Tom Koenigsberger

Tom Koenigsberger was a middle and high school teacher for 34 years in urban and suburban Illinois. He worked with Richard DuFour at Adlai E. Stevenson High School, a model PLC in Illinois.

The Important Work of Self-Monitoring by PLC Teams

In an effective professional learning community, all teachers take collective responsibility for ensuring all their students learn essential knowledge and skills. To achieve this goal, PLC team members must hold each other accountable for using research-based pedagogy and evidence-based practices that best achieve this outcome.

Using the subject of science as an example, some educators have not done a very good job of instilling the essential higher-order thinking skills or knowledge necessary to graduate students who can use their acquired science principles to make educated decisions. For example in the United States, TIMSS scores are low and a recent article in the Wall Street Journal states, “Four in 10 U.S. college students graduate without the complex reasoning skills to manage white-collar work, according to the results of a test of nearly 32,000 students.” This is in spite of the fact that the educational literature is replete with how to teach science so that students learn and can use that knowledge effectively.

Conscientiously applying the knowledge obtained from research about authentic testing, higher-order thinking, teaching fewer standards, and real-world application will produce students who canat a minimumanalyze, discriminate, hypothesize, and defend their conclusions. But none of this will occur if PLC teams do not monitor the proper implementation of these recommendations.

As my colleagues and I from Solution Tree visit schools that have asked us to evaluate their progress along the PLC continuum, we often find that schools have their SMART goals and norms in place, meet regularly, create common assessments, and analyze test data. This is important and essential work. Unfortunately, rarely do teams spend time to look at removing nonessential material, examine how effective their efforts have been in teaching critical-thinking skills, or develop authentic learning opportunities for their students.

Analyzing test data is of little help with student growth if the test questions are simply multiple choice and recall. High-level thinking does not occur for students if a problem is not presented in a novel situation. Labs are not inquiry if students know the outcome before they have even started the experiment.

Team meetings are to strengthen pedagogy, curriculum, and testing to provide the most powerful learning experiences our students can obtain and prepare them for an extremely competitive world. Therefore, teams should ensure that:

  • Tests are not only reliable and valid, but also relevant. They test thinking skills, as well as the essential knowledge that must be memorized.
  • The curriculum is teaching the most important concepts and skills. (Whether or not your state is adopting the Common Core Standards and/or the Next Generation Science Standards, these documents are a good place to examine important 21st century expectations.)
  • They are eliminating course material (a difficult task), as well as adding pertinent new material.

Self-critiquing of work by the team is as crucial as metacognition is for the individual student. It is what high-performing teams do in a PLC.


Shemaiah Y

I enjoyed reading this article. As an elementary science teacher, teaching students higher order teacher skills is exciting, but hard. Knowing those skills will be reduced to filling in a bubble on a scantron test is tough. In our PLCs, we need to make sure we are evaluating our students appropriately so they can be successful in their higher learning endeavors. Teaching problem-solving skills to students is essential so they sometimes understand there can be multiple answers, and they have to learn how to proceed to get to the solutions of their problems. In PLC's we have to make our assessment and goal relevant to the learning being reviewed in class and connect it to the real world.

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Vanessa Mijango

I really enjoy the PLC environment in my school. This was my first year of teaching and everything was new to me. Having the support of other teachers and sharing similar experiences really helped. Through these meetings, we were not only able to share teaching strategies but we joined ideas as to how to integrate STEAM into all subjects.

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Amanda Rasmussen

I thought this article was definitely interesting. I agree with some of the above comments that we need PD on how to collaborate. My entire school is having a rough time with collaboration and it is really bringing us down. We still have amazing teachers, and we are still teaching the students what they need to know; however, we definitely aren't reaching full potential for what we can do in the classroom.

I love that we have a responsibility to hold each other accountable. If we have a team lead we are able to do that more effectively.

My question is how can we better collaborate and hold a PLC if we do not have much time set aside by the principal to do so? A lot of our team don't want to stay after school and they are stubborn when it comes to wanting to meet at all. Being a Special Education teacher it is vital that we are meeting on a regular basis to ensure our students are getting the services and supports they need.

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Nancy Salinas

As an elective teacher, it was difficult to collaborate with other educators during in-service days due to the fact that we were from different campuses and each of our principals had different agenda's. As an AVID Teacher we were only one to a campus and wanted to collaborate with all other campuses to align curriculum, reflect on our practices and share best practices.
As a collaborative group we made the decision to create our PLC and included all 7 middle school campuses. Fortunately our principals agreed and the organizational planning begun. PLC's are essential in collaboration among us all and it creates a sense of team. We meet quarterly and became a district-wide AVID family.

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Kellina Keown

"PLC team members must hold each other accountable for using research-based pedagogy and evidence-based practices that best achieve this outcome."

This is something I feel we do in our PLCs although new to the process. Our scholl brings data, student work and concerns to the table each week. We are able to discuss interventions needed, testing, and enrichment. I feel that this really has made our PLC a team of support for our students.

Testing you say is not the only relevant information and I have heard that before however the data is always being pushed on us. How can we show the whole student without making testing number 1 topic within PLC?

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Lorraine Johnson

This is a really good article. As I read the article, I thought about how teachers collaborate. From experience, I think there should be a PD to inform teachers on how to collaborate. We encourage students to turn and talk but teachers are so busy dealing with paperwork, deadlines, and testing until we do not have time to have productive meetings. When it is time to meet with colleagues, we only have time to plan for the curriculum and keep moving. It is very important to analyze data and take actions on how to modify, improve or change what is necessary. As time goes on, teachers are given less time for planning and collaborating.

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Terah Wik

Professional learning development is only successful when discuss and discover ways to enhance our students learning. PLD is a time for teachers to collaborate and inquire about our own beliefs and practices, but most importantly a time to discover ways to impact and influence student learning. I found that the school where I teach is lacking in this area. We discuss what we should be teaching children, but we have difficulty creating strategies to implement these practices. And we certainly do not discuss the success of our implementations. Do you have suggestions on how to improve our PLD?

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Nick Black

Drew poses a great question; let me add to that by asking how do you assess those higher level thinking skills? I have been a member of a PLC for the past 5 years; we even had the opportunity to have Mr. Mike Mattos present to our high school and he ate lunch with our social studies department; we had a pretty open dialogue about how PLC’s were working in our school. One of our areas for concern was the push get data from assessment to drive instruction.

“Analyzing test data is of little help with student growth if the test questions are simply multiple choice and recall. High-level thinking does not occur for students if a problem is not presented in a novel situation.”

In Washington State, we have spent the past 10+ years implementing state standards into our curriculum which force teachers away from multiple choice assessments. Our standards address things like cause and effect, and analyzing decisions and using primary source documents, not to mention more literacy based objectives are coming with common core. Yes, these objectives can be measured and data can be gleaned, however it is much more time consuming than say a math teacher who can easily quantify data from a math test. Data can be gained by means of for example essays graded with rubrics or some similar form of assessment such as a project, I sympathize with English teachers on this, crunching data on 150 essays is exhausting. Having said this, our PLC has focused much time on how to create more data friendly assessments while still trying to uphold our standards.

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Sara Tremmel

Team reflection on classroom practice can eliminate the feeling of isolation that so many teachers face. I recently read an article, "Why teacher networks (can) work," by Tricia Niesz (2007) that discussed the importance of networking. Niesz promotes strong relationships with colleagues in order to create an open environment for growth.

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Jessica Sparks

My district fortunately allows each grade level one meeting once a week where we meet in a PLC setting. My first year of teaching we focused on writing essential outcomes because that was what we were comfortable with, not necessarily where our students were in need of more instruction . With the adoption of CCSS, we realized we needed better assessments and data to guide our teaching as well as to determine where more intervention was needed. Our team realized we needed to rethink our teaching based on our data. For the past 3 weeks we have taught differentiated math groups working on structuring, counting and number sequence, problem solving and adding and subtracting (1st grade). We decided this was where our students needed further instruction based on our pre assessments our math coordinator helped us develop this year, and will post assess after two more weeks of intense intervention. In the beginning, it was difficult to rethink how to conducted our meetings as well as developing better pedagogy to benefit our student's learning. In the end, I am certain we will see improvement based on our relfections during our PLC meetings.

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Rebeka Collymore

Creating a professional learning community is essential for learning and teacher development. In my school we recently discussed the need to teach our students critical thinking skills. We participated in a Science quiz and our students came third, because they were not able to apply their knowledge to given scenarios. We have also received feedback from companies about the inability of students to function efficiently in the workplace due to their inability to analysis and defend the decisions that they make. I have been reading on professional learning community for the past week and I have seen the need for my school to embrace this strategy. I know it will require time and effort but if we are serious about student learning, that is way we should go. I look forward to learning more about this strategy and seeing it become part of my school's culture.

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Emily Dancer

My school recently observed the same concerns you discussed above in regard to a lack of higher level thinking skills. With the Common Core Standards focusing so much on students analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information; it was clear that we needed to try something new to move our students past simple recall. We adopted a program called "Cultures of Thinking" based on Ron Ritchhart's book "Making Thinking Visible." Through this program, students are taught "thinking routines" that can be applied to any lesson or subject. It has been interesting to see how easily these routines fit into the established curriculum and how much substance is added as a result. These routines have also allowed me to quickly diagnose holes in students' learning. Some students whom I assumed "got it" because of their ability to converse and answer general questions about the information, were missing the big ideas behind the information. Cultures of Thinking certainly is not a "cure-all" to moving students to higher levels of thinking, but it has helped us take steps to move students in that direction.

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Linda Torres

How do we get administrators to let go of their agenda and allow for more time to collaborate with colleagues?

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Victoria Oredipe

All the other reasons and benefits of professional learning community mentioned are necessary, but pale in comparison to sharing and learning insights on how to use research-based pedagogy and evidence-based practices. When PLC team members come together, this aspect should be foremost on their agenda. After all, every teacher desire is for every students not some to learn.

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Katie Smith

Teacher collaboration is increasingly identified as a key element of teacher professional development. Focusing on the learning and results rather than the teaching is of up-most importance. When we have regular interaction with colleagues is necessary to create a culture of integrity and fidelity. In today's world this seems like a difficult task when teachers are feeling burnt out. Establishing trust and communicating effectively takes time, lots of time. It is extremely unfortunate that most schools in the United States do not provide their staff with time needed to establish and develop these kinds of relationships. So where do we go from here? How do we make PLC worth our time and energy when we are given little to no attention directed at this need?

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Drew Strohmeyer

How do you suggest we teach those higher level thinking skills?

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