Team Structure in PLC
We have heard the concern expressed that the PLC concept only allows for course-specific teams at the middle and high school level or grade-level teams at the elementary level. This is not the case. Adlai Stevenson High School, a national model of a PLC, had a variety of interdisciplinary, vertical, and even electronic teams included in its structure. The critical issue is not the structure of a group. The critical issues are:
- Are the people in the group truly functioning as a team and
- Do they do what teams do in a PLC?
A team is a group of people working interdependently to achieve common, specific, results-oriented goals for which members are mutually accountable.
In a PLC this means that people work together to focus on those questions that have the greatest impact on student learning:
- What knowledge, skills, and dispositions do we want our students to acquire in this course/subject this semester and this unit,
- How will we know our students are acquiring these essential learnings;
- How will we respond individually and collectively for those experiencing difficulty in learning,
- How will we enrich and extend the learning for students who are capable of moving further, and
- How can we use the evidence of student learning to inform and improve our practice.
If people do not have a common goal, if they do not work interdependently, if they are not mutually accountable, they are not a collaborative team. If they do not focus on the issues presented above, they are not “co-laboring” in the right areas. Getting together to discuss student behavior or creating book clubs to discuss common reading is not creating a collaborative team.
From time to time, a group of interested people come together at Stevenson High School to examine a schoolwide issue (i.e. grading practices or meeting the needs of students assigned to the lowest tracks in the curriculum). They build shared knowledge regarding 1) the current reality of the issue and 2) best practices for addressing the issue found in research and exemplary models. They make recommendations to the rest of the staff, build consensus for their recommendations, and ultimately call for a decision to be made regarding the issue. These groups represent task forces rather than teams.
Once the members of a task force help the staff build shared knowledge about the issue, make their recommendations, build consensus for their recommendations, and assist in overseeing the implementation of the decision, their task is complete and they disband. Task forces make significant contributions to the school, and we advocate their use, but they serve a very different purpose than do the collaborative teams.
Collaborative teams are the fundamental building blocks of a PLC — the engine that drives continuous improvement — and therefore they meet continuously (weekly at minimum) and stay focused on the critical questions of learning. When organizing teams, ask: "Do the people on this team have a shared responsibility for responding to the critical questions in ways that enhance the learning of their students?"
Possible team structures focused on student learning include:
- Grade-level teams — all teachers teaching the same grade level
- Course/content teams — all teachers teaching the same course
- Vertical teams — K-2/3-5 or French I - IV
Electronic teams — job-alike teachers in different schools us technology to engage in meaningful collaboration. The following websites have been created to assist educators in finding electronic teammates:
- www.nsdc.org (Microsoft partnership)
- Interdisciplinary teams — members from multiple courses are mutually accountable for an over-arching academic common goal (i.e. improve student proficiency in non-fiction writing across the curriculum)
- District or regional job-alike teams — i.e., all elementary music teachers from across the district collaborate about student learning in music
- Similar-responsibility teams — i.e., general education and special education teachers meet regularly because they share responsibility for the learning of a group of students