Tag Archives: #atplc

New #atplc Resource: Building Consensus Around Important Decisions

One of the most challenging aspects of working in a professional learning community or as a member of a collaborative team is coming to consensus around important decisions.

The fact of the matter is that we work in a profession where we have long prioritized individual authority over collective efficacy.  As learning community expert Mike Mattos likes to say, our approach to the instructional choices that we make — and the instructional differences that we have — is most frequently, “What happens in my classroom is MY business.  What happens in their classrooms is THEIR business.”

Slide_TheseAreOURKids

(Click here to see original image and image credit posted on Flickr)

But if we are getting collaboration right — which means we recognize the value of using our shared knowledge to systematically study our practice in service of student learning — we are going to be forced into a thousand situations where we have to make shared decisions.

Sometimes, those decisions will center around identifying knowledge, skills and dispositions that are essential for every kid to master, regardless of whose classroom they are in.  Other times, those decisions will center around the best ways differentiate instruction or to personalize learning or to assess the progress that students are making or to sequence the content and skills we want kids to master before the end of their time in our classrooms.

Regardless of the situation, coming to consensus around important decisions — which leads to a measure of consistency in outcomes and pacing across classrooms — makes it possible for teams of teachers to engage in collective inquiry.

So how do you build consensus around important decisions?  

You have structured conversations build around three core behaviors:

Establishing Clarity — Beginning a consensus building conversation starts by developing a shared sense of the decision that you are trying to make.   

Identifying Non-Negotiables — Building consensus around an important decision also depends on having a sense of any non-negotiables that members of your team have before your conversation even begins.  By allowing all team members to state what matters most to them about the decision that you are making, you are more likely to brainstorm potential solutions that take the individual needs of your peers into account and to avoid potential solutions that have little to no chance of being embraced by everyone on your team.

Listing Areas of Agreement — Finally, building consensus around an important decision depends on finding common ground. Listing the areas where your team already agrees can give you a valuable starting point for developing solutions that everyone can embrace.  

When conversations are deliberately designed to establish clarity, identify non-negotiables, and find areas of agreement, EVERYONE has the chance to be heard and to have their core positions recognized and validated.  That’s the key to earning commitment to a shared decision.  Resistance to shared decisions happens most often when team members feel ignored.

Does this all make sense to you?

If so, you might dig this handout that I’ve put together to help teams structure consensus-building conversations.

Lemme know what you think of it!

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Related Radical Reads:

Need a Form for Analyzing CFA Data?  Try This One.

Reflection Tools for Teachers in a PLC

New #atplc Resource:  Task Teams Tackle Document

Lead Smarter, Not Harder Tip 2: Start Asking Better Interview Questions

About a month ago, I was working with a buddy who is a principal. 

He was frustrated by the levels of meaningful collaboration happening between teachers in his school and had reached out because he knew that I do a ton of consulting around the notion of professional learning communities.

“We are set up to function like a professional learning community,” he said, “but you’d hardly know it.  Our teachers aren’t studying their practice together.  They might share a few ideas with one another every now and then, but even that doesn’t impact instruction in our building.  How do you get people to buy into the idea that collaboration matters?”

Daniel McCullough

I surprised him by asking to see the questions that he uses in interviews for open positions.

He dug out his laptop and pulled up a list of pretty typical questions.  Things like:

  1. Give me an example of how you incorporate technology into your lessons.
  2. Can you tell me about a differentiated lesson that you taught last year?
  3. What are your “go to” classroom management strategies?
  4. How do you communicate with the parents of your students?
  5. What three adjectives best describe you?

“And I double check with references to see if candidates are telling the truth about the answers that are giving in interviews,” he said.  “If a candidate tells us something that references don’t support, I move on to someone else.  I’m not just hiring anyone.  I only hire the best.”

Can you see the problem here, all y’all?

My buddy is trying to build a collaborative culture, but he’s not asking a single question during interviews that can help him spot people who are open to the notion that studying practice with peers is worth embracing.  Instead, he’s asking questions that will help him to spot teachers who are successful individuals — and hiring a ton of successful individuals can cripple professional learning communities.

For my buddy, leading smarter, not harder means asking better interview questions.

The goal for interviews in a professional learning community ISN’T to spot candidates who already have “all the answers” to questions about technology use or differentiation or classroom management.

The goal for interviews in a professional learning community is to spot candidates who are reflective, who have a growth mindset about their own practice, and who realize that personal growth is a function of collective study with capable peers.

That means if we really ARE trying to create buildings where teacher collaboration is the engine driving instructional change, we need to be asking questions like these in interviews:

Tell me about a lesson that you have tinkered with.  What did that lesson originally look like? What changes have you made to it over time?  How did those changes impact your students? Your peers? Which changes were the most successful? Which changes failed miserably?

How do YOU learn?  More importantly, who are the people that you currently learn with? How did you meet them? How do you connect with them?  What have they taught you? What have you taught them?

What well-established professional practice are you skeptical about?  What is it about this practice that leaves you doubting? Can you give tangible examples of places where this practice has let you—or your students—down?

How do you determine whether or not a lesson has been successful?  Is a successful lesson one that leaves your students energized?  Is it one that students are still talking about weeks later? Is it one that results in really high marks on classroom or district assessments?

Describe a time when your instruction was deeply influenced by a colleague.*  Who was that person?  How did you come to work together?  How did they change your practice? Did their practice change while working with you?

If candidates struggle to answer these questions, move on — no matter how good their resumes and references look.

Here’s why:  Candidates that struggle to answer these questions don’t have the right mental makeup to invest in the collaborative study of practice that is the hallmark of a professional learning community.

And every time you hire someone who doesn’t have a predisposition to learning from their peers, you make it harder for collaboration to become the social norm in your building.  Sooner or later, you become a collection of individuals instead of a community of learners.

Jim Collins called this “getting the right people on the bus.”

The truth is that many principals trying to strengthen their professional learning communities are forgetting that “getting the right people on the bus” doesn’t mean finding folks with a stack of individual accomplishments.  “Getting the right people on the bus” means finding folks who see the potential in learning alongside their peers.

Does this resonate with you?  

If so, then you might dig this handout that I made that can be used to track candidate responses to collaborative questions in interviews.

Hope it helps.

 

*This interview question can only be used with a candidate that has teaching experience.  Teachers new to the profession might struggle to answer it.

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Related Radical Reads:

The Most Important Interview Question I Bet You Never Asked.

Out of this World Hiring Lessons for the Principals of PLCs

Lessons School Leaders Can Learn from the Pittsburgh Steelers

Simple Truth:  Collective Strength Matters More than Individual Talent

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be working alongside the super motivated educators at Solution Tree’s PLC Institute in San Diego. The goal for most of the participants will be to find ways to polish their collaborative practices in order to help kids learn.  Together, teams from individual schools will study everything from the core beliefs that support learning communities to the nuts and bolts of making collaboration more efficient and effective.

I’ll be delivering three different breakout sessions at the Institutes.  Here are the materials for each session.  Hope you find them useful:

 

Digital Tools Can Make Differentiation Doable

Slides for Session

If schools are truly working to ensure success for every student, learning experiences need to be customized and aligned to student interests, needs, and unique learning styles. The challenge, however, rests in making differentiation manageable. While few teachers doubt the importance of differentiating, many struggle to make customized learning spaces a reality. William M. Ferriter introduces a range of digital tools that can be used to track progress by student and standard, provide structure for differentiated classrooms, and facilitate initial attempts at remediation and enrichment.

 

Small Schools and Singletons: Structuring Meaningful Professional Learning Teams for Every Teacher

Slides for Session | Handouts for Session

The PLC concept resonates with most educators, but making collaborative learning work in small schools or for singleton teachers can be challenging. Participants explore four models for building meaningful professional learning teams for singletons and teachers in small schools: 1) creating vertical teams to study skills that cross content areas, 2) using interdisciplinary teams to address the engagement levels of at-risk students, 3) designing class loads that allow teachers to teach the same subjects, and 4) using electronic tools to pair teachers with peers working in the same subject area.

 

Our Students Can Assess Themselves

Slides for Session | Handouts for Session

In the spring of 2012, Canadian educational change expert Dean Shareski issued a simple challenge on his blog: “I’m wondering if you’re ready to let your students assess themselves. Not as some experiment where you end up grading them apart but where you really give the reigns over to them?” Shareski’s challenge resonates with William M. Ferriter, who has always been dissatisfied with the grade-driven work in his classroom. He introduces participants to the tangible steps he has taken in response to Shareski’s challenge to integrate opportunities for self-assessment into classrooms.

 

For more information on structuring high functioning Professional Learning Communities, check out Bill’s books — Building a Professional Learning Community at Work – A Guide to the First Year and Making Teamwork Meaningful.

And don’t forget:  You can read all of my PLC related posts on the Radical by clicking on this link.  

Session Materials – Solution Tree PLC Institute

Over the next few days, I’ll be working alongside the super motivated educators at Solution Tree’s PLC Institute in San Antonio.  The goal for most of the participants will be to find ways to polish their collaborative practices in order to help kids learn.  Together, teams from individual schools will study everything from the core beliefs that support learning communities to the nuts and bolts of making collaboration more efficient and effective.

I’ll be delivering three different breakout sessions at the Institutes.  Here are the materials for each session.  Hope you find them useful:

How to Use Digital Tools to Support Teachers in a PLC

For professional learning teams, collaboration can be nothing short of demanding.  Developing – and then organizing – collections of shared materials, making important decisions, and communicating with colleagues across grade levels and departments often requires additional time that classroom teachers just don’t have.

As a result, many teachers question whether or not the costs of coordination outweigh the benefits of collaboration in Professional Learning Communities.  In this session, full-time classroom teacher and Solution Tree author Bill Ferriter introduces participants to a range of free digital tools that 21st Century learning teams are using to make their collective work more efficient – and therefore, more rewarding.  Participants will also discuss ways that tools that facilitate collaboration can be used to make differentiated instruction doable.

Session Slides

Student Wiki Sample

Edpuzzle Tutorial Sample

Using Digital Tools Quick Guide – A series of tools for facilitating collaboration between teachers.

BYOD Quick Guide – A series of tools for facilitiating learning in a BYOD classroom.

Teaching the iGeneration Quick Guide – A series of tools for facilitating learning with technology.

#kinderchat and @mattBgomez – Oftentimes, participants in this session want to see examples of digital tools being used in primary classrooms.  The best source for those examples is the #kinderchat hashtag and Texas Educator Matt Gomez.

For more information on using digital tools to facilitate collaboration or classroom instruction, check out Bill’s newest books —How to Use Digital Tools to Support Teachers in a PLC and Teaching the iGeneration (2nd Edition).

Small Schools and Singletons:  Structuring Meaningful Professional Learning Teams for Every Teacher

The PLC concept resonates with most educators, but making collaborative learning work in small schools or for singleton teachers can be challenging.

In this session, participants will explore four different models for creating meaningful professional learning teams for singletons and teachers in small schools:  The creation of vertical teams studying skills that cross content areas, designing class loads that allow teachers to teach the same subjects, using electronic tools to pair teachers with peers working in the same subject area, and using student work behaviors as an area of focus for nontraditional learning teams.

Session Slides

Sample of a Student Survey as Common Assessment

Our Students CAN Assess Themselves

In the spring of 2012, Canadian educational change expert Dean Shareski issued a simple challenge on his blog when he wrote, “So I’m wondering if you’re ready to let your students assess themselves. Not as some experiment where you end up grading them apart but where you really give the reigns over to them?”

Dean’s challenge resonated with Solution Tree author and sixth grade teacher Bill Ferriter, who had always been dissatisfied with the grade-driven work being done in his classroom.  This session will introduce participants to the tangible steps that Bill has taken to integrate opportunities for self-assessment into his classroom as a result of Dean’s challenge.

Session Slides

Make Copies of All of Bill’s Student Involved Assessment Handouts in Google Drive

Nicole Ricca has developed a unit overview sheet for Kindergarteners that she is giving away for free on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Read more about Ms. Ricca’s work with unit overview sheets here on her blog.

Download Ms. Ricca’s unit overview template here on her Teachers Pay Teachers page.

 

 

 

 

For more information on structuring high functioning Professional Learning Communities, check out Bill’s books — Building a Professional Learning Community at Work – A Guide to the First Year and Making Teamwork Meaningful.

And don’t forget:  You can read all of my PLC related posts on the Radical by clicking on this link.  

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Related Radical Reads:

The Power of PLCs

Five Resources for School Leaders Starting PLCs from Scratch

These are OUR Kids

New #atplc Resource: Tasks Teams Tackle Document

One of the questions that I get asked all the time when I’m working with schools and districts that are functioning as professional learning communities is, “We get that we are supposed to ‘collaborate,’ but what exactly does that MEAN?  What does collaboration look like in action?”

The simple answer to that question is that collaborative teams spend their time working together to answer four questions for every unit in their curriculum:

  1. What do we want our students to know and be able to do?
  2. How are we going to assess the progress that our students are making at mastering the skills and content that we’ve identified as essential?
  3. What will we do to intervene on behalf of students who haven’t mastered the skills and content that we’ve identified as essential?
  4. What will we do for students who have mastered the skills and content that we’ve identified as essential before our teaching even begins?

To help learning teams better understand their work, I’ve developed a quick checklist of tasks that teams tackle when they are working on each of the four key questions.  

Check it out here:

Handout – Tasks Teams Tackle

What I love about using this document is that almost every team can find something that they are ALREADY doing, something that they are READY TO START doing, and something that they’d NEVER CONSIDERED doing.  The result:  Teams that walk away feeling better about the work they’ve done and excited about the work they are about to do.

So what do YOU think?  Is this a handout that you’d consider using with teams?  

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Related Radical Reads:

I Finally Drank the Kool-Aid

Drinking the Kool-Aid, Part Deux