An Administrator's Perspective for PLC Meetings
There is an age-old question—If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to see it, does it make a sound?
Here’s another question—If a collaborative team meeting takes place and no administrator is there to see it, does it make an impact? Well, just like that tree crashing in the forest, the answer is a resounding YES!
First, just for the record, as an administrator, I wish I could be at all the collaborative team meetings in our school. Hearing the amazing things that teams, large and small, are accomplishing with the mission of helping all students learn at high levels is inspirational and just awesome! However, as administrators, we can’t always be everywhere. And collaborative teams don’t want us at ALL of their meetings anyway!
So how can administrators get the information they want (so they know what’s happening) and need (so they can support teams who are supporting students)? There is a tough balance there. I’ve heard stories of administrators collecting exhaustive weekly minutes, and volumes of handouts and agendas, and putting them all in binders that sit on shelves and collect dust. (I may have even been guilty of making some of these requests myself early in my professional learning community leadership journey.)
This ultimately causes teams to focus more on the checklist of materials they must submit rather than the true purpose of the meeting. I’ve also heard of meetings with no monitoring or oversight, and administrators hoping teams will productively collaborate. Well, we know that “hope” isn’t a strategy, and what is monitored is what ultimately matters.
Of course, being present when a collaborative team meeting takes place is desirable. But if an administrator can’t be present, what is a reasonable request to make of the team? Well, in order to get the picture of what was happening, what was going to happen in the future, and how I could support their work, I asked for the following:
What data was used for discussion?
We know that our meetings, and all decisions at our school for that matter, are driven by the Four Critical Questions of the PLC at Work process. Question 2 asks “How do we know if they learned it?” “It” refers to Question 1, where we come to consensus as a collaborative team on what we want students to know and be able to do.
How we know if they learned it is by reviewing data from our assessments. I want to know what data teachers are using to make decisions to improve their practice and to support student learning and growth. Is there data that they want or need that I can help get for them? Is there something available they haven’t used that may be helpful?
What are the action steps that need to be taken next, and who is responsible for accomplishing them?
Remember, in a PLC, we work interdependently. We make professional commitments to each other, and action steps are important to ensure progress is being made to help all students learn at high levels. Agreeing to some parameters about what will happen and when, and who is responsible, will help move teams forward towards meeting goals.
What was celebrated?
This work is challenging, but it is tremendously meaningful and fulfilling. Helping students, whether it be an entire class or a single child, grow and learn is an incredible accomplishment that we as educators take for granted because it is just what we do. However, taking time to intentionally celebrate those accomplishments is a valuable reminder that the work we do has great meaning and deserves to be recognized by audiences big and small both publicly and privately.
Note: I asked each collaborative team to report out a brief, 1- to 2-minute summary at our monthly faculty learning meeting, and I also asked for a quarterly summary of progress to have available to share, as needed. Both strategies were helpful in allowing information to be shared building-wide, and at times, allowed for additional meaningful collaboration between teams around a topic, project, or student.
Being present for collaborative team meetings is ideal for administrators, simply because we want to see the great work that is happening to support student learning. But make no mistake, collaborative team meetings that focus on student learning and professional improvement absolutely make an impact—whether an administrator is present or not!
Leaders, what do you ask from your collaborative teams? Teacher and coaches, what do you provide your admin team after your collaborative time together? Please share what you find that works for you with me, and respond to me on Twitter at @drdavidpillar.