropped into the #atplc (All Things PLC) weekly Twitter chat where we were able to deepen our understanding of PLC work from some amazing educators. Chats focus on what works, what doesn’t, and latest ideas / trends / practices that are building capacity in educators and administrators. FYI: This chat happens every Thursday at 8:00 pm central time, and is facilitated by Solution Tree. Here is an archive of these chats.

Our guiding focus is on our students and our teachers. What is the work we need to focus on in order to drive high-level achievement at our campus? How could PLCs transform us from a community of learners into a campus-wide learning organization, made up of student and adult learners, focused on a shared vision and common goals?  Those were the type questions that drove our dialogue and from which our PLC development began to take shape.

PLC Campus Handbook

Following those ideas and conversations, I sat down to create our campus PLC Handbook. The purpose was to give our staff (and us) a structure for beginning this process. My principal and I are both big proponents of teacher autonomy and we try to be mindful of creating space for teachers to be self-directed. But sometimes, our teachers want a structured system in which to operate as they begin, explore, and get a feel for something new.

Our PLC Handbook is purposefully brief because we are just beginning and the last thing we want to do is make it bigger and more complicated than it has to be. The handbook briefly outlines our purpose and vision for campus PLC teams. We then define six “Focus Areas” which establish the type of work that will be done in the meetings. These six areas fit very nicely into our district PLC Framework and it’s three driving components. Within each Focus Area, I gave some examples of the type of work teachers might be doing. I also included resources that would help facilitate that work. Here are the six Focus Areas we established:

  • Curriculum and Learning Targets – Developing content, success criteria, learning targets, and identifying process standards for upcoming lessons.
  • Instructional Design – Sharing ideas for instructional activities & lesson design; giving feedback to each other on lesson design ideas.
  • Data and Assessment – Develop common assessments, examining data, plan interventions and extensions, collaboration with other staff (such as GT or Special Ed campus professionals).
  • Peer Observation & Collaboration – Observe a teacher, model a lesson for a teacher, co-teach, engage in virtual learning through blogs, social media or Skype, research best practices. Share this learning with the team.
  • Examining Student Work – Look for trends, identify gaps, collaborate on teaching styles; “Our kids performed vastly different, what did you do that I didn’t?”
  • RTI/Intervention – Discuss students who are in need of intervention, share ideas and resources, develop tutoring groups/plans.

We feel these provide the most opportunity for growth and meaningful work on our campus and also reflect both the strength and needs of our staff and students. We aligned those with the 3 District PLC principles of Collaborative Culture, Focus on Learning, and Results Driven. You can see where each of our 6 Focus Areas would fall under one or more of those 3 guiding principles.

Using Current Resources
My district provided me with the opportunity to go through training sessions with School Reform Initiative last year and I learned about some great protocals which school communities can use to accomplish various tasks. I realized those protocals would be very helpful if embedded in our new PLC system! And to be very transparent, although I loved this training and saw the benefit, I had yet to use any of it with the staff. So I grabbed my manual from the shelf, read back through my notes and the resources within, and then for each Focus Area I identified protocals that would best support the work and facilitate meaningful dialogue. I really enjoyed being able to line up PLC focus area tasks with these protocols. At this point, we started to see something really great taking shape. Not only were we mapping out our PLC vision, but also we were making purposeful use of tools that we already had by embedding them within the system. At the end of the handbook I tossed in a few resources that might be helpful for teachers, such as the master schedule, school calendar, rubrics,  norm development tools,  agenda and minutes template, and ideas for potential PLC roles and responsibilities.

Each team has a binder. The tabs are:

  • Handbook
  • Minutes & Agenda
  • Collaborative Culture
  • Focus on Learning
  • Results Driven
  • RtI
  • Admin
  • Resources

As you can see, I chose to use the 3 district PLC principles rather than our 6 campus Focus Areas. I did that because we want our staff to be see how our campus work with PLCs fits within the district’s overarching framework and to be fluent in that framework.

I also put together an admin PLC binder for myself and my principal.  Here are a couple of videos that I made to give you a quick tour of a PLC team binder and an admin team binder.

 

Time To Meet

The next thing I did was to create a schedule for our PLC meetings. My principal developed a master schedule which allows teachers one extra planning period every other week– students go to “Shine” time with our wonderful fine arts staff. So for example, week one PLCs are: Tuesday Kinder, Wednesday 1st grade, Thursday 2nd grade. The following week, PLCs are Tuesday 3rd grade, Wednesday 4th, and Thursday 5th. And then the two week cycle starts over. Monday and Friday is an additional planning for our Fine Arts team as they develop relevant and engaging learning experiences for our students’ Shine Time and to engage in their own PLC meetings. We feel it is very important to carve out time in the master schedule for this important work.

Planning the Meetings

Here was a tricky situation: We want to create space for teacher autonomy and grade level empowerment. We want teams to be in charge of their own learning and their own PLC tasks based on needs they identify. Teachers are professionals and they know their students best. But we also know that our teachers sometimes need more of a structure in the beginning so that they get a feel for each focus area and the work we are going to be doing. Additionally, we wanted to model some of the protocals for them so that they could use them comfortably. So we decided that for the first semester, we would identify the focus area and task ahead of time. By Christmas break, our teachers will most if not all of our 6 focus areas and a few protocals as well. So in developing the PLC calendar, our first semester is mostly already planned; after that, PLC teams will decide which Focus Area they need to work in each time. We are acting as facilitators now, but with the goal of slowly moving toward teacher ownership — we will be there to listen, support, ask questions…but teachers will be planning and running their own meetings. We were very purposeful in mapping out the PLC calendar so that it flows with campus and district calendars — for example, when district benchmarks are given, the following PLC week would be a great opportunity to engage with data and intervention, and so forth.

We identified PLC Leads for each grade level (a grade level teacher). Those leads will be attending School Reform Initiative training so that they are comfortable leading protocals. They keep the team binder and manage materials. If we need to send something out (such as an article or maybe set of data) for the team to engage with in a future PLC meeting, we will send it to the PLC Lead. We are really excited about the opportunity to develop teacher leadership skills through this experience!

Reflections After Round One

Our first round of PLCs just concluded today on my campus and it was so incredible to feel the excitement as we kick off this new system! We made sure to plan the first activity for development of roles and norms, as this will help set the tone for future meetings. The teams did an outstanding job and everyone was involved and eager to establish their framework and norms. Based on the conversations I observed in these first meetings, I know that some incredible work and dialogue is going to be taking place on our campus through these grade level PLC teams.  I can’t wait to see how their work will impact the experiences our students have, and the high level of learning at which we all will be operating.

If you are currently engaged in PLC meetings at your campus, I would love to hear how you have designed and supported them! If you are just starting out like us, feel free to use any of the resources provided here, and please connect with me @Fearless_Teach so we can swap ideas, insights and feedback!

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Classroom Practices, Education, Leadership, Learning, PLN, Uncategorized

Building Strong Supports

nails2As the 2017-18 school year begins, I have been thinking about the idea of serving others. I wear many hats and each day finds me responding to the needs of many different people.  I am fortunate in that I get to work with students, parents, teachers and staff, fellow administrators, district personnel and community members — all with a common goal of building an incredible and productive school year – of building futures. What an awesome gift we have of being a part of such a magnificent journey!  But that also means that on some days we are all sdpread pretty thin. I begin each day with the goal of serving others, but if I’m honest I will tell you that I often fall short. I can serve some of the people, some of the time, but it is a challenge to be consistent in that with all stakeholders, day in and day out.

I had the idea of “serving others” in my mind as I sat down and wrote out my goals for the upcoming school year. This year, my goals include:

  • Getting into classrooms daily
  • Attending PLC meetings regularly
  • Giving consistent and effective feedback to teachers
  • Analyzing/reflecting on classroom data frequently
  • Making a few positive calls home to parents daily

I started thinking about what type of impact I can make if I work hard toward meeting these goals.  By getting into classrooms daily and giving consistent feedback to teachers, I am supporting students and teachers. I am also supporting the campus mission and district vision for each student. By reflecting on data, I am supporting campus needs, goals and decisions going forward as they relate to student achievement. By making regular contact with parents, I am supporting my campus’ core values and through my attendance at PLC meetings I can help to support the learning and teaching environment.

What I noticed when I wrote this out, is that the word “support” comes up again and again. I realized that “serving others” does not just fasten itself to my job, to anyone’s job, without the nails of support. It takes a consistent mental focus on goals, along with the flexibility to adapt to the ongoing needs of others, in order to support the learning organization and ultimately serve an entire community of learners.

I am reminded of a quote by Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt: “People don’t want a quarter inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole.” Taken a step further, it isn’t the hole they are after, either. It’s an end result. This past month I moved and during the fixing up of my new house, I drilled a hole in my bathroom. But I didn’t want a drill or a hole. I wanted a shelf.

When applying this same thought to our roles this year, we can say that our daily tasks, everything from meetings to bus duty to classroom visits, these things are the “nails” that will help build our capacity to support and ultimately to serve, our campuses and districts. To serve our communities.

I am excited about the upcoming year and I have a renewed appreciation for the many hats I wear – because I know that each one serves a very important purpose.  Each act, each function of my job, will be another nail of support in my overarching desire to serve others and build a strong school  year.

I wish you all a wonderful year as you, too, strive to support, serve others and build strong futures.

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A Staff That Serves

So, I often write about the incredible school I call home and the people and things that make it such an incredible place. So often, these “things” are collections of moments; some so small and seemingly inconsequential that you might actually not even notice them if you weren’t paying attention. And I try to pay attention. Because other times those moments are great big things that happen — the type of things that cause one to be filled with inspiration and appreciation for the people who are creating them. So I try to pay attention because quite frankly, I don’t want to miss a single tiny or big moment.  I don’t want to miss them because this incredible school, with the incredible people who make these incredible moments happen, really must be shared. Last night, I experienced another of those moments. This one was part of one of those great big moments we have here, one that deserves it’s own post.

For a little backstory, two years ago couple of teachers got together with some students and formed a club called “The Giving Tree“. The club meets monthly to volunteer in the community.  Here is a feature story about this club. Last night the club had one of those events. We went out at 6pm and, for a couple of hours, we helped the “Feed the Hungry” campaign. This is a national campaign and we sorted and packed meal kits which will be delivered to places like Haiti, Dominican Republic, Kentucky…all over the world. There were about 40 of us there, including staff, students and a few parents as well.

Feed

All the credit for these moments, these acts of love and service, go to the wonderful educators that plan and organize them and inspire so many of us to get involved as well. What a difference these teachers are making in the lives of so many others…including myself.

I can’t tell you what a blessing it is to stand together as a group and serve others. It was such a great opportunity to make a difference that had nothing at all to do with school, but everything to do with school. What I mean by that is, there is just something special about working together like this. We laughed, we packed, we got tired, we danced (there was music) and we celebrated as we announced the completion of each box we filled with meals.  All in all, we helped pack enough food to feed aroud 35,000 people. And we did it as a group. A family.

We have had the opportunity to get involved in so many other activities like this as a staff, some as part of the club and some not.  Making cards for veterans at the local assisted living facility. Helping at the local food bank. Working on a house with Habitat for Humanity.  This is a school that serves.  Those moments are big, but inside those big moments are the small, tiny ones. The ones that make you smile. The ones that make you feel like you are a part of something very special; something unique. Something bigger than each of us. We are a staff that serves. That loves. That cares. That makes a difference inside and outside of school.

We are a staff that thrives on making moments and celebrating life. Do you think this spills over into the campus? The kids? The classrooms? What about instruction? Lesson design? Collaboration? You better believe it does. But, those incredible moments I will save for another post….

 

 

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The Teacher in Me

“Why are you writing a lesson plan? You’re an administrator now!” “I know, but I have a lesson to teach Friday and I had this great idea….I guess it’s just the teacher in me”.

That conversation happened at home the other day. I am in my third year as an Assistant Principal and I can tell you without a doubt that I am in love with my role on our campus. There are so many hats to wear and I find myself involved in so many different things. From scheduling to testing, from curriculum to classroom observations, and yes, even things like dismissal duty and textbooks make this the most unique and compelling job I have ever had. The one constant is that none of my days will be the same and I never know what is coming next! But there is one part of my job – one new facet – that is the so near and dear to my heart and I have only just started doing it this year:  Teaching.

So, we have an incredible and dynamic group of teachers who work their tails off with our students. Every day I pop in on a lesson or observe a teacher at work and I am telling you for a fact that these folks would put me to shame as a teacher (and I taught for 15 years!) But even in a building of experts, sometimes it seems like there are never enough hands and we always welcome more rolled up sleeves to help support our kids! So one day, I asked a couple of our teachers if I could work with a group of students who needed some additional time and instruction in reading. My “lunch bunch” was soon born! We met once a week and we read Roald Dahl’s The Witches. We read, we talked, we inferred, we predicted…and we had a blast together! This was such a wonderful time for me because I got to reach back into my “teacher” roots and once again be involved directly with instruction and the other “love of my life” job – teaching kids.

book club

Right now, I have a math “lunch bunch” and we work on their facts and basic concepts. I have been having a blast with this group of kiddos and really value this time with them. I find myself online looking up resources and ideas I can use with my group and asking them at the end of our lesson about their ideas for our next session. A teacher brought me a DVD that we can use during our time together with some very neat learning activities! I found myself really anticipating the day we could finally pop that baby in the DVD payer and get to work!

girls

Before becoming an AP, and even since becoming an AP,  I have found myself researching, asking questions, and learning all I can about the “must do’s” of an effective AP.  I, like so many other APs, am committed to doing the best possible job of supporting my principal and teachers,  and helping lead our campus in the development and execution of a shared vision. Our role is unique, interesting, and important! But I think if I were to share with you a “must do”, it would be to stay involved with teaching and working with kids in some way. Along with having lunch with kids and sitting and talking with them during class visits, this is another great way to build relationships with students in the building. I also think it really enhances my role as an administrator. One thing I never want to do is lose touch with the teacher in me. Not to mention it just makes me a more joyful leader and person.

Being in education is truly an awesome way to spend a life.

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Making Good Use of Formative Assessments

 

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From Dr. Sharon Wells, Key Data Systems – Webinar

One of my goals this year is to be more active and consistent with analyzing data. Recently I participated in a webinar centered on using formative assessment to guide instruction and I came away with some really great insights! For some background, this learning experience was led by Dr. Sharon Wells of Key Data Systems. Their work focuses on formative assessments and enhancing student learning through data driven instruction. The webinar is part of the December learning series hosted by Naiku.

As I reflected on my notes from this learning, I could sum up my main takeaway in one question:

How might learning and teaching look differently if formative assessment were made an integral part of instruction, rather than a separate experience?

Breaking that idea down further: If formative assessments were built into the lessons in such a way that immediate data and feedback were able to guide that instruction as it is occurring or as close to “in the moment” as we can get….how powerful would that be?

What if that data and feedback weren’t just teacher centered? What if that data were gathered by the student? What if that feedback was not only from teacher to student but from student to teacher? Or student to student?

Researcher John Hattie has done a lot of work in the area of effect size and looking at variables to determine the impact of many different things on student achievement. Many of the most powerful things we can do, including feedback and self-assessment, are tied into formative assessment. Here is a link an article by the late Grant Wiggins (Professor and Educational Researcher) which outlines the main things that impact student achievement. I know when I read through them there were some surprises on that list for me!

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From Dr. Sharon Wells, Key Data Systems: Webinar Image

At my campus we have been implementing Learning Targets and are in year three of this process. Chapter 4 of the book Learning Targets discusses how to use feedback to feed learning forward. The information correlated nicely with the ideas presented in the webinar and affirmed what we are already targeting. The book presents 5 characteristics of feedback that feeds learning forward:

  • It focuses on success criteria from the learning target for today’s lesson.
  • It describes exactly where the student is in relationship to the criteria.
  • It provides next-step strategies that students should use to improve.
  • It arrives when the student has the opportunity to use it.
  • It is delivered in just the right amount.

Formative assessments are given in a variety of ways and the data that we get from them is useful in informing instruction and next steps for teachers. But to what extent do student’s interact with formative assessment data? Is feedback being given during instruction – when the student can use it – or after? If after, then I tend to think that the focus is more on the teacher’s use of the information rather than using it as a guiding tool that feeds the learning forward.  For sure, this is not an either – or situation.

I love this tool for giving written feedback, shared by @goformative on Twitter last week:

screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-2-03-26-pm

I would love to hear some of your thoughts and ideas on how you are using formative assessment! Please give me some feedback on how you are using it and what’s working in your classroom.

Here is a link to the Naiku professional learning series if you ‘d like to take a peek at this or some of their other recorded webinars. They are all really informative!

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GoodViews

Film provides the opportunity to marry the power of ideas with the power of images.“-Steven Bochco

Do you have a Goodreads account? I do, and I use it often to keep track of books I have read or am reading. I also write and read reviews on Goodreads and I collect favorites from others which I save to my “want to read” shelf. I set annual reading goals on it and recently celebrated having met my reading goal on Goodreads for 2016! But reading isn’t the only form of media that inspires, celebrates, presents ideas or challenges my assumptions.

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Goodreads 2016 Goal

As an educator I am often turning to video as a way of reflecting as well as learning. Today I present to you my “GoodViews” —a collection of  video resources I have found to be particularly uplifting , challenging, and inspiring. I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!

Simon Sinek discusses Millennials in the Workplace, challenging ideas and assumptions and giving us some great stuff to think about!

What is greatness? How can we achieve it? Will Smith shares his ideas –this video is one of my all time favorites. Very motivating!

I have been a life-long student of Zig Ziglar. As a matter of fact, one of the things on my bucket list is to one day become a certified Ziglar trainer. In this video, Zig Ziglar challenges our ideas about misfortune and bad breaks, and negative life circumstances.

Jon Gordon discusses the power of focusing on One Word. See my recent #oneword2017 post here: https://teachfearless.wordpress.com/2017/01/06/a-journey-of-self-renewal/

I love the above video and the ideas he presents to educators that make learning relevant and inspiring to youth.

These 5 videos each offer something different and are definitely worth the time to watch, so please enjoy my first GoodViews video collection! Tell me what you think and share some of your favorites with me so that I can grow my list!

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A Journey Of Self-Renewal

I love new beginnings. Whether starting a new job, discovering a new passion, a spiritual journey, or a new chance to make a difference…there is nothing quite like the energy we feel when embarking on something new. I remember the inspiration I felt when I first decided to learn to crochet. And when I volunteered for the first time with Habitat for Humanity. The enthusiasm when I began writing and blogging, and the pure joy I felt when I began the journey in my new role purpose in education. I recall my once-strong focus on physical health and wellness and realize how little time or thought I have devoted to it lately.  As can sometimes happen,  what we were once eager to discover or pursue soon becomes the norm — a piece of the fabric of our lives but maybe now a rather dull, somewhat frayed thread.

My new job? I’m in year three now and have become pretty comfortable in my role. But sometimes comfortable can become uninspired.  Complaining replaces appreciation, the daily grind takes it’s toll and serving others becomes secondary to all the other pressures we face. This past year I assisted in building 2.5 homes –I say 2.5 because I just couldn’t find the energy got too lazy to complete the last one. That new hobby I challenged myself to learn last year? It went from a vigorously pursued passion to a sometime weekend activity to…well, I can’t recall the last time I picked up that yarn! And my once-strong focus on exercise and healthy eating has gotten pushed aside through a lack of time prioritizing and planning.

Recently I spent time really looking inward and trying to find the #oneword for 2017 that I want to focus on for my own growth and inspiration. One word kept coming to the forefront of my mind. Originally, that word was restore. As in, restore my commitment to and enjoyment of these important areas of my life. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it isn’t a restoration that is needed. It’s a renewal.

To renew means to give new life. New purpose. New priority. All of the areas I mentioned are in need of renewing. As I have become comfortable and experienced with new things, I have stopped growing in them. Stopped feeding them forward. But that growth…that rich, deepening growth is the piece I want to focus on. Because serving others through my work and volunteer life, pursuing and enjoying passions, living healthy physically, mentally and spiritually, those things are not just things….they are the fabric of my life. And it’s a rich, beautiful fabric! But it needs new life and new purpose. It needs brightening up.

It needs to be renewed.

So for 2017, I’m choosing to refocus on my commitment to my own peace, happiness and opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others through the renewal of the fabric of my life:

renew

Part of my renewal this year will be to spend more time on this blog, because writing, collaborating and reflecting are two of the most important ways that I learn and grow. I will also be spending more time in educhats again. Last night I attended a favorite chat of mine, #ChristianEducators, and I can’t express the “renewal” I felt upon being re-engaged in this meaningful hour with other educators.

I am excited for this journey and to breathe in the newness! My #oneword2017 has already given me a jolt of inspiration and energy. I know it is the right word and focus for me this year.  And I can’t wait to enjoy the brilliant newness that I know will begin to shine through!