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Supporting Professional Learning Teams

Page history last edited by Bill 8 years, 4 months ago

Supporting Professional Learning Teams


Direct link to this resource collection:  http://bit.ly/southsiouxcityJan14


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 designed to support the continued growth of the learning teams of South Sioux City High School in South Sioux City, Nebraska. 



How is Your Team Spending its Collaborative Time?



One question asked time-and-again by teachers working to polish the practices of their professional learning teams is, "What are we supposed to be doing together?"  The simple answer is that teachers working collaboratively always spend their time focused on four key questions:  (1). What do we want our students to know and be able to do? (2). How will we know when they have mastered the knowledge and skills that we've identified as essential? (3). How will we respond when students don't learn essential content and skills?  and (4). How will we respond when students excel in our classes?


Successful learning teams actively filter their meeting agendas, eliminating any item that doesn't address one of these four key questions simply because moving students forward depends on spending every collaborative minute centered on actions that advance learning.


To better assess the choices that your team is making during your collaborative meeting time, use this handout.  It details the kinds of practices that successful collaborative teams embrace.  Using these actions to identify potential next steps for your learning team can help to better define just how your shared planning time should be spent -- and can help you to better identify the topics that can be deleted from your team's collective "To-Do" list.



Assessing Student Learning

Mastery Connect Assessment Tool - http://www.masteryconnect.com/

Data Meeting Template - http://bit.ly/18Ua9WD

Protocol for Data Meeting - http://bit.ly/1k0U2eM 


The fundamental work of professional learning teams is to collectively help every student to learn at higher levels.  Doing so means working together to (1). assess the progress that students are making towards mastering essential skills and concepts and (2). taking action together to help students who are struggling and to provide extra challenge students who are excelling.  


For many learning teams, this process is A LOT harder than it sounds.  Developing and delivering assessments centered around key concepts and then gathering data by student and standard -- a key step towards making effective intervention possible -- can be a time consuming and intimidating process.  Not only are there complicated logistical issues to overcome -- organizing data sets on large groups of students using the tools traditionally available to teachers can be a nightmare -- there are complicated inter- and intra-personal issues to overcome as teachers begin to look at student mastery together.  


Luckily, there are several tools that teams can use to address both of these issues.  


To lessen the logistical demands of ongoing formative assessment, teams can begin using Mastery Connect -- a online tool that automates the scoring and reporting of progress on common assessments at both the student and standard level.  Teams can upload and deliver 10-question common assessments tied to individual standards for free.  Students can respond to assessments using tablet computers OR on bubble sheets that can be scored instantly through a computer's webcam.  Once an assessment has been delivered and scored, teachers can generate reports that identify students who have mastered and/or are still struggling to master individual standards.  Mastery Connect also allows teachers to explore assessments uploaded by other teachers, making it easy to quickly develop new common assessments and/or retests for key concepts.


To lessen the inter- and intra-personal issues of looking at student data together, teams must develop a clear process for conducting data review meetings.  Without a clear process for looking at data together, data meetings can become unsafe places where teachers unfairly judge one another based on the results that students are producing on common assessments.  Nothing can hurt the long-term health of a learning team more than meetings where people forget that data meetings are designed to help teams make judgments about instructional practices -- not people -- with one another.  Assessment experts Kim Bailey and Chris Jakicic have put together a simpletemplate and protocol for conducting data meetings that can help teams to talk about results in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.



Setting Meeting Priorities

Setting Meeting Priorities Template - http://bit.ly/1h9ddkv

Sample Meeting Agenda - http://bit.ly/19poqpO  

Sample Meeting Agenda - http://bit.ly/6scinotes2013  


One task that successful learning teams remain committed to is making systematic choices about how to spend their collaborative time and then carefully recording the actions that they are taking and decisions that they are making during team meetings.  This work begins with structured meeting agendas and priority-setting templates.  


While there is nothing sophisticated about making systematic choices about how time will be spent or using meeting agendas and priority-setting templates to guide collaborative work, remaining committed to these practices can help learning teams to (1). have documented evidence of the progress that they are making together and (2). quickly identify places where their collective time is being wasted.


The uncomfortable truth is that there is never enough time for teachers to collaborate in schools.  The solution is for teams to remain committed to using the time that they DO have wisely -- a process that can be supported by the systematic use of meeting agendas and priority setting templates like those shared above. 




Conflict Resolution

Fist to Five Rating Tool - http://bit.ly/GTGwam

Managing Team Based Conflict Tool - http://bit.ly/16Bl7NF


Perhaps the greatest challenge for every learning team is learning to work productively through conflict.  Working in a profession where isolation between adults is the norm instead of the exception to the rule, dealing with conflict just isn't something that most teachers are comfortable with.  The result:  Teams governed by false consensus:  Teachers who agree to be agreeable during meetings but then ignore shared decisions as soon as they get back to their classrooms.


To address this all-too-common collaborative stumbling block, teams must begin with a structured process for gathering feedback from ALL members before important decisions are made.  On session presenter Bill Ferriter's most successful learning teams, that process has been centered around this Fist to Five Rating tool.  Each time that an important decision was made, members of Ferriter's team would use this form to indicate their level of agreement with -- and commitment to -- the direction the team was heading in.  By establishing a clear process for gathering feedback from everyone before a decision was made, Ferriter's team made it safe for members to voice concern over core ideas.  As a result, his team was better able to avoid making decisions that led to conflict later.


When conflict DID happen on Ferriter's learning team, they used this Managing Team Based Conflict tool.  Designed to help people who disagree with one another to find value in peers with differing perspectives, this handout helped Ferriter's team to have challenging conversations in a safe and structured way.  It is a fantastic starting point for any learning team wrestling with unresolved conflict that is preventing members from moving forward together. 



Identifying Essential Outcomes

Tool for Identifying Essential Outcomes - http://bit.ly/19z5XvV 

Unit Overview Sheet 1 - http://bit.ly/Kh69EW 

Unit Overview Sheet 2 - http://bit.ly/KiDO0f 

Student Reflections on Unit Overview Sheets - http://bit.ly/18VKGvL 


One of the easiest starting points for professional learning teams to embrace is taking the time to collectively define just what it is that students should know and be able to do at the end of each unit of instruction.  Not only is defining essential knowledge and skills an essential first step towards working together, it is a step that teachers are already taking as individuals.  As a result, when teams spend their shared planning periods identifying essential outcomes, they feel productive and begin to see team meetings as useful instead of as an additional obligation that steals time from their existing responsibilities.


If your team is working to identify essential learning targets for each of your units, the documents linked above may be helpful.  The first -- titled Tool for Identifying Essential Outcomes -- is designed to encourage learning teams to look for specific evidence before adding individual learning targets to unit plans.  The second and third documents -- titled Unit Overview Sheet 1 and Unit Overview Sheet 2 -- are samples of unit plans that are designed to communicate essential outcomes to both parents and students in approachable language.  And the final document -- titled Student Reflections on Unit Overview Sheets -- shares a series of student reflections on the value of unit overview sheets gathered from session presenter Bill Ferriter's sixth grade students.  



What Should Singleton Teachers Work on Together?




No matter who you are working with on a professional learning team, you must start with a shared definition of what exactly you want students to know and be able to do.  Without a shared answer to this question, it is impossible to engage in an ongoing cycle of collective inquiry.  Teams of singleton teachers who are collaborating together without a natural partner may find these handouts useful when identifying logical work partners AND a shared area of focus for their work with one another.  



Team Direction Setting Template



At the end of today's planning period, time will be set aside for each learning team to make decisions about their next collaborative steps.  To document those decisions, each learning team will be asked to complete this Team Direction Setting Template.  A copy of the template should be turned into the grade level administrator that is supporting your learning team.  






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