Team Meetings: Converting the Middle School to the PLC Middle School
In conversations with many middle school teachers and administrators over the last few years, I’ve noticed a certain perception and tension that exists when some middle schools are presented with the PLC at Work™ concept. There is apprehension to embracing the model because some feel it doesn’t mesh with the middle school philosophy.
I’m here to tell you that while a school may have to adjust some middle school traditions, a school can be a PLC school AND a middle school. And the best part is that if done properly, your school can be more successful in student achievement than ever before!
This belief is based on experience and the ability to embrace a concept that Jim Collins discusses in his book titled Built To Last. Collins contends that high performing organizations do not succumb to the “Tyranny of the OR,” rather they embrace the “Genius of the AND.” Relating this to the issue at hand, we must not look at this as a struggle of being a PLC OR a middle school. Instead, we must believe that a school can be both a PLC AND a middle school.
The largest area of concern that has been communicated with me is that in order to “convert” to a PLC, the middle school would have to give up the staple of daily interdisciplinary (ID) team meetings in order to allow for time for course specific/departmental meetings (which supports the PLC big idea of creating high-performing collaborative teams). While it is a fact that middle schools that embrace the PLC process must build in time for the department members to collaborate, there is still a place for ID teams to meet. My personal belief based upon my experience as principal in two PLC schools (Margaret Mead Junior High and Jane Addams Junior High…both of which incorporate the middle school philosophy of PLC teaming), is that a school must determine the overall purpose for why these different groups of teachers meet.
So what is the purpose of the ID team and their daily meetings?
In the two schools that I’ve worked at (which are both listed on this site as exemplary PLC schools), the ID team meets for two purposes:
- Monitoring homework
- Supporting the social/emotional needs of its students
These are virtually the only two discussion items that our ID teams meet about. While a middle school fundamentalist may be offended by the simplicity of this, the staffs that I’ve worked with have embraced it. Having a limited purpose allows the group to be focused and efficient.
Let’s look at the other side of this shift: What is the purpose of a course specific/department team and their meetings?
In the two schools that I’ve worked in, the purpose of the course specific/department team is to engage in the process of answering these four questions (and these should look familiar):
- What do we want all kids to know?
- How do we know if they have learned?
- How will we respond if they haven’t learned?
- How will we respond if they have learned?
These are seemingly simple questions that will engage your teachers and have them begging for more time to meet to make decisions around these questions. A true PLC school MUST provide time for course specific/departmental teams to meet. Why? Because it impacts student learning, which happens to be the central mission of schools. Both schools that I’ve worked in have made this shift. It has shifted to the point that we now devote more time to the course specific/department meetings then we do for the ID teams. Guess what has happened? Student learning and achievement has soared. Failure rates have dropped. All standardized testing scores have gone up. This is not a coincidence. In fact, if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense.
The first big idea of the PLC at Work concept is a focus on learning. Making the shift from only interdisciplinary team meetings to adding course specific/department meetings is critical if learning is going to be your school’s focus. Our school staff would advocate that this shift has been a huge difference-maker in our student achievement growth.
To me, this all goes back to the purpose of your school. If your purpose is to increase student learning, then your schedule (including time put aside for teacher collaboration) must reflect this purpose. A middle school purist may cite a concern that this type of change will impact the “whole child.” While I see this angle, I will contend that the two schools that I have been associated with have been able to systematically support the whole child needs of the middle level learner AND have been able to achieve the highest levels of learning in school history. That is what a PLC middle school is all about.
The subject of the whole child tension will be discussed more in my next blog related to advisory and intervention.