Brig Leane

Brig Leane, principal of Fruita Middle School in Colorado, has more than 16 years of experience in education as an administrator and teacher in a variety of settings.

Product Templates to Guide the PLC Process

I have had the joy (and trauma) of teaching all three of my children how to ride a bike. It looked so easy as they watched their siblings ride—until it was their turn—then training wheels were welcomed! Becoming a highly effective collaborative team can look easy too, but with some templates and guidance, teams may get just the boost they need to assist them in becoming part of an effective PLC school.

Let’s presume your school has completed the challenging work of creating a shared mission, vision, values, and goals—and the culture of the school is ready to standardize the products that effective collaborative teams should be producing.

By ready, I mean:

  1. Teachers know what collaborative team they are on and have been working together within the school day,
  2. Collaborative teams have already been working to define what is essential for all students to know and be able to do,
  3. Collaborative teams have given some common formative assessments and are beginning to consider what to do with the students who didn’t learn what is essential, and
  4. Teachers on the collaborative teams are sharing common formative assessment results and noticing differences in those results.

While this list is not exhaustive, it gives some idea of practices that would indicate readiness for the next steps in the PLC journey—the standardization of products, or for some templates to guide the work.

Warning: I want to pause here because it could be easy for a school leader to take the products I am going to outline prior to having a strong collaborative culture in place to support this new proposed structure. That could be detrimental to the change effort, as many have noted, “culture eats structure for lunch.” If the culture is not ready, teachers could easily see these products as just ‘one more thing to do,’ but with a culture ready for these products, just like training wheels, they can be a very welcomed aid.

The products that guide the process are:

  1. Defining the essential skill
  2. Setting a SMART goal based on student achievement for each particular essential skill
  3. The actual common formative assessment to measure student learning of the skill
  4. A comparison of student results from each teacher
  5. An action plan that states what teachers will do with students who have and who have not learned the essential skill, as well as listing the adult learning based on the differing results
  6. The final results when all current interventions have been exhausted to see if the team met the SMART goal

Many schools will create templates that meet their specific learning needs, but if you want an example, we’ve used a template at Fruita Middle School you are welcome to take and customize for use at your own school. It is located at: http://www.allthingsplc.info/evidence/details/id,964, (click on the resources tab, then check out our ‘collaborative team products for a unit of study’ template). These products are worked through by each collaborative team to guide the PLC process along the way to ensure increased student learning and continued learning for the adults.

As teams gain familiarity with the products, they are free to customize them to meet their specific needs and take the learning even deeper. For instance, our 7th grade math team wanted to enhance their reflection on their teaching after each unit of study, and instead of using the adult learning section of the action plan, they created a Google Doc for each teacher’s reflection, as well as the team’s learning for the essential. We welcomed their enhancements, which are also giving new ideas to other collaborative teams!

Experienced teams may just need a listing of what their collaborative team should be producing. There is a very good guide in figure 5.4 in Every School, Every Team, Every Classroom by Robert Eaker and Janel Keating.

Leaders should review collaborative team products periodically, as teams unable to complete the products are most likely not able or willing to follow the process. This is an indication to the leader that the team needs some type of support.

Collaborative teams need guidance in the PLC process—just like my children needed training wheels when they were learning to ride a bike. Neither need them forever, but when the team or the bike rider is learning, they can be just right!

Comments

Amey Chalk

I loved your analogy of riding a bike with training wheels because it got me to thinking about the process of learning. While putting a safety net of training wheels is an excellent tool in teaching one how to ride a bike, it doesn't help the rider focus on balancing. Recently, I discovered something called a balance bike that comes with two wheels and has the pedals removed. It is close enough to the ground for the rider to begin with two feet on the ground and as comfort builds they can lift their feet and coast. The recommended ages are for 18 months and older. Isn't that amazing!? You see, thinking about learning in a different way (much like riding a bike with training wheels or balancing) is a great basis for a PLC. Maybe we have been thinking about using PLCs for planning in a good way, but there could be a better way. Last year, my third grade team was tasked with focusing on unit planning, formative assessment, and the collection of data. Usually, one will plan the unit, give an assessment, and then review the data and move onto the next unit. However, we thought of trying it a new way. We began with the assessment, reviewed the data, and then planned our unit. In reviewing the data, we organized the students based on needs and made sure these groups were flexible throughout the unit. We used our PLC to group these students, review benchmark data, and plan for the needs in each of these groups.
All teachers in the grade-level were accountable for all students. We weren't sure how this would all pan out, but we recently received our preliminary AIR test scores and our math scores jumped from 92% to 99%, and our reading scores went from 80% to 90%. While participating in a PLC can be a great challenge, it was definitely worth it.

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Emily Nagel

I work in a public school who has been working towards being a school that is PLC. We have a vision, mission, collaborative teams and a template that student data is recorded. On the template the team based meetings set a goal for the students, give an assessment, teacher record data and answer a serious of questions. Some of the team based meetings do not understand the benefit of the template and they give push-back completing the template (5step). They only do it because they said they have to. The area we need to improve in is collaborative areas and working cross-grade level. If we improve in collaboration then our school would be success in PLC.

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