I believe it is fair to say that we are going through a significant trial, and some may even say, a crisis.
Experiencing a months-long school shutdown was not something I had ever contemplated. In times of hardship, I often think, “the sun will again rise, the school bell will ring, students will arrive, and we can try again.” It was incomprehensible to think that one day, only three of the four would be happening.
In a conversation with some colleagues, somebody casually stated, “How do we focus on student learning during this crazy time? Nobody has written the manual on how to get through a global pandemic.” I would counter that a process exists (the PLC process) and also a library of manuals filled with information and strategies to get us through the toughest of times. Learning By Doing is one such publication that has been a tremendous resource for maintaining a focus on student learning. Our teams have found other resources that have helped us to maintain a clear vision of what is most important.
Just before the pandemic, I was named the new principal of a high school. By relying on the PLC process and a few of my favorite manuals, collaborating with my colleagues has been a saving grace. With constant change going on around us, most of it not within our control, we can rely on the PLC process and specifically, our commitment to the three big ideas of the PLC process:
- A focus on learning
- A collaborative culture
- A results orientation
A Focus on Learning
In addition to traditional in-class instruction, we have added virtual and online learning options to our schedule. Learning new technology and the implementation of these classes has been far from perfect. When we find ourselves getting overwhelmed, we remind each other of what we are trying to achieve—high levels of learning for all students. We rely on The Team Learning Process, a tool created by associate Rich Smith, and adapted in the book Help Your Team (Bayewitz, et al, 2020).
This tool helps us focus on the four critical questions of the PLC process and the actions our teacher teams must take to “gain clarity” for each question. Previous experience and the consistency of the work will provide our teams with a compass, guiding us through important work during a stressful time.
A Collaborative Culture
In Amplify Your Impact, Many et. al. (2018) states,
“When teachers collaborate in teams within a PLC, they improve their practice in two important ways: (1) they share specific instructional strategies for teaching more effectively, and (2) they deepen their content knowledge by identifying the specific standards students must master. In other words, when teachers work together they become better teachers.”
As we have tried to navigate through new territories of virtual and online instruction, working collaboratively has been essential to making great gains in a short amount of time. Countless mandates, policies, and the very nature of the school schedule were made known to us very close to the time school was set to start. Teams shared resources, strategies, and knowledge of the technology and together, they experienced the pains of the enormous changes coming our way. The collaboration was essential and a primary factor to a very successful (or should I say, smooth) start.
When discussing ideas of improvement, I repeat a phrase in my mind, “action, not intention.” For example, my workout routine (or lack thereof) is full of intention and not a lot of action. It is not uncommon for teams to identify and unpack essential standards, create and implement common formative assessments, and then completely abandon analyzing data and providing interventions or extensions.
Focusing on action reminds our teams to stay committed to the outcome. Referring again to The Team Learning Process, focusing on the results of our common formative assessments has helped us understand which students may need extra time and support, and if our instructional methods are effective. We found that allowing time in our unit planning for data reflection and interventions helps us stay consistent in knowing if our students have learned the essential standard and how to respond accordingly. Some of our instructional methods are both new to us and the students. It is essential that we rely on our data to understand what is working and what is not working.
The three big ideas the PLC process has given us the framework for any situation. Be consistent and committed to a focus on learning through tight implementation of the PLC process. Promote and practice a collaborative culture to become better educators and to hold each other accountable to what truly is essential to achieve high levels of learning for all students. Be inquisitive about what is working for the students. Focusing on results guides us to our next steps and provides clarity on what is working. With distractions and noise all around, it is easy to get off track. Stay true to what has been proven to be effective.
Education is full of challenges. What we are facing is not our first challenge, and it will not be the last. We are so fortunate to have the knowledge and resources of a process that works. The PLC process, the resources available, and what we learn from each other through our collaboration can be our saving grace through any challenges that come our way.
Bayewitz, M., et al. (2020). Help Your Team: Overcoming Common Collaborative Challenges In A PLC At Work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Many, T., Maffoni, M., Sparks, S., Ferriby-Thomas, T. (2018). Amplify Your Impact: Coaching Collaborative Teams In PLCs At Work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.