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Laying the Collaborative Foundation

Page history last edited by Bill 9 years, 10 months ago

Laying the Collaborative Foundation 




No opportunity has changed full-time classroom teacher Bill Ferriter more than having the chance to work collaboratively in a professional learning community.  Once skeptical about his future in the profession, Bill was revitalized by the professional energy that studying collaboratively with peers reintroduced to his work.  Not only did he enjoy teaching again, he saw dramatic improvement in his practice -- and in the learning of the students in the sixth grade classrooms on his hallway.  


The work hasn't always been easy, though -- and along the way, Bill has learned a TON of valuable lessons about the structures that can help professional learning teams to get off on the right collaborative foot.  This page houses materials for a workshop designed to introduce the staff of the Glenwood Leadership Academy in Evansville, Indiana to a few of those first-hand lessons.  




Today's Slides


While session presenter Bill Ferriter doesn't spend a lot of time during presentations focused on sets of slides, he does provide a deck for every presentation.  Today's slides are embedded below.  They can be downloaded and saved by participants or simply viewed online.




Survey - What Can Glenwood Leadership Celebrate?


During the course of our day together, session presenter Bill Ferriter will use Poll Everywhere -- a free online polling tool -- to gather feedback from participants.  


To practice using Poll Everywhere AND to get our day off to a positive start, please find a partner and then click this link to record a few of the reasons that the faculty of Glenwood Leadership Academy can celebrate!  What do y'all do well -- either as a grade level, department or school?  What are you the proudest of?  


Our collective responses will automatically appear in the table below.





Blueprint for Building a Professional Learning Team



By the end of today's workshop, each learning team at the Glenwood Leadership Academy should have a tangible plan to move their collaborative group forward.  This simple planning template can be used by participants to record their thinking around the next steps they are ready to take together. 




Session 1 - Laying the Collaborative Foundation

(Time: 7:45-8:30)


For many schools, the essential first-step towards successful collaboration is building a firm understanding of the fundamental concepts that underlie the professional learning community model. In this general overview, session presenter Bill Ferriter introduces participants to the big ideas and key questions that drive every decision in the most successful PLCs. It is designed to provide buildings with a common understanding of just what it is that learning communities must commit to in order to ensure success for every student.



Activity - Defining Professional Learning Teams



One of the first steps towards developing highly-functioning learning teams is for teachers to understand the differences between Collaboration RIGHT and Collaboration LITE.  


After hearing the stories of two different learning teams, watching professional learning community expert Rick DuFour describe the differences between groups and teams, and exploring a Learning by Doing rubric detailing the characteristics of highly-collaborative teams, participants will use this handout to reflect on the developmental status of their current team.  




Survey - Rating Your Current Reality


Now that you've had the chance to think through the differences between Collaboration RIGHT and Collaboration LITE, find a partner from your learning team and review this collaborative team rubric from Learning by Doing. 


Decide together where your team currently measures up against the first indicator on the rubric, which reads, "We are organized into collaborative teams in which members work interdependently to achieve common goals that impact student achievement." 


Then, click this link to record your current reality.  Our responses will appear automatically in the table below.






Additional Resources


While the following resources are not directly connected to the work that participants will be doing in this portion of the October 4th workshop, individuals and/or teams interested in knowing more about the ins-and-outs of collaboration may find them valuable. 


Three Big Ideas of a PLC - At their core, professional learning communities are organizations that are driven by three big ideas and four critical questions.  In this Solution Tree video, PLC expert and former elementary school principal Becky DuFour explains just what the three big ideas of a learning community really mean.


Four Critical Questions of a PLC - And in this Solution Tree video, Becky DuFour introduces viewers to the four critical questions that professional learning teams use to drive their work together.  


The Power of Professional Conversations - In this bit, session presenter Bill Ferriter provides a tangible example of the ways that participation as a member of a professional learning team has changed his practice for the better. 


Why This, Why Now, and Why Bother? - As a professional skeptic, session presenter Bill Ferriter can understand the wait-and-see approach that many teachers take towards PLCs.  In this bit, however, he details the reasons why collaboration is a practice that every teacher should be willing to embrace.  


All Things PLC Website - Easily the most valuable resource for anyone wrestling with professional learning communities is the All Things PLC website maintained by Solution Tree.  It is FULL of free content and ideas that can provide support to schools at any stage of collaborative growth.  


Tempered Radical PLC Posts - Session presenter Bill Ferriter has been writing about PLC implementation for the better part of a decade.  This link connects directly to the PLC content on his blog, The Tempered Radical.  




Session 2 - We're Meeting.  Now What?

(Time: 8:30-10:00)


For many teachers, professional learning team meetings can be nothing short of overwhelming! Not used to making collective decisions, teams struggle to organize their work together and begin to question the benefit of a school’s decision to restructure as a professional learning community. In this session, Solution Tree author Bill Ferriter explores the kinds of actions that learning teams take to make their meetings successful.



Survey - Sources of Collaborative Frustration


As simple as collaboration may sound, teachers on new professional learning teams often struggle with frustrations during their early work together. Find a partner and then  click on this link to record some of the reasons that you think learning teams struggle with collaboration.  Our shared reflections will automatically appear in the table below.  



Team Structuring Tools


In The Collaborative Teacher, Susan Sparks Many argues that successful teams build clear structures to guide their work together.  “The most effective teams are clear about the why, what, where, how, and when of their work," she writes.  "Defined roles and responsibilities may seem formal...[but] when the team see results, members will appreciate its structure: ‘Our team is focused and organized. We share roles and responsibilities, and we get our work done.’ ” (p. 42)


With a member of your current learning team, review the following documents that session presenter Bill Ferriter has used to structure the work of his learning teams:


Team Agenda Template - Every team meeting must begin with a clear agenda.  This template -- found in Building a Professional Learning Community at Work was the agenda used by Bill's most successful learning team.  His current team decided to strip their agenda down a bit and is currently using this Google Form to structure their meetings.


Team Roles to Consider - As odd as it is to define specific roles for adults on collaborative teams, it is essential that certain roles are filled during every meeting.  These are the roles that Bill thinks are necessary for successful collaboration. 


Fist to Five Ratings - There's noting more important for a learning team than to develop a clear system for measuring the levels of consensus they have around key decisions.  This is the handout that Bill's learning team uses when gauging shared commitments. 



Conflict Resolution Tools


A simple truth of collaboration is that conflict is inevitable.  Teams WILL struggle -- both with one another and with making decisions about exactly what students should know and be able to do.  What's not inevitable, however, is that conflict will cause teams to stumble.  When teams have developed clear processes for working conflicts through to resolution, they are far more productive and professionally satisfied.


With a member of your current learning team, review the following documents that session presenter Bill Ferriter has used to resolve conflict on his learning teams:


Weathering Team Storms - What surprised Bill the most in the early years of collaboration was just HOW MANY conflicts his learning team had to wrestle with.  This 8-page handout details many of the conflicts that his team faced -- and offers one practical strategy for working through each conflict.


Managing Team-Based Conflict - One of the mistakes that people make when involved in a conflict is allowing emotion -- rather than logic -- guide their decision-making.  This handout is designed to slow thinking down, push emotion out of a conversation, and allow team-members who disagree with one another to see each other as partners instead of enemies.


Trust on Our Team Survey - It is simply impossible for the members of collaborative teams to work together successfully if they don't trust one another.  This survey is designed to help teams evaluate the levels of trust on their learning team -- and to spot potential strategies for building trust over time. 


Additional Resources


One of the things that session presenter Bill Ferriter is the most proud of about his first book -- Building a Professional Learning Community at Work -- is that it is FULL of tangible handouts that can be used to structure the work of learning communities.  While this session has spotlighted 6 of those handouts, you can explore all of the handouts online here.



Session 3 - Crafting Unit Overview Sheets

(Time: 10:00-11:30)


Like any change that we make in our lives, the first step towards successful collaboration is often the hardest for professional learning teams to take.  “Where do we even begin?” members ask.  “What should we do together first?”  For Solution Tree author and full-time classroom teacher Bill Ferriter, the answers to those questions are simple and straightforward:  The first step that any learning team should take is to work together to decide just what they want students to know and be able to do in each of the units that they are required to teach. This session is designed to introduce participants to the process that Ferriter’s learning team worked through to complete this task.  



Activity - The Challenges of Curricula




As we start our conversation about the role that a guaranteed and viable curriculum should play in a professional learning community, think about the following questions – based on quotes drawn from Learning by Doing (2010) – with the members of your primary learning team:


  • E.D. Hirsch (1996) once said that the notion that all students in a school have access to the same curriculum is a “gravely misleading myth.” Do you think that’s true of the students on your learning team? Is every child in every class being exposed to the same content and essential skills no matter who their teacher is? How close are you to that simple yet essential first step towards creating a guaranteed and viable curriculum?


  • Heidi Hayes Jacobs (2001) once described district curriculum guides as “well intended but fundamentally fictional accounts” of what students are actually learning in schools. Do you think that’s true of the curriculum guides created by your state and county? Are they an accurate portrayal of what the students in your school, at your grade level, or in your discipline are learning? Why or why not?


  • The results of a Bob Marzano (2003) research study once determined that it would take 23 years to adequately cover all of the K12 standards set for students. What implications does this carry for your learning team? What steps will you have to take in order to ensure a viable curriculum?



Activity - Identifying Essential Learning Targets



While learning teams DO have to make choices about what they are and are not going to teach, those choices are not made without careful thought or by teachers working in isolation.  Working collectively with the members of your learning team, use the Identifying Essential Learning Targets handout linked above to develop a list of 5-7 essential learning targets for an upcoming unit.


Activity - Developing Unit Overview Sheets




Once you’ve settled on a list of 5-7 essential learning targets for a unit of instruction, it’s time to write those targets in student friendly language and to craft an overview sheet that makes those learning targets transparent to everyone.  Working with members of your learning team, explore the two sample unit overview sheets linked above.  Select one and begin to create a final product detailing the essential learning targets from a unit of study in student-friendly language.




Session 4 - Using Digital Tools to Collaborate

(Time: 12:30-2:00)


For professional learning teams, the costs of collaboration can be quite high. Sharing information, creating new lessons together, and communicating with colleagues—both within and beyond their schools and districts—can take huge amounts of additional time that teachers just don’t have. As a result, many teachers begin to question the benefits of PLCs. In this session, Solution Tree author Bill Ferriter introduces participants to a range of free digital tools that 21st Century learning teams are using to make their collective learning more efficient and rewarding.


Managing Information


Teams must manage huge volumes of shared information, including lesson plans, curriculum maps, common assessments, student learning results, and team meeting notes.  Here are a few tips and tools that have made information management easier on Bill Ferriter's learning teams:


Use a Wiki to Organize Shared Content - Tired of trying to organize shared content in 3-ring binders or through a never-ending stream of email, Bill Ferriter's learning teams have used wikis to store important documents like sets of essential objectives, common assessments and shared lesson plans.  You can explore his current team's wiki here


Use a Google Form to Record Meeting Notes and to Build Consensus - As under-appreciated as they really are, keeping good sets of meeting notes is essential to successful collaboration.  They serve as a reminder of the shared decisions that teams have made AND as a tool for communicating team happenings to professionals working beyond the classroom.


Bill's team uses a Google Form -- which you can explore here -- for their current meeting notes.  Each time that they meet, the record of their notes is automatically added to a spreadsheet -- which you can explore here -- that has been shared with school leadership. 


Bill's school has also started to use Google Forms to gather feedback about the shared direction and decisions made by the school.  In the Spring of 2012, his building agreed to a set of action steps that every learning team would work on.  To ensure that the decision was supported by everyone, the leadership team created two surveys -- see here and here -- and administered them at different points in the consensus building process.


While there are many services that can be used for creating forms and administering surveys, Bill has intentionally chosen Google Docs because it is a free service that teachers AND students have access to beyond school.  He believes in only introducing tools and services that can be used by others once they've left school.


Use a Social Bookmarking Service to Organize Web Resources - Another common bit of information that teams frequently share with one another are links to online resources.  Bill's team has started to use Diigo -- a free social bookmarking service -- to organize this shared content.  To do this, they've developed a set of common tags that are used by teachers when bookmarking resources. To learn more about the ways that social bookmarking can support collaborative teams, you can explore this overview that Bill wrote for another workshop. 




Teams must find ways to communicate with one another even when faced with few opportunities for shared interactions.  Here are a few tips and tools that have helped to facilitate collaborative conversations in Bill's school:


Use Asynchronous Conversations to Gather Feedback from Everyone - No matter how hard school leaders try, there is never enough time during faculty meetings or staff development sessions to gather meaningful feedback about important issues from every staff member.  Instead, crucial conversations end up being cut short because the day ends or because they are dominated by the handful of assertive staff members on every faculty. 


That's why Bill's school has started to use VoiceThread to create asynchronous conversation forums about the important topics that his faculty is wrestling with.  Check out this conversation on professional learning communities and this conversation on grading


By using asynchronous conversations, Bill's school leaders are giving EVERY faculty member the time and space to participate in conversations about important topics.  More importantly, they are making the core beliefs of their entire faculty transparent to everyone -- including skeptics that are unwilling to move forward.


Use Twitter to Quickly Find and Share Resources and Ideas - Few services have changed the way that session presenter Bill Ferriter works as much as Twitter.  He's constantly finding new ideas to learn from -- and individuals to learn with -- in the service.  As a result, he recommends that members of learning teams regularly use the Twitter Search function to monitor content being shared and sorted through common educational hashtags connected to their subject areas and grade levels.


He also recommends that schools create their own hashtag -- much like the #bhschat tag used by the faculty and staff of Burlington High School in Massachusetts -- to share resources and ideas with one another.  A school-wide hashtag can become a quick and easy way for building shared knowledge around any topic -- including professional learning communities -- with one another.





Teams must find ways to collaborate with one another on shared lessons and/or projects.  Here are a few tips and tools that have helped to facilitate that kind of collaborative work on Bill's learning team:


Use a Google Doc to Create Unit Plans or Shared Presentations - One of the challenges that Bill has always had as a member of a collaborative team has been keeping up with the newest revisions of important team documents.  He's just not all that good at keeping paper organized in a logical way!


That's why he's pushed his learning teams to use Google Docs to create, edit and manage important files like unit plans.  Not only can multiple people edit a Google Doc at the same time, every viewer sees every new revision every time that they sign in.  Using Google Docs to create important files takes away the need to constantly manage new versions of important team documents. 


You can explore a unit plan that one of Bill's learning teams created by clicking on this link.  You can also explore a Google Docs suggestion that learning teams who use shared PowerPoint presentations might find valuable by clicking on this link



Additional Resources


While the following resources are not directly connected to the work that participants will be doing in this portion of the October 4th workshop, individuals and/or teams interested in knowing more about the ins-and-outs of collaboration may find them valuable.


Teaching with Technology Workshop Wiki - While session presenter Bill Ferriter is passionate about PLCs, he's also skilled at helping teachers to reimagine what their classrooms should look like in the 21st Century.  This link connects to the wiki that he uses when delivering 2-day workshops on teaching with technology. 


Quick Guide to Web 2.0 Tools - At a recent teaching with technology workshop in Orlando, session presenter Bill Ferriter was asked by a participant to create a "quick guide" to useful Web 2.0 tools.  This link will connect you to that quick guide.  While it's specifically targeted for teaching with technology, many of the same tools will translate to collaborative work easily. 




Session 5 - Understanding the Stages of Team Development

(Time: 2:00-3:30)


*Note: This session will only be delivered if time allows.  It may also be replaced by a general question and answer session depending on the interests and needs of participants.


One of the greatest challenges for PLCs is that – just like the students in our classrooms – the learning teams in our buildings are all likely to be at different developmental stages and ready to tackle different collaborative tasks at different times. This professional diversity can make moving forward together difficult for teachers AND school leaders. The first step towards reducing this frustration is recognizing the kinds of work that individual teams are ready to tackle. This activity will introduce participants to six different stages of learning team development and to the kinds of work that collaborative groups in each stage are ready to tackle.


Activity  - Looking Inside Learning Teams



In Building a Professional Learning Community at Work, session presenter Bill Ferriter and his co-author Parry Graham lay out six common stages of development that professional learning teams generally progress through.  By detailing these stages, Graham and Ferriter hope to help teachers in learning communities -- and the leaders who support them -- to better understand the kinds of developmental tasks that individual learning teams may be ready to tackle. 


The handout linked above includes an overview of these individual stages of development.  It also includes a short story that details the work of a fictional team working at each stage of development.  Working with a partner, read each story.  Then, consider the following questions:


Story One: From the evidence that you can gather in this story, what is this learning team doing well? What kinds of professional learning team behaviors have they mastered? What are they most likely to be ready to tackle next?


Story Two: From the evidence that you can gather in this story, what is this particular learning team struggling with? What challenges might they face in the future? How do you know?


Story Three: How would teachers in this stage of development likely feel towards professional learning communities?


Story Four: What kinds of skills does this team need to develop in order to take their work further? If you were in charge of supporting this learning team, what would your next steps be?


Story Five: Make a prediction about what will happen next to this particular learning team. Explain the factors that will cause your prediction to come true.


Story Six: Create a metaphor or a graphic image that represents the learning team in your narrative story or represents the kinds of support that this team needs to move forward together.


Tools for Supporting Learning Teams


While there's no perfect description of the exact support that individual teams are going to need in order to move forward, the following list of tools are generally useful to teams at different stages of collaborative development.


Filling the Time - Teams at this stage of development are often struggling to do anything productive during their meetings.  Their time together is scattered and rambling.  To focus these teams, require specific, tangible work products like meeting agendas or unit overview sheets and lists of essential objectives for upcoming units.


Sharing Personal Practices - Teams at this stage of development often fall into the trap of believing that simple practice sharing is the end goal of collaboration.  While this work can save teachers time, it doesn't tend to focus on results.  To focus these teams, ask them to complete a learning team collaboration survey to introduce new ideas about just what collaboration should look like in action. 


Developing Common Assessments - As learning teams begin to develop and deliver common assessments, they will inevitably experience pedagogical controversy.  This controversy is uncomfortable and can be a roadblock to moving forward.  To focus these teams, help them to create clear systems for coming to consensus and managing team based conflict.


Analyzing Student Learning - When learning teams begin to carefully analyze student learning together, teachers will have to publicly face learning results for the first time.  This can be a dangerous time for collaboration.  Unhealthy data conversations can stall forward progress.  To focus these teams, provide tools to structure data conversations and consider administering data literacy surveys.


Differentiating Follow-up - Teams working at this stage of development are beginning to shift from focus on teaching to a focus on learning.  More importantly, they're beginning to address identified learning gaps collectively.  To focus these teams, encourage them to gather tangible evidence of their practices in action


Reflecting on Instruction -- Teams working at this stage of development are highly-motivated and self-directed.  They're often engaged in action research, studying and documenting the impact of their practices.  To focus their work, encourage them to monitor every project that they are tackling.  This can prevent collaborative burnout. 






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