Aaron Hansen

Aaron Hansen is a leadership consultant and trainer for the Northeastern Nevada Regional Professional Development Program. A former principal, Aaron led the transformation of White Pine Middle School into a nationally recognized school.

Singletons and Small Schools

If you are thinking “How does all of this PLC stuff work when I’m the only one who does what I do?” you are most likely a singleton teacher! Examples often include teachers of band, choir, art, auto mechanics, consumer science, technology, psychology, business, drama, nursing, special education, dance, media, agriculture . . . the list goes on and on. In a small school, you may be the only person who teaches your grade level or subject, which also makes you a singleton!

Most educators understand that they will achieve so much more if they work together and use common assessment data as a basis for making decisions. Great, but who do you create common assessments with if you are the only person who does what you do? Making the problem worse, we often find that schools new to the PLC process leave singleton teachers off collaborative teams altogether or assign them to a team as an afterthought. Ouch! That’s not how we develop a collaborative culture. We can do better!

How to Include Singletons

The critical criteria when forming collaborative teacher teams is that members must share essential learning outcomes. There are at least five team structures that can potentially meet this criteria for singleton educators: 1) interdisciplinary teams, 2) vertical teams, 3) singletons who support, 4) digital teams, and 5) structural change.

Let’s address one the most common structures. Interdisciplinary teams are comprised of educators who teach different content. They choose to focus on skills they teach that they have in common instead of the differences in their content. For example, business, automotive technology, construction, and nursing teachers might form a career tech team. Although the content is vastly different, they might find that employability skills—like customer service, collaboration, problem solving, communication, writing a resume, and interviewing for a job—are all enduring life skills that matter greatly to the future success of students who may choose any of these vocations as their life’s passion.

Highly functioning interdisciplinary teams choose to focus on enduring skills that transcend content. Once they’ve found skills in common, they create common rubrics, administer assessments, and collect data for the purpose of improving their teaching and responding to student learning. In short, they commit to follow the PLC process by finding what essential skills they have in common with their teammates rather than letting the differences in content be an obstacle.

An interdisciplinary team may not work for every singleton teacher. A different structure may work better. The point is: although the solutions may be as unique as each singleton situation, we can and should include our singletons as we build a true collaborative culture.

Comments

Laura O'Shaughnessey

Thank you for your post on the "singleton" teacher. I teach middle school and in our small, private school, am the only science teacher for grades 6-8. The other teachers on my team are in the same position. We do not currently do "PLCs" but we do have monthly team meetings. It can be difficult to all be on the same page since I often hear others say, "It may be that way in your class, but it isn't in my content area." How do we get others to be on board with one goal for our students?

I like what you said about how these types of teachers should choose to "focus on enduring skills that transcend content." Yes! My thought is if we focus on these things, the other smaller goals will tend to fall in place. If each teacher thinks big picture first, we can align our classes and expectations within the over-arching principles of what we all think is best for our students. We have a long way to go in achieving this, but I see I am definitely not alone and am encouraged!

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Kara Mackenzie

I work at a school that has one teacher per grade level. Although I am a singleton teacher, I feel that we do a good job during out PLC times. Often, we have general assessments that we use in order to test our students. These assessments can range from grades k-12 and are a good way to judge where students are and what areas they need assistance. Our team would be considered a vertical team.
What do you believe are some good vertical teaching techniques that teachers should use when it comes to students achieving great reading comprehension. We have some wonderful phonics practices and of course our core reading curriculum that focuses on various areas as well.
I would be interested in learning some other small group reading techniques that singleton teachers use.

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Lorna Minihan

The term "singleton" is new to me but very apropos. I like the idea of sharing essential learning outcomes from an interdisciplinary or digital team structure. The focus on enduring or necessary skills, in the utilitarian sense, is insightful, and would be a good bridge to unite with the PLC process of establishing a cooperative and interactive school format. In German there is a euphonious word "Zusammenspiel" which means something like" teamwork"; this captures the great spirit of founding a pedagogical structure along PLC lines. And as Lucy West has most articulately pointed out, once an adult culture of communication is founded, then the purpose of fostering communication with and between students can be worked on over an expanse of time: this, I take it, is not a short term procedure. But we are going to definitely try to do an interdisciplinary approach to teaching this September. Thanks for the many insightful comments on this blog.

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Ebony James

Aaron, I too teach at a "singleton" and it is refreshing that we share some of the same challenges. There are two social studies teachers including myself and the only subject we share is American History. I teach World History and World Geography alone while my colleague teaches Government/Economics alone. It can sometimes be frustrating, but it allows me to be creative with my lessons. The idea of creating "interdisciplinary teams" is a great idea. I will definitely share this with my principal. Thank you!

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Brianna McGuire

I am a singleton music teacher in a small school district, and I often feel a chasm between myself and other grade level teams who collaborate together in their common subject areas. The idea of creating interdisciplinary teams has inspired me to reach out to the other teachers in my building. Laurie, I like your idea of using the CCSS Reading and Writing Anchor Standards as a common ground to collaborate on. I teach pre-kindergarten through fourth grade in an elementary school, and reading skills are a huge focus at this level. Starting a conversation with the classroom teachers on what reading and writing standards they are focusing on at their grade level would be a great first step for me and something that I could easily incorporate into my music classes. Thank you for the advice and inspiration!

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Katelyn Fisher

Aaron,

As a teacher in a small, private school setting, I appreciate your value of a singleton. I previously worked in a district that offered grade-level and department PLCs; however, I now work as a singleton, 12th grade English teacher. Although I enjoy working in a private school setting, I particularly miss the opportunity to have dialogue with my colleagues. I have been researching project-based learning and believe that cross-curricular implementation can be a huge success. The five team structures that include the singleton teacher serves as a helpful guide to get active once again in a PLC. When singleton teachers reach out to their interdisciplinary teams, there is a change in the focus from teaching to a focus on learning. Some additional questions to consider while planning as an interdisciplinary team: What do we want each student to learn? How will we know when each student has mastered the skill? How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty learning?

As mentioned by Laurie, dialogue is crucial to all educators. Building a collaborative culture is a matter of will even singleton teachers can participate in professional learning communities.

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Laurie Sammons

Aaron, I could not agree with you more! In addition to the 4 ways you have mentioned singleton teams can successfully be PLC teams, I have found using the 10 CCSS (Common Core State Standards) Reading and Writing Anchor Standards to be extremely helpful. For example, the first reading anchor is for all students to be able to read closely, cite text evidence, and summarize the content. ALL teachers at any grade level and
content area can do this. Singleton teams began to wage conversation around, "What is a close read?" "What does it look like/sound like?" "How are we going to expect our students to cite text evidence?"
The same applies for anchor standard 2 in writing which focuses on informational writing. Again, every teacher/grade level & content area writes informatively, so getting clarity around the writing success criteria, rubrics that will be used, etc. will make the PLC dialogue focused. The power is in the conversation!

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