Tara Fulton

Tara Fulton is the principal at Clute Intermediate School in Clute, Texas. Tara has served as a teacher and administrator at the elementary and secondary school levels. She is passionate about professional learning communities.

Keeping Your Fire Stoked

If you live in Texas like I do, you know that anytime the weather gets below 80, we celebrate with all things fall!  Pumpkin spice, boots, and s’mores around the fire pit!  Recently, my family and I were enjoying the evening around our fire pit.  I noticed that every so often, my husband would gently stoke the fire by moving the wood around and repositioning it so that the flames continued to burn continuously and strong.  This is so similar to how our teams of educators work together to keep the fire burning for our students.  When one flame starts to diminish, someone stokes the flame by offering support.  The teams of teachers that operate with the idea that all students are our students are the teams who see the highest level of learning for their students!

If you are an educator in the year 2020, you, along with countless others, have experienced many challenges and obstacles that you never dreamed of facing...a world-wide pandemic, school closures, virtual and hybrid learning, just to name a few.   These challenges have caused many to feel the strain of juggling new things, including learning digital platforms, teaching virtual and face-to-face at the same time, planning and preparing for both, and communicating virtually with students and parents. These current challenges even more so support the importance of collaboration and support from each other. 

As a campus principal, I have watched my staff over the last several months and have been amazed at the resilience and the grit they have displayed through these times.  I contribute this to the fact that my campus operates as a true professional learning community.   Professional Learning Communities stay focused on the Four Critical PLC Questions (DuFour, 2016):

  1. What do we want students to know and do?
  2. How will we know when students learn?
  3. What will we do when students don’t learn it?
  4. What will we do when they have already learned it?

Campuses with a collaborative culture know that we have to stay focused on the mission, vision, and collective commitments we have made to each other in order for all of our students to be successful and achieve at high levels.  This work is essential, and we cannot be successful if we are not operating as a high functioning team.

Part of working together as a team means keeping each other focused and holding each other accountable.  When one member of the team is struggling, team mates rally around to encourage and uplift.  We have to fan the flames to keep our fire stoked for our students, even when the winds of change and challenge blow.  When one person has too much on their shoulders, their fire will start to diminish.  However, when their team carries the load evenly, and shares the responsibility of all of our students together, the fire burns evenly and stays hot!

To keep the fire burning among your team, be sure to…

  1. Be intentional with time. Plan for and honor the time that you have dedicated to do the work. Set goals and stay focused with the time you have allotted to each task.   Time is of the essence, and we must not waste it on non-essential things!
  2. Continue to make collaboration a priority. Even if you cannot meet face to face, collaboration can be maintained through email, virtual platforms, shared documents, and phone calls.  Collaboration should be embedded into the school day, and it must be part of what we do on a daily basis.  It’s a non-negotiable and it’s an essential part of how we, as a professional learning community, operate. 
  3. Stay focused on the essentials.  Remember to focus on the right work. Identify those essential outcomes that we need our students to know and be able to do in order for them to be grade level ready.  Break your essential outcomes into learning targets and assess and intervene on the essentials. We need to prepare our students to be grade level ready and future ready, and we have to focus on the most important standards and skills that our students need in order to be prepared and ready.
  4. Celebrate together!  Set aside time to celebrate team successes and most importantly, the successes of our students!  Celebrations may look different right now (virtual awards ceremonies, notes of affirmation, treats delivered to classrooms), but we have to celebrate and recognize the outstanding work we have all done...together!

We will come through these challenging times stronger, because we are facing it together.  Nothing can stop a strong team that is relentlessly focused on doing the work of a professional learning community.  Just keep your fire stoked, and the flames will continue to burn brightly!

 

Reference:
DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., Many, T. W., & Mattos, M. (2016). Learning by doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work (3rd ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

 

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