Recently, I had a long conversation with a client who is working to support several professional learning teams in a middle school. One of the questions that she asked was, “What’s the best way for me to know how to move each of the teams that I work with forward?”
My answer was a simple phrase that I heard my mentor and friend Rick DuFour use over and over again when coaching the leaders of learning communities: You can use tangible products to reinforce core processes that you believe in.
Here’s what Rick meant: Teams that are engaged in collective inquiry around practice with one another should always be working together to answer four critical questions of learning:
(1). What is it that we want our students to learn?
(2). How will we know that they have learned it?
(3). How will we respond when students don’t learn?
(4). What will we extend learning for students who are highly proficient?
To encourage teams to answer each of those questions, school leaders can require teams to produce tangible products. Here are some samples:
Teams that are answering critical question one might create overview sheets for every unit in their curriculum listing small handfuls of outcomes that are essential for every student to learn. Here’s a sample.
Teams that are answering critical question two might use a tool like this one to create a common formative assessment. They might also use a data reflection template like this one or this one in order to identify both students in need of remediation and extension OR gaps in their instructional competence that need to be addressed.
Teams that are answering critical questions three and four might create tiered lesson plans that detail specific strategies for addressing the needs of students who are approaching, meeting and exceeding expectations. They might also keep lists of students organized by need that can be used to plan next actions.
Requiring teams to create tangible products that are tied to core PLC processes accomplishes two goals.
First, it focuses the work of your collaborative teams.
Saying, “I want you to engage in collective cycles of action inquiry around your practice” might leave your teams confused about exactly what it is that you want them to do together. But saying, “I want you to make a list of three to five objectives that are essential for every student to master for your upcoming unit” is super easy to understand and complete.
Better yet, it gives teams a tool that they can use when it has been created — which makes time spent collaborating feel more productive.
Second, it gives everyone who supports teams — administrators, instructional coaches, specialists and special education teachers — a transparent “look” into the work of the learning team.
Unit overview sheets can help those folks to figure out which teams have a clear sense of the strengths and weaknesses of the students that they serve. Common assessments can help those folks to figure out which teams have a clear sense of how to develop assessments that are accurate indicators of student learning. And data analyses documents can help those folks to figure out which teams need help with which instructional skills.
Do you see how valuable products can be?
They give teams a direction and make it possible for everyone working around a team to find entry points for providing differentiated support and guidance.
That’s a #winwin, right?
Interested in other steps that you can take to support collaboration within your building? Then check out Bill’s two PLC books: Building a Professional Learning Community at Work and Making Teamwork Meaningful.
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