Guest Author

Each All Things PLC blog post author has been personally invited to contribute by the All Things PLC committee. All contributing experts have firsthand experience successfully implementing the PLC at Work™ process.

Jacque Heller, reading specialist, Mason Crest Elementary School, Virginia

How Can My Child Get the Good Teacher?

What parent doesn’t want to sigh in relief as they read their son’s or daughter’s new class assignment and see that their child got the “good teacher”? But not every child can be in that one class each year, so what is a principal to do? Traditionally, we may fill the class roster with a few struggling students who really need that teacher’s expertise, then grant the request to the parents we know are going to give us the most grief about it or who are deeply entrenched in the PTA since they help the school so much. The rest of the students will likely do fine this year, and maybe they’ll get the “good teacher” at the next grade level. That’s the best we can do, right? It’s not that we don’t have love in our hearts for the student whose parent doesn’t speak enough English to request a teacher, the student who registers late because they’ve moved three times in two years, or the student who has five siblings in three schools and is lucky just to get to school at all. We care about each of them, but we have to be realistic when forming classes.

If that’s realistic, then we are perpetuating an educational lottery, and it’s time to change our reality. What if our reality was a school where teams of teachers collaborated and planned lessons together weekly, agreeing on a viable curriculum with all the resource teachers who teach their grade level? What if those resource teachers cotaught that viable curriculum and pushed into the classroom when they supported groups of students so everyone shared a common language and benefited from the classroom management techniques modeled by their colleagues? What if teachers observed their teammates and other teams in the building and reflected together on the experience in order to improve their practice? And what if, instead of answering parent requests for teachers, the administrators purposefully built a culture of collaboration in which teachers didn’t talk about “my kids” and “your kids,” but believed they are all “our kids”? That would change our reality from a couple dozen kids getting the benefit of one good teacher to every student and adult benefiting from a community of learners who share their knowledge, skills, and expertise.

That is the reality in a highly functioning professional learning community. It has been my reality over the last eight years as I joined Principal Brian Butler on the journey of not just one, but two elementary schools in Fairfax County, Virginia, as they transformed from a traditional model of teacher isolation to a PLC. When you apply the three big ideas of a PLC to build a culture of collaboration in which all teachers ensure that every child learns at high levels by collectively focusing on the results, you leave the educational lottery behind. It is hard, and it is messy. It is a journey that takes time. It is not an educational fad that will fade away after its fifteen minutes of fame because it is a process that ensures every student and adult in your school wins. We win when we all become better teachers because we are not left in isolation to do the best we can. The students win when whole teams of teachers constantly analyze their data to improve their learning and provide the supports or extensions they need. And parents win when there is no longer anxiety over any child suffering through a miserable year with “that teacher” instead of the “good teacher.” We all need that win.

Many players on your staff may be eager to work toward that win, but others would rather be left on the bench or standing alone in the outfield. It is hard for any teacher to leave the comfort zone of the way they’ve always done things and to trust their colleagues enough to be vulnerable and share their practices in a transparent way. Some players would rather take their ball and go home than discuss data that shows 76% of their class passed the common assessment while the other classes reached 87%, 89%, and 93%, but if we don’t have that discussion, the score won’t change. In a PLC, you learn it is not the score, but how you react to the score and what you do with it to inform your practice that matters. Building the trust necessary to have those hard conversations is where it starts.

A few years into our PLC journey, one of the teachers who had resisted the transformation said, “Change is hard. Nobody likes it. Even if you don’t see why you need to go through the change and you go into it kicking and screaming, you can find your way if you have people you trust pulling you through to the other side.” We know that trust doesn’t form quickly, and it doesn’t happen by accident. Teachers need time together to collaborate and build that trust. It can be done. Take this school year to look at the structures you have in place to provide collaborative time. Take this school year to look at the culture you have built. Take this school year to purposefully build the capacity of your staff to trust each other enough to engage in the difficult conversations. Take this school year to move farther on your journey as a PLC, and next school year you’ll have a different answer when a parent requests the “good teacher.”


Shirell Neal

What a very interesting article! At the end of every year, the teachers at my school create class lists based on academics, behavior, gender, and ethnicity, to create a diverse classroom. In certain circumstances, a student may be changed into a different classroom by the administrator.

My school does not allow parents to request teachers. My administrator hears “I want the good teacher” quite frequently. She simply smiles and says, “they are all good teachers.” I think that “reminding” parents that all teachers in our school are “good teachers” and reinforcing that all teachers want to ensure success for the students is very important. If there is a teacher that needs more strategies, then I believe it is the administrator’s job to provide professional learning to help particular teachers in need.

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Elizabeth Morgan

I remember growing up hoping for the good teacher placement. I would beg my mom to get me in the good class. Then the class list would be posted and I didn't get her. The disappointment. The first day of school was then dreaded. What I realize now is even when I didn't get the good teacher I got a teacher who cared, a teacher who wanted the best for me. I think sometimes that a teachers personality will always make them the good teacher or the bad teacher. It doesn't always have to do with thier ability to teach but the way that others perceive them. I see how PLC can allow this to not happen as often.
I agree that it will be difficult for most teachers at first because admitting your faults and discussing what you can do to fix them is never enjoyable! I worked in a school with teams but we did not plan together or share ideas. I would have enjoyed this and I think it would have helped me become a better teacher.
Thank you for the great article it really made me think.

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Rosalind Nieves

I really enjoyed reading this article. I strongly agree that the PLC approach to teaching can be beneficial to teachers, students and parents. Teachers can benefit by having other professionals to collaborate and learn from. Students will receive the same quality of learning regardless of which teacher they have, and the parents can feel confident that their child is with a "good teacher."

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Cheryl Larson

My school district started to do a book study on PLC's about 4 years ago and we never finished the book or did we implement it. I am one of those teachers that parents want their children to have but also have been deemed a "bad teacher" by other parents. The reason some parents don't want me is I expect students to have good manners, be respectful, be safe, and ready to learn. I run a very structured classroom which works for some students and not others. I find that the parents that don't want me have an unstructured home. Their children have no expectations at home so they find it hard when they come to my room. The principal made a point two years ago of letting me know when there were parents that wanted their children out of my room but nothing was said this year when parents wanted their children in my room.

The district I work for is also very small. This year their is one first grade, split 1-2, and one second grade classroom. The split classroom got all the students that were on the top of the class, none of them have IEP's, none of them receive RTI services or any other special services while the first and second grade classrooms got all the rest. It has made for an interesting year. There are some years where there is only one grade so the statement "our kids" doesn't work. How do small districts that only have one grade level?

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Beth Silverfarb

This was a very well written article. Every year the placement process is a struggle. From parent letters to teacher requests, it is a very complicated process. Unfortunately the current process has us as teachers judging our fellow colleagues based on rumors. How can we possibly know what it is truly like in a colleague's classroom if we are busy teaching in our own rooms?

The idea of using collaboration so that all kids benefit is wonderful. It really does lead to the "our kids" mentality, which is so much better for the students. Hopefully more schools will move toward a PLC model.

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john perfetto

A short article but informative. I do like the idea behind PLCs. It certainly creates a better environment for teachers in terms of not being isolated all the time. Collaborative teaching has far more benefits for both the teacher and all students. It has become an outlet for professionals to become better informed and more committed.

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Cory Delgado

Great article and all principals have found ourself in the parent conversation about preferred placement. The PLC process has made the conversation much easier to have. I honestly feel that over the past 3 years the process has led to consistent quality instruction in all classrooms.

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Stacy Swedberg

This past year my school took a brave step and stopped letting parents request teachers. With parent requests, classes were ending up unbalanced. The class with the “better teacher” had the more fortunate kids (less needy, helpful parents, and parents that requested), while the “not so great teacher” had the class with the less fortunate kids (needy, parents are uninvolved, and student had behavior issues). The community was in rage to find out they lost their voice in their children’s education or so they thought. As a parent and teacher in the school I would hear community members talking about my co-workers saying things I knew weren’t true, but that certain parent’s perspective gave my co-worker a bad name. Parents need to realize there are two sides to every story and professional teachers can’t tell you them.

We as professional teachers now make the class list for the next year, we take into consideration their academic scores, social behavior, personal needs, and the parent can fill out a form that asks for their ideas about their child. We then make the class balanced with the amount of boys, girls and individual education plans. This school year has been a breath of fresh air to have a “balanced” class. Plus our school just started implementing PLC’s, which have proven to be another positive step for the children in our community. Teachers working together for each and every child!

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David Mueller

This is a wonderful article and agree with your points completely. I teach fourth grade, and I have had third grade parents coming up to me telling me how much they hope their son or daughter gets me next year. I smile and nod but know that our school does not take requests and I have little to no input as well. I also think in my head that the majority of their decision is often on the fact that I am the "young" and "energetic" male teacher in the grade level. In reality, I truly believe my colleagues are more experienced and better teachers. This is not a resignation of defeat, rather an observation. I am not resting on my laurels however. I am constantly observing my colleagues and learning from them. I am absorbing their strengths and adding my own strengths to become a better teacher daily. In return, I work hard to share my knowledge and resources with them. They are particularly grateful for my technology expertise. If I could say anything, I would have us plan our lessons together weekly as you mentioned.

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Aaron Royer

Being a teacher who is engaged in PLC's and having a daughter starting Kindergarten this year I can really relate to this blog post. I feel that every school needs to be pushing towards the goal of implementing effective PLC's in their culture. When educators build these relationship they will find that they have different strengths to offer each other. I know this year our principal's favorite says has been, "We can't look at these students and say my kids! We need to see them as our kids."

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Betsy Toledo

That's exactly what's happening in my school. I have been discussing this situation with my principal and other specialists during our cabinet meetings. Teachers that have been in my school for a while have the "that's the way we have always done it" virus and don't realize that that's the reason that their scores are so low because they only use the score for grades. They continued recycling lesson plans without making any adjustments after they assess their students. We have a lot of new teachers and if we don't act soon they are going to get infected with that virus. I am going to suggest to start PLC meetings in my school. Our students deserve to have the good teacher too!

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Eva Hernandez

I presented a similar argument at ours at school board meeting with my administators present and they don't seem to get it. Instead in the last 3 weeks 5 students were moved by those same administrators into my second period class that now has 33 students while the "bad teacher" now has 16 students! Yet me and the "bad teacher are part of a Plc team writing common assessments and measuring In the same way. Both me and the "bad teacher" can't help but take this personal. So much so, that I don't see myself working at this school next year.

I am a very sad "good" teacher!

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