Will Remmert

Will Remmert is an elementary principal in Minnesota. He has over 15 years of experience as a teacher and administrator at both the elementary and secondary levels. He played an integral role in the success of Washington Elementary School.

Making the Shift From Teaching to Learning

High-functioning professional learning communities are challenging to accomplish and take dedication from all members of the school community. For staff to effectively collaborate, several things need to be in place—time to meet, group norms, data to analyze, and committed educators, to name a few. However, a critical step that is often overlooked is the need for educators to make the philosophical and cultural shift from teaching to learning.

DuFour, DuFour, and Eaker state in A Leader’s Companion, “One of the most important cultural shifts that must take place if schools are to perform as professional learning communities involves a shift from a primary focus on teaching to placing the primary focus on learning” (p. 49).

Historically, schools have functioned in a teacher-centric structure where educators dispensed knowledge and students were to act as sponges, absorbing everything that came their way. This type of structure was often good for the adult, but it didn’t have a lasting positive impact on learning for all students. If we are to ensure high levels of learning for all students, we must look ourselves in the mirror and decide if our school is benefiting the adults in the building or our students. We must ask: Was this physical structure built for adult employment or student learning? As educators, we owe it to future generations to begin functioning in collaborative teams to ensure learning for all students at high levels. This process begins by making the cultural shift from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning.

PLCs are student-centric and transparent. The following reflection questions will assist you on the journey to becoming a high-functioning PLC. Take a moment and reflect on the discussions you’ve had with your colleagues in the past week:

  • What was the focus of your conversation?
  • Did you discuss student data?
  • Was there dialogue about how student needs are being met?
  • Were you problem solving independently or interdependently?
  • Do the adults or the students own assessment data?
  • How do students interact with their assessment data?
  • Do students track their own results or do they sit in the teachers’ grade book?
  • Do you have a data wall with student pictures representing how they are performing on your collaboratively established common formative assessments?
  • Is assessment data shared among the entire grade level/department?
  • Are classrooms set up to accommodate student learning or teacher instruction?
  • Does the interactive whiteboard function as a glorified overhead projector for the adults or have students utilized this tool in an interactive way?
  • Does your support staff push-in to work with students or are students removed from the classroom to receive their additional instruction?
  • Are all students taught by all teachers or, for example, do EL teachers only work with EL students?

Reference

Eaker, R., DuFour, R., & DuFour, R. (2007) A leader’s companion: Inspiration for professional learning communities at work™. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Comments

tracykuhles

This past school year the district I work for implemented PLC's half way through the school year. There was not a lot of support or guidance from our administrators. There for, the teachers did not have a solid understanding as to how to go about running a meeting. Teachers would spend time complaining during the PLC meeting and little work got done. Does any one have suggestions as to how I can motivate the team of teachers I work with????? Another problem is the lack of "sharing ideas", "collaboration", and "interdependently working together". How can I get the team I work with during PLC meeting time do move in this direction?????
Any and all suggestions are welcome!!!!!
I would like to start the school year off on a positive note but am seeking some input.

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khaki571

Refreshingly, the staff meeting at my school was designated as PLC meeting time and not just in name! Now instead of the dreaded staff meetings, we meet in vertical, subject related groups called "PLC Pockets" for the areas of reading, writing technology, and math. Each grade level team has a representative in each pocket and the facilitator of each group solicits the members (who consult their grade level teams) for specific concerns,areas of success they wish to share,or topics for professional development related to our new curriculum. After each meeting, the idea is for representatives to take pertinent information back to the grade level, jig-saw style. The feedback for our first year of PLC Pockets has been very positive. One thing that has worked well is the use of the vertical teams- since we are in the middle of implementing new curriculum at all grade levels, these groups have been helpful in building teacher confidence and consistency across grade levels. As a first grade teacher, hearing the perspective of a 4th or 5th grade teacher on how subject matter looks in their grade gives great insight into where we are going and what my part is in getting students there. One area that we will be working to tweak is the fact that there is no time provided for debriefing our learning with our grade-level teams. This would add immensely to the whole experience because we all feel like we are learning great things in our pockets, but have very little time to squeeze in sharing it or hearing what others have learned. I am looking forward to see how these practices evolve.

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dsanders

In our school system we have PLC's every other Wednesday for an hour in the afternoon. I teach math, so I am in a math PLC group made up of 4 other math teachers. I found this to be extremely helpful. We all taught different grades, so there were differences in the teaching material, but hearing all the teaching method and techniques is what I really enjoyed. There was a problem, however, for these meetings to turn into a complain about your day or week meetings instead of a student focused meeting. I love the reflection questions in this blog and I think that they would be a good list of questions to have out during the PLC to make sure that the teachers stay on task!

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Jenn

In our district, our staff meeting was renamed a PLC meeting. Unfortunately, it remained a staff meeting, where information is disseminated and we look at our standardized test scores to see where we need to focus. After reading about what a PLC is supposed to look like, I now can see why people are so excited about them in other districts. I would love to be a part of a collaborative, school-wide team (ours is a small school) that truly has the students' learning in mind as we work. What an empowering, exciting thing that must be! Sadly, I find that the majority of teacher groups we have in our school are filled with cynicism and a lack of depth. We know how to "talk the talk" so to speak, but many of us choose not to do what we know is right for our students. I am in the hopes that those of us on staff who strive to assist our students to learn can start a PLC on our own.

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njones

I too am working on a Master's degree from Walden and found this topic to be very interesting. I agree that there needs to be a shift from teaching to learning. The least effective PLC I have experienced was the Wednesday faculty meeting. This planned meeting was dreaded by most teachers because if administration had nothing to discuss with us, they would turn off the lights and play a video that told us how to be better teachers. It is not that the information was not interesting, but after teaching all day, it was not the best time. At my current school, meeting are not as frequent, and are more data related. We evaluate data by departments, then as a whole. I feel this is a more effective use of our time.

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JocelynHT

I agree that professional learning communities can be challenging to accomplish. I believe this is due to the amount of time and commitment required. Teachers, as well as administrators, have so many obligations to fulfill that it can be difficult to find the time necessary to collaborate successfully.

I strongly agree that schools need to become facilities of learning rather than facilities of employment. Schools were created to be institutions of learning. I believe that in order for schools to serve their intended purpose, instruction needs to shift from teacher-centered to student-centered. By fostering student-centered learning, teachers will see increased engagement and successful learning in the classroom. Student-centered instruction elicits higher-order thinking and promotes student interest in learning. As educators, we need to show our students the importance of education in order to ignite a passion for life-long learning.

Professional learning communities can improve instruction and learning. In order for them to be successful, teachers must understand the importance of collaboration. Professional learning communities need to focus on improving student achievement not only in individual classrooms but in the school community. By collaborating with one another, teachers can share opinions and ideas and discuss ways to improve instruction and learning. As educators, we need to understand that we have a right and responsibility to learn what it takes to do this job to the best of our ability.

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leggert

I really enjoyed reading this blog and what everyone else has to share! Just this year, my school district brought in the term "PLC," but I was never quite sure what it meant. I am also starting my Master's degree from Walden and this week has truly opened my eyes to what we are supposed to be accomplishing during our PLC time and meetings. We meet once a month for about an hour with just our PLC, which makes up my grade-level team. Sure, we analyze and discuss data, but not to the extent that I am now aware of. I feel as if I will be much better prepared for next year in regards to what I am supposed to be doing with my data on my students.

My principal is really working hard on trying to close the learning gaps in our building with all of our students, and as I was reading about going from teaching to learning, many scenarios ran through my mind. I have found this blog to be very informative and helpful!

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Kayclouse

I have started a master's program at Walden and our focus this week is on PLC's. At our school, we had a meeting yesterday to discuss pre and post assessments. We met for 3 hours and have a lot of work to do. The statement by wremmel," it is a marathon, not a sprint." is so accurate. I felt we did not get too much accomplished and realize it is going to take a long time to get to where we all want to be.

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FelixM

I really enjoyed reading this blog. I think every teacher can use the information in this blog and quickly assess whether they are truly engaging in learning during PLCs. I think PLCs can possibly change the culture of a school while increasing teacher and student learning.

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LEugene

I enjoyed reading the blog and learning about PLC by trying to shift from teaching to learning. I agree we as teachers need to adapt the learning mentality and not just be willing only to teach to complete the syllabus. It is often heard when teachers meet that they behave as students, since most time they do not reflect on meaningfully topics to improve student learning, instead, discussions are about the negative situation or challenge teachers may be encountering without solutions.

I am not exposed to PLC in my school, furthermore in my country, actually I am now learning about it at my University as I pursue my graduate work. However, I have realized it is an asset to create within the school environment for teachers to communicate effectively about learning and how best to impart knowledge to our students. I admire the fact that the teachers meet so often, to exchange ideas and to see what best work for the student and how the teachers can collaborate in order for it to be effective.

At my school we focus on student learning, however, I believe we as teachers need to be more proactive and come together to reflect on some of the same questions that were mentioned in the blog in order to develop a meaningful future for student learning. I will make an effort with few of my colleagues to see if we can start PLC at our school. I am the only teacher who teaches the subject at my school but I believe we can collaborate and share information to improve student learning overall. Furthermore, I was wondering, is there a recommended size to form the PLC or can any number of teachers start? Thanks for the ideas to reflect upon to improve student learning.

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Grant-Williams

To continue where I left off. My sentence should conclude as "fail to do so. But the key element to achieve all this is reflection on the part of the educator."

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Grant-Williams

I totally agree with you in regards to the many challenges educators faces in the learning communities as well as the traditional aspect of teacher centered classroom. But what I have found out is that when we as educators work in collaboration on specific goals in mind and put our ideas and thoughts and shift away from the teacher centered to students centered then the results create a positive impact on the learner. It is difficult at time but we must not forget the importance of it. In my school, we meet according to various group setting found in the structure of the school such as the academic, prevocational and life skills areas. Teachers will meet in their specific areas every first Friday in each month. In these clusters we share insight on problems, solution and introduce resources to enhance lesson. We also come up with ideas a how to integrate other disciplines in our specific areas to achieve learning outcome of all students. It is within these areas teachers demonstrate the importance of team teaching. We all know that individuals have unique ways of approaching and applying different techniques to gain a require result where others might

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wremme1

Thanks for reading the blog and for the amazing feedback. If you have further questions or insight, please email me at willremmert@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @willremmert

Have a great week!
Will

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wremme1

It is challenging to get 100% of the people, especially early in the process - give it time, it is a marathon not a sprint. Understanding that developing the culture that all students can and will achieve is so important and having the open and honest conversation that what we do as educators is critical to student learning will get things moving in the right direction. There will always be fundamentalists that won't see the light. If you have colleagues like this, read the work by Anthony Muhammad - it is amazing and transformational stuff!

Good luck

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wremme1

A real effective way to have conversations about student learning is when the data is utilized in a transparent manner. Are you utilizing common formative assessments and grading them together? If you could start something like this, it would open the conversations about why/how different classrooms are performing at a certain level - then, you will begin discussing strategies or methods used to meet the needs of our students. The data doesn't lie, especially if we begin assessing and evaluating the same things. This is also an amazing way to gain confidence in what we are doing as educators, when we begin to see and feel success, we begin to create winning streaks where we tend to get on a roll and then the students really start to benefit from our hard work.

Good luck!
Will

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JKnight

I was very intrigued by the title of your post. As I began reading, I found myself agreeing with your insights over and over. I am new to the teaching profession, as I was hired for my first job this school year. In my school, I am not sure that we have fully developed the concept of PLCs. We do have Professional Development twice a week, and our committee are very similar to those I've seen discussed. I truly feel that we still have a long way to go.

In regards to the first few questions you posed: We actually met for grade level meetings today. Our focus was to complete a TBT (Teacher Based Team Report) which focuses on any particular concept or skill the team chooses. This idea is very new to the entire building, and I know we are not getting out of it what we should. At this point, I feel it is just a paper we complete because the state says we have to.

In my grade, there are two teachers. I teach RLA and Social Studies. The other teacher has Math and Science. Today we worked on a TBT for her class. Today, we calculated percentages of students who were proficient and not. There really was no discussion of what students did not get. We simply compared results from the pre-test to the post-test.

I visualize PLCs being extremely useful once we have a full understanding of what it truly means, and a cooperative staff who is 100% on board with the idea. Truthfully, and sadly, I'm afraid the latter will be our most difficult challenge because it does take a lot of time and commitment.

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Monica

Very true! The most important aspect about being a teacher is the ability to be taught as well. Although we instruct students, there are times we need some instruction too. This is when professional partnerships, networks, and learning communities contribute to the process of achieving the overall goal of teaching.

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MFields61

I am just learning about PLC's in my graduate work at Walden University. I have felt for years that the concept of teachers working together to help each other would be the best way for schools so better serve their learners. I was fortunate enough to work in a Junior High School that was Site Based. It was a wonderful experience working with a group of my peers in conjunction with the principal to improve our learning environment. We were successful because there was a set time for us to meet and once we identified a problem in the school we worked together until the problem was solved. Usually the problem or thing we worked on was brought to us by a colleague who was struggling or frustrated. This was a prime motivator for us to work together to find a solution

In my current position I help young men in a residential rehabilitation facility with their learning. Most of the work they are doing is assigned by their home schools. The schools are very concerned with how much work they get done so they do not fall behind. I am convinced that most of these young men have fallen behind in their work because they are students not learners. They focus on getting the correct answers. I am trying to develop as part of my curriculum a system where they can make the switch from being a student to being a learner. I am more concerned with how they get the information and not so much how much they get done. As a result of my making the work relevant to their interests they are much more engaged. I see more higher level thinking, and they feel better about their work for the first time in their life. The assignment becomes more then the grade.

I attribute much of my success with my students to the fact that the teachers/educators in my program are all professionally safe with each other. We can share or success and struggle together with or areas we need to improve. We are very busy but have made time to discuss issues and we go out of our way to help each other. I was very pleased to find out our school was doing many of the things the research tells us makes for successful professional learning communities.

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Diana

I enjoyed your post. I agree that we need to shift the focus from teaching to learning. I also enjoyed the questions that you posted to help guide our thinking. We have a wonderful PLC community at my school. We are constantly working together to try to see how the students are doing and how we can learn better to improve ourselves. We become the learner and try to become a better teacher for them. Great information!

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lbaxter1972

Having PLC in my school would really change the way things operate because we will focus more the student’s learning. The I think within most school systems the main focus is on numbers instead of the student. Working together is something we try, but never seem to master. Teaching in a small private school might be the reason we never thought of being a part of a PLC. I feel that if we implement this more learning will take place and less teaching enough information to meet standards.

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samlnichols

When I read your post, it became clear to me that I focus more on teaching than learning. I would like to make the shift in my classroom, but realize that it will be a big adjustment. It would be beneficial for me to use the expertise of those around me. Thank you for the great reflection questions. These will help me focus my discussions with my colleagues. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to motivate colleagues to participate in meaningful discussions about enhancing student learning? Even though my district has time built in to our schedule to meet as PLC's, it is difficult for me to get others to participate in such discussions.

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rfonseca

A PLC would be a great change at my campus. Teachers need to shift their way of thinking. Right now especially at this time of year with state assessments taking place, teachers are driven by percentages and how did "my" kids do. I believe that in order for a campus to really thrive it has to look at the all around picture. What did my students learn? How did they learn? Why didn't they learn? If a PLC was started at my campus I think we would be well on our way.

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kkielkucki

Many schools have definitely become very teacher centered and need to make this important shift to a focus on students and their learning. I agree that PLC's are a great way to make this shift, however dedication from the staff and administrators is a major concern. I truly feel if the school community as a whole; teachers, supervisors, administrators, and principals etc... can make the commitment to the concept of a PLC, our schools can make learning the priority again. As a teacher, we need to make the connection that we do not want our students to ever stop learning and growing and as the teacher we should have the same goals to continue to grow and learn.

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KimJay17

Educational institutes are places for learning for both the adults and the students. If you have chosen to become an educator then you have chosen to become a lifelong learner. Educators have the same goal which is for each student to excel. If we all have the same goal then we must work collaboratively to make sure our goal is met. Unfortunately, many colleagues we encounter aren’t great team players, so to create an effective professional learning community at your school maybe impossible. We have to portray selfless traits. We all have come across people love to reserve their effective methods to help promote student learning, but it shouldn’t be as such. All districts should require schools to make time for PLC meetings throughout the school year. We all need to work as a team so all students can excel. After all, if the school isn’t progressing then everyone associated with the school will be known to do the same.

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rogersk

My school district implemented PLC teams into our schools this year. It has been a positive experience overall. The change from teaching to learning has been a difficult change for some while exciting for others. Teachers have been given the chance to really take a look at what their students are learning and what areas need improvement. It has given them the opportunity to share ideas and strategies. It also allows the grade levels to work more as a team rather than individually. Having the data, time, and collaboration has been a positive move towards improving the learning of each student in our schools.

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cmboles

I agree with the necessity of making the shift from teaching to learning. It is a temptation for all of us to become complacent in our own abilities after a certain period of time. In an ever changing and evolving world, this complacency comes at a cost that our students pay. In order to ensure high-level thinking in our students, we ourselves need to be high-level thinkers. Collaboration with colleagues can only enrich the experience and deepen our personal reflection and growth.

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dawncraw

I definitely agree that our schools need to become institutions of learning rather than institutions for employment. I think the most difficult task in creating a PLC within one's district is the time factor. So many teachers have other obligations that are also school related. A classroom does function better when it is student-centered, rather teacher-centered. By having it student-centered, we are able to grab out students' attention and elicit higher-level thinking and interest. I do give my students the opportunity to track their own grades, and most of them are aware of their stance academically. I especially like the idea of the collaborative wall poated with my students performance. I would like to use that idea in my classroom, as I can see benefit from posting their progress. I am definitely going to continue to
work on shifting my thought process to having a student-centered classroom and sharing ideas with my colleagues.

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keronbrown2003

I strongly agree with the notation of shifting the focus of schools to become facilities of learning rather than facilities of teachers. School definitely were not created to provide employment but an environment to foster learning. The fact is everyone should be actively learning in a school environment. As reflective educators let this shift happen, we need to save our students by creating a learning environment. One in which they are the "center of attraction." I will attempt to focus my conversations on becoming a high functioning PLC.

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