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An Introduction to PLCs

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on September 4, 2014 at 1:56:50 pm

An Introduction to PLCs


Direct Link to these Resources:  http://bit.ly/BSDPLCIntro 


Backchannel for Today's Workshop:  https://todaysmeet.com/BSDPLCIntro


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 1.5 day workshop designed to introduce the staff of the Burlington School District in Burlington, Vermont to a few of those first-hand lessons.  




Handouts for Today's Session

Handouts - PDF


Today's workshop is designed to introduce teams to a series of tools and templates that can help to structure the collaborative work of learning teams.  As a result, it is ESSENTIAL that all participants have access to the tools and templates that we will be exploring together.  All of those tools and templates are organized in the PDF linked above.  Please consider printing a hard copy and bringing it with you to our training session on October 6th.  



Slides for this Workshop


While session presenter Bill Ferriter doesn't spend a ton of time marching through slides during his presentations, he does have a collection of slides for today that participants might find useful as organizing tools and/or reminders about the content covered.  You can view them below or use this link to download them.




Day ONE Materials


Session 1 - Laying the Collaborative Foundation

(Time: 8:00- 9:00)


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

Handout: 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." 



Additional Resources


While the following resources are not directly connected to the work that participants will be doing in this portion of the 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. 




Session 2 - We're Meeting.  Now What?

(Time: 9:00-10:30)


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.


Personality Typing Materials


One of the first steps that professional learning communities MUST take in order to function successfully is establish open lines of communication about the impact that different personality types have on the collaborative work of the group.  When teams are open about their personalities, they can (1). better assign individual tasks to the members best suited for completing them and (2). better understand the reasons for actions taken by peers.  


The activities below can help teams to start open conversations about the roles that personalities play on learning teams.  


What's In Your Toolbox




One of the personality typing activities that session presenter Bill Ferriter has used successfully with learning teams AND the students in his classroom asks participants to think about the type of hand tool that best represents themselves.  These handouts are designed to be used with students -- but they can just as easily be tailored for work with adult members of learning teams.



Discovery versus Delivery Survey



While the What's In Your Toolbox activity works well with teachers and students in elementary school classrooms, it might be too basic for use in high school classrooms.  This handout introduces a different way to think about personalities:  By identifying the difference between people with strong Discovery and Delivery skills.  It is based on the work of Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton Christensen in The Innovator's DNA.




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 - Defining Essential Outcomes

(Time: 10:45-12:00)


One of the early tasks that learning teams can tackle together is determining exactly what they want students to know and be able to do at the end of each unit of instruction.  Doing so forces teams to make careful decisions about how to best spend their time with students.  Wrestling with key questions like "What are our students already doing well?" and "Which key concepts do our students typically struggle to understand?" are essential first steps in the collective study of practice that defines professional learning communities.  More importantly, defining essential outcomes is a productive starting point for collaborative work because EVERY teacher has to make choices about WHAT to teach anyway.  Making those decisions together during team meetings maximizes the value of shared planning periods. 


The following resources may help YOUR team to define essential objectives together: 


Handout - Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum Reflection - One of the philosophical challenges that teachers can have with identifying essential outcomes is the fact that teaching EVERY standard in the typical K-12 curriculum is literally impossible.  Teams MUST identify nonessential standards that won't receive the same amount of attention in their classrooms.  If members of your team are struggling with this truth, consider using this handout -- and its companion survey -- to have a conversation about just how guaranteed and viable your current curriculum really is. 


Handout - Identifying Essential Learning Targets  - Defining essential outcomes begins by looking for concepts and/or skills that pass the endurance, leverage and readiness test.  That means they (1). will be important to students long after they've left school, (2). are useful to students across subject areas and domains and (3). are essential for success in the next grade level and/or subject.  Consider using this handout -- along with evidence gathered at the team, school or district level -- to collectively identify 5-8 concepts and/or skills to cover in your next unit of instruction.


Handout - What DO We Want Students to Know and Be Able to Do - 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 this handout useful when identifying a shared area of focus for their work with one another.  



Session 4 - Developing Unit Overview Sheets

(Time: 1:00-2:30)


After learning teams have settled on a set of essential outcomes for each of their units of instruction, it is important to convert those essential outcomes into student-friendly language and then share them transparently with students, parents and other practitioners.  Doing so helps to ensure that EVERYONE who cares about our kids can support the work that we are doing in our classrooms.  Doing so also helps to ensure that teachers have a simple checklist that can be used to guide their day-to-day lesson planning.  For session presenter Bill Ferriter's learning teams, sharing essential outcomes transparently starts by developing unit overview sheets that include key questions, student-friendly learning statements, important vocabulary and places for kids to rate their own mastery of concepts.


The following resources might help YOUR learning team to develop unit overview sheets together:


Handout - Converting Learning Standards into I Can Statements  - The good news for busy teachers and learning teams is that writing student-friendly learning targets ISN'T a complicated process.  For session presenter Bill Ferriter's learning teams, writing student-friendly learning targets involves nothing more than removing awkward or overly complicated words and phrases from the original standard and adding a practical task that students can use to demonstrate mastery.  This handout -- based on suggestions in Classroom Assessment for Student Learning -- can help your team to quickly write student friendly learning targets for an upcoming unit.


Handout - Unit Overview Sheet 1  - This overview sheet comes from a unit that Bill Ferriter's current learning team is teaching to students.  Notice that it includes essential questions, learning targets written in student friendly language, and key vocabulary that students are expected to master during the course of the unit.  Also notice that there is space for students to track their performance and level of mastery on each essential learning target. 


Handout - Unit Overview Sheet 2  - This overview sheet comes from a unit taught by the eighth grade science teachers in Bill Ferriter's school.  Notice how learning targets have been broken into two different categories - Important to Know and Be Able to Do and Worth Being Familiar With.  Also notice that key vocabulary has been included and that there is a system that allows students to track their current level of mastery on each essential learning target.


Handout - Kindergarten Unit Overview Sheet - This overview sheet comes from a unit taught by the kindergarten teachers at the Happy Valley Primary School in Adelaide, Australia.  It can serve as evidence that even the youngest students in our schools can be taught to use I Can Statements to monitor their progress towards important academic goals.  


Bill's Blog Posts on Writing Student Friendly Learning Goals - If your learning team needs more help with the hows-and-whys behind writing student friendly learning goals, you might find the following three posts from Bill's blog to be worth your time:  Writing Student Friendly Learning Goals ,  More on Student Friendly Learning Goals , Answering Chris's Questions about Student Friendly Learning Goals.




Day TWO Materials


Session 5 - Getting Started with Assessment


Once learning teams have clearly defined the essential outcomes for each and every unit that they teach, they must begin to develop shared assessments designed to measure progress towards mastery of those outcomes.  Without shared assessments, it is impossible to identify instructional practices that are working or to provide interventions when students are struggling to master essential outcomes.  In this portion of the workshop, participants will (1). examine their own core beliefs and feelings about the role that assessment should play in learning, (2). discuss the basic assessment practices that are embraced by successful learning teams and (3). experiment with practices that can support learning teams who are interested in moving forward with shared assessments.   



Activity - Surveying Your Current Assessment Reality

Handouts - PDF


One of the core practices in classrooms where students make the most learning gains is formative assessment.  Bob Marzano's research has shown that timely and directive feedback is the second most important school-level factor for improving student achievement.  John Hattie argues that "the simplest prescription for improving education must be dollops of feedback."  And Mike Mattos believes that until we get to a point where mastery is tracked by student and standard, we have no real chance of effectively intervening on behalf of struggling students.  Use the survey linked above -- which was developed by Solution Tree assessment expert Kim Bailey -- to reflect on the current state of the formative assessment practices in your building.  


Additional questions to consider:


  • How frequently are students in your classroom/school given timely and directive feedback about their progress towards mastering essential skills?  What are the challenges that make providing timely and directive feedback to students difficult in your classroom/school? 
  • How effectively are teachers tracking progress towards mastery of essential skills by student and by standard in your school?  What are the challenges that make tracking progress by student and standard difficult in your classroom/school?
  • Are teachers on your learning team or in your school generally open to the notion of formative assessment?  If giving timely and directive feedback was doable, would teachers embrace the practice? 


Activity - Unit Planning for Formative Assessments

Handouts - Word Doc

Handouts - PDF


In order to get a better sense for the kinds of tasks that you are using to measure student progress, it is important to work up a unit plan detailing the number and type of assessments that your team plans to deliver during a unit of study.  Remember that a formative assessment ISN’T a 60 question unit test given after 4 weeks of instruction.  In fact, the best formative assessments often have less than 10 questions and are given on a weekly or biweekly basis, allowing teachers and students to take immediate action.  Review the unit planning template for formative assessments linked above.  Then, use the following questions to reflect on your team's current process for planning common formative assessments:


  • What steps does your learning team currently take to track the complexity of both the learning targets and assessments that you give to your students?
  • If you had to guess, are your current assessments too rigorous or not rigorous enough?  
  • Can you give examples of places where your assessments need to be improved? 



Activity - Tracking Student Progress with Mastery Connect



Developed by a team of former educators, Mastery Connect's goal is to make formative assessment -- measuring progress by student and by standard in a timely fashion -- doable.  The free version of the tool allows teachers to create, administer, score, record and report the results of 10 question assessments that are tied either to state standards or to the Common Core in minutes using nothing more than the webcam of your computer.  In this activity, session presenter Bill Ferriter will introduce participants to the role that Mastery Connect is playing to redefine his assessment practices.



Activity - Exploring Data Analysis Tools and Tricks

Data Meeting Template 

Protocol for Data Meeting 

Structuring Team Data Conversations 


Assessment experts Kim Bailey and Chris Jakicic have put together a simple template and protocol for conducting data meetings that can help teams to talk about results in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect, and session presenter Bill Ferriter has put together a Structuring Team Data Conversations document that works to guide teams to the same end.  Review these documents to see if they could play any role in the work that you do with collaborative peers.


Questions to consider:


  • Do your learning teams currently have tools and/or practices in place to guide their conversations about student learning data?  How is that influencing -- either positively or negatively -- the work that they do on behalf of students?
  • What is it that you like the best about both data conversation templates?  Which data conversation template is likely to be the right starting point for your learning team?  Why?  
  • If you were to make changes to either of these data conversation templates, what would those changes be?  Why would those changes be important for your teachers and your learning teams?  


**If time allows, participants will practice one data conversation strategy.  For that activity, participants will use the following two resources:


Science Pretest

Science Pretest Data Set




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