The First Step to Supporting Professional Learning Teams

An interesting question landed in my inbox the other day.

The author — charged with supporting principals in a district working to make meaningful collaboration happen in every grade level and in every school — asked, “What is the biggest mistake that you see the principals of professional learning communities making over and over again?

My answer:  The biggest mistake that I see principals in #atplc schools make over and over again is failing to recognize that the learning teams in their buildings are JUST as diverse as the kids in their classrooms.  Each team brings unique sets of collaborative strengths and weaknesses to the table — and each team is ready to tackle different collaborative tasks at different times.

Successful leadership in a professional learning community, then, depends on the ability of a building principal to provide differentiated support for teams who are at different points in their collaborative journey.

Recognizing the important role that differentiation had to play in supporting professional learning teams, Parry Graham — the coauthor of my two books on supporting professional learning communities (see here and here) — and I worked to articulate six different stages of team development in an article for the National Staff Development Council.  You can read about those stages here:

One Step at a Time

We also worked to clarify some of the steps that building principals can take to support teams at each of the six developmental stages.  You can learn more about those strategies in this table:

Table – Word

Table – PDF

Finally, effectively supporting learning teams depends on having a good sense of where each team in a building currently stands.  Principals should constantly track teams, reflecting on where they are developmentally.  This simple handout can be used to make that tracking easier.

Any of this make sense?  More importantly, do you think any of this is helpful?


Related Radical Reads:

Five Resources for School Leaders Starting PLCs from Scratch

The Stages of #atplc Development

Suggestion for New #atplc Schools: Don’t Skip Vision and Values Statements

Three Blogs You Should Start Reading Right Now

One of my favorite rituals is sitting down every Friday night or Saturday morning and working through my feed reader.

There, the recent posts of a hundred digital friends wait — ready to challenge me, to inspire me or to make me think.  Inevitably, I smile and laugh and wonder my way through fifteen or twenty posts, lost to the world  and wrapped in thoughts.  I leave as many comments as I can — wanting the writers who give so freely to know that their contributions matter and that I am listening.


Committed to the notion that vibrant digital spaces depend on celebrating the folks who create the content that we consume, I’ve decided to start spotlighting three blogs a month here on the Radical.  I figure that calling out the minds that move me is a great way to say thank you while spreading fantastic ideas all at the same time.

Here’s the first three blogs that all y’all ought to start reading right now:

Scripted Spontaneity is the blog of eighth grade science teacher and former marine biologist Paul Cancellieri.  What I love about Paul’s blog is that it is eclectic.  You are just as likely to find intriguing views on #edtech integration as you are to find practical reflections on classroom assessment practices or educational policy.  Paul writes in relaxed, approachable language and always leaves me challenged.

Philip Cummings is the eponymous blog of — you guessed it — sixth grade language arts teacher Philip Cummings!  Philip is on a professional tear this year, tinkering with Chief Instagram Officers and ELA Quads in his classroom.  He is constantly sharing instructional practices that I want to try.  Better yet, he writes with refreshing honesty about the emotions that often define the work teachers do on a daily basis.

Teacher with a Passport is the blog of Josh Curnett — who teaches English at the Singapore American School.  Josh is — without a doubt — the best pure writer in my stream, churning out posts that are a ton of fun to read.  Whether he’s comparing the fundamentals of teaching to learning the fundamentals of bunting from chain-smoking dads in the 80s or using a circle of desks to comment on the challenges of changing schools, Josh’s posts are nothing short of a beautiful read.


Related Radical Reads:

Do We Value People, or Just the Content they Create?

The Digital Equivalent of Strip Malls

So Much More than a Learning Network


More on Thom Tillis and his “Historic Raises” for NC Teachers.

In an effort to raise a bit of awareness about the state of teaching salaries in North Carolina, I wrote a bit on the Radical last weekend titled The Truth about Thom Tillis and North Carolina’s “Historic” Teacher Raises.

A reader calling themselves TW27 stopped by to let me know that my piece was garbage:

But I guess it doesn’t matter that the Democrats didn’t give teachers a raise at all in 4 years? Give credit where some credit is due. The piece is garbage when you clearly have a slant and can’t be objective.  Where are your solutions? Anyone can point out our problems, but I don’t see many solutions being offered. The Dems didn’t offer much up in those 4 years.

Now let me make something perfectly clear:  I’m not ready to let any politician — regardless of party — off the hook for systematically screwing up education.  Heck, I’ve slammed Arne Duncan enough times in the last six years (see here, here, here, here and here) to prove that I don’t suffer left-leaning fools lightly either.

But the central point in my previous piece stands:  A look at the numbers proves that the recent raises given to North Carolina’s teachers are far from”historic” and “the largest in a generation” — terms that Tillis is touting on the campaign trail.

In fact, the raises given to North Carolina’s teachers would probably be more accurately described as:

  • “Better than nothing,” or…
  • “A drop in the bucket,” or…
  • “Getting teachers back to just SEVEN percent less than they used to make before their salaries were frozen for the better part of a decade.”

And given the sketchy nature of the funding sources that are being used to float our nifty new budget, the raises given to North Carolina’s teachers could also be more accurately described as:

  • “Somewhere in that silly financial gray area between temporary and permanent that politicians love to live in,” or…
  • “A huge political gamble,” or….
  • “Damn near crippling to every other social service agency that serves the poor in North Carolina.”

Heck, I’d even be happy with:

  • “A small but important step in the right direction,” or…
  • “Not nearly enough, but the best we can do right now,” or…
  • “An honest attempt to show North Carolina’s teachers that we ARE trying and that we DO care.”

The question that voters need to ask is why ISN’T Tillis using that kind of language to describe the raises given to teachers?  Why is he peddling loaded terms like “historic” and “the largest in a generation?”  Why is he pushing the notion that the recent raises make North Carolina “regionally and nationally competitive” when the AVERAGE teacher nationally is paid $56,000 while the TOP of North Carolina’s new pay scale is $50,000?




Related Radical Reads:

The Simple Truth About Thom Tillis and North Carolina’s “Historic” Teacher Raises

Arne Duncan is Just Plain Clueless

Bam and Arne Get it Wrong Again


The Truth about Thom Tillis and North Carolina’s “Historic” Teacher Raises

In what is likely to be a race that decides the composition of the US Senate, North Carolina’s Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan is currently running neck-and-neck with Thom Tillis, the Republican Speaker of North Carolina’s House of Representatives.

For those of you who aren’t from around here, Thom and his right-leaning cronies have been in control of both the North Carolina House and Senate for the past two years — and in those two years, they have worked to systematically gut public education while heaping never-ending piles of scorn on classroom teachers (see here and here and here and here and here).  Essentially, they have been following a recent trend in the Republican party of trying to bend public education to their will or break it to pieces.


To prove JUST how far outside the lines Tillis and his right-leaning cronies are playing, consider that most of their recent #edpolicy legislation has literally been ruled unconstitutional by our state’s Supreme Court.  That includes attempts to strip away teacher tenure, to give raises to just the top 25% of teachers in any school district, and to funnel taxpayer dollars into private schools — including those with clear religious missions.  When every piece of landmark legislation put forward by a political party runs against our state’s Constitution, we ought to be more than a little concerned.


Tillis is currently trying to win favor among North Carolina voters by touting his leadership in pushing forward a new budget that includes what he describes as “a historic pay raise” for teachers.  In fact, in a recent debate with Senator Hagan, Tillis argued that the raise was “the largest in a generation” and that it makes North Carolina “regionally and nationally competitive.”

Now, it IS true that North Carolina’s teachers were given a raise this year and Tillis WAS instrumental in making that happen — so Thom’s not TOTALLY lying to voters.

But to paint our raises in such a positive light overlooks some rather startling truths about teacher compensation — both nationally and in North Carolina:

  • The AVERAGE classroom teacher salary in the United States is estimated to be $56,689 in 2013-2014.  The TOP of North Carolina’s newest salary schedule for teachers is $50,000.
  • North Carolina teacher salaries have been frozen since 2009.  Teachers haven’t even seen a cost of living adjustment in their salaries for the past six years.
  • In real dollar comparisons, North Carolina teaching salaries have DROPPED by 15% in the past ten years.  That’s the LARGEST drop in the nation by far during a time when 23 states managed to increase teacher salaries.
  • The majority of the funds for raising North Carolina’s teacher salaries are being pulled from one-time sources (cuts to health and welfare programs, projections for higher lottery revenues, dips into state reserves), calling the permanence of the salary increases into question.
  • Even WITH the new salary increases, North Carolina will rank 32 in the nation in teacher pay — which hardly feels “nationally competitive.”

On a more personal level, the new salary schedule doesn’t look all that much better to veteran teachers like me:

  • After taxes, I’m pulling in an extra $341 a month.  While that is a nice supplement to my salary and I’m MORE than thankful to have it, remember that it is the first change to my salary in 6 years.
  • Given that Tillis’s new salary schedule only provides teachers with raises once every five years, it is also the last raise I’ll get for another three years.
  • You can decide whether or not seeing your salary change by $4,000 over a DECADE  qualifies as “historic” and/or “once in a generation.”

In the end, salaries aren’t what drives me as an educator – and they aren’t what will drive me out of the classroom.

What drives me — and what might eventually cause me to quit — is having the respect of the general community.  There was once something beautifully rewarding about being a teacher because you KNEW that people were thankful for the contributions that you made to the lives of kids.  Kind words, warm praise and friendly smiles USED to be the norm — and they made up for the low salaries that automatically come with public sector work.

But every time I hear Speaker Tillis bragging about his efforts to “pay our teachers top salaries,” it makes me angry because it is nothing more than a crude attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of North Carolina’s voters from a guy who once made headlines for giving his own staffers raises that ranged from $12,000 to $30,000 per year.

The simple truth is that respecting educators is the LAST thing on Thom’s mind.  He’s too busy trying to get elected.



Related Radical Reads:

What’s Good for the Goose, Mr. Berger

Teaching is a Grind

Thom Tillis Found $30,000 to Give His STAFFERS Raises


Tool Review: Kahoot

Looking for a fun way to review content with students in your classroom?  Interested in gathering a bit of formative assessment information in a nontraditional way?  Want to freshen a staff development session or a faculty meeting by building in a bit of audience participation and fun competition?  

Then you will be interested in checking out Kahoot:

Kahoot is a free service that allows users to create and deliver online quizzes, surveys and discussions in a competitive game-based environment.  As participants answer questions, they earn points – either as individuals or as members of learning teams – and receive instant feedback about their own mastery of individual concepts.

Users can join a Kahoot competition by visiting from any internet connected device — mobile phone, tablet, laptop — and entering a unique “Game Pin.”  After all teams have signed up to play, the game’s host can begin presenting questions to the audience.  Participants are awarded points based on how fast they can answer questions correctly — and after each round of questioning, the game’s leader board is updated.

Need to see an example of Kahoot in action?  

Then find a few friends and challenge them to play this public game that asks users to identify popular animated cartoon characters.  While it’s not an academic game designed for reviewing class content, it IS a lot of fun to play — particularly if you are a parent who has spent the better part of the past decade watching animated movies with your kids!

After you have finished taking Kahoot for a whirl, consider answering the following questions:

  • How will your students respond to Kahoot?  Will they enjoy playing?  Why?  Will you have them play as members of teams or as individuals?  Why?
  • How can you keep the novelty of Kahoot from wearing off?  Will Kahoot be as engaging to your students after they have played with it four or five times?
  • Does Kahoot have value as a formative assessment tool?  Does Kahoot make giving instant feedback about mastery of core concepts in a timely way more doable for teachers?
  • How can you increase the instructional value of Kahoot?  Would you ever consider having students create their own quizzes?  Why?  Can you find ways to make Kahoot about more than just knowledge-driven multiple choice questions?


Related Radical Reads:

Using Canva to Create Images for Blogs

Tool Review: IPEVO Document Cams

Should We Be Engaging or Empowering Learners?