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Introduction to PLCs - BSD

Page history last edited by Bill 8 years, 5 months ago

An Introduction to PLCs


Direct link to these materials:  http://bit.ly/BSDChamplainApril15 


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 Burlington School District in Burlington, Vermont to a few of those first-hand lessons.  




Morning Materials


Session Handouts

Session Handouts - PDF

Session Handouts - DOC


This link connects to a PDF version of every handout that participants will explore during this workshop.  It is HIGHLY recommended that participants print a hard-copy of this file out to use during our time together.  While every handout is posted electronically in this session wiki, navigating the hard-copy can be easier than navigating the wiki for many participants.


*Note: Session presenter Bill Ferriter has converted the complete session handouts into a Word Doc to make it easier for participants to edit files as needed.  Be aware, however, that converting from PDF to DOC is not a perfect process.  Some files may need some formatting before they are usable. 



Session Slides

Session Slides - PDF


This link connects to a PDF version of the slides for today's session.  Participants who enjoy following along with the slides during a presentation may want to keep this file open on their desktop during today's workshop.



Session 1 - Laying the Collaborative Foundation


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 - Defining Essential Outcomes


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.




Session 3 - Developing Unit Overview Sheets


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 - Primary Unit Overview Sheet - This unit overview sheet is a template that is being developed by the Flynn Elementary Staff for use with primary teachers and students.  It it designed to provide primary aged students with learning targets in age appropriate language.  


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.  



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.




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.




Optional Session - We're Meeting.  Now What?

*if time allows.


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. 


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.







Afternoon Materials


Session Handouts

Session Handouts - PDF


This link connects to a PDF version of every handout that participants will explore during this workshop.  It is HIGHLY recommended that participants print a hard-copy of this file out to use during our time together.  While every handout is posted electronically in this session wiki, navigating the hard-copy can be easier than navigating the wiki for many participants.



Session Slides

Session Slides - PDF


This link connects to a PDF version of the slides for today's session.  Participants who enjoy following along with the slides during a presentation may want to keep this file open on their desktop during today's workshop.





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.




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