Tag Archives: handout

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.”


(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!


Related Radical Reads:

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

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New #atplc Resource:  Task Teams Tackle Document

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

One of the differences between teachers working in a traditional school and teachers working in a professional learning community is that teachers in a PLC engage in regular cycles of inquiry, investigating their practice together to identify and amplify instructional strategies that work for kids.

Fab Lentz

That “inquiry around practice” is centered around four basic questions that the teachers on teams answer together:  What do we want kids to know and be able to do?   How will we assess student progress towards mastering the skills we identify as essential?  What will we do for students who haven’t mastered the skills that we identified as essential?  And what will we do for students who are working beyond the skills that we identified as essential.

There’s nothing particularly intimidating about this work.  In fact, many teachers would argue that answering those four key questions has always been a part of what good teachers do.

But in order to have a long term impact on both student mastery and teacher practice, teams have to be deliberate about documenting what they are learning.

Without a long term record of the outcomes of each cycle of collaborative inquiry, lessons learned are simply lost over time.

To be deliberate, my learning team developed and then started using this form when analyzing common formative assessment results last year.  We dug it primarily because it forced us to move beyond simply making observations from the data sets that we were collecting.  It  also required us to define the next steps that we were going to take as a result of the observations that we were making together.

Here’s a sample of what a completed form looks like.

There’s a problem in our form, though.  Can you spot it?

While we are carefully documenting what WE are learning from the data sets that we collect, the form that we developed does nothing to encourage us to identify what individual STUDENTS are learning connected to the concepts that we are trying to teach.

That’s a problem, y’all.  If we are committed to the notion that every student should master the standards that we identified as essential, we MUST track progress by both student and standard.  Having a general idea of the patterns that we are spotting in our data sets can help us as individual teachers to improve our practice, but until we have specific lists detailing which students have mastered the essentials and which students are struggling to master the essentials, it is impossible to move forward in a systematic way.

So we’ve been tinkering with a revised form lately.  Check it out here.  

Did you see the chart we added onto the second page of the form?  It’s an adaptation of a form that we pulled from Common Formative Assessment — a fantastic book written by Chris Jakicic and Kim Bailey.

What we love about the new chart is that it forces us to sort our students into four different categories ranging from “This student hasn’t yet acquired the foundational skills/ideas necessary to master these concepts” to “This student has demonstrated that they are working beyond your grade level expectations and are in need of additional challenge.”

The reason that “sorting” of students is important is because each of those groups of students are in need of different levels of support/intervention.  While it is often easy for teams to name the students who haven’t mastered essential outcomes — most teachers can probably generate those lists before ever even giving an assessment — focused, timely intervention depends on understanding WHY a student hasn’t mastered essential outcomes yet.

Our new form forces us to think about that in advance.

Does this make any sense to you?  More importantly, does YOUR team need a new system for documenting what you are learning from the assessments that you are giving?


Related Radical Reads:

Common Formative Assessment is About Improving INSTRUCTION.

Ten Tips for Writing Common Formative Assessments