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The Benefits of Working With PLC Styles

Last week I introduced four professional learning community (PLC) styles that provide a framework for deep collaboration.

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  • Pragmatic PLC: Teachers who prefer this style want ideas and resources they can use tomorrow.
  • Supportive PLC: Teachers who prefer this style are looking for modeling, co-planning and expert advice.
  • Collegial PLC: Teachers who prefer this style love to share ideas and strategies while retaining some freedom to be creative and put their own stamp on their classrooms.
  • Intellectual PLC: Teachers who prefer this style enjoy delving into why things work, the research and theory behind new ideas, and how they fit with what they already know and do.
[/list] You can read about the styles

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What’s Your Professional Learning Community Style?

 

Contrasting Styles Add Spark!

What do you want out of collaborative time? Has your team ever discussed the best way to use that time? One method for understanding each other’s wants and needs is to explore four overall styles that describe different ways that teachers

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  • Learn
  • Communicate
  • Value forms of data
  • Benefit from support
[/list] While all of us can flex, and benefit from learning in different ways, collaboration is more effective for everyone if no one is constantly left out. 

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Does Your Professional Learning Community Have a Coaching Culture?

If your PLC is endeavoring to go beyond data analysis to deep collaboration that has an impact on student learning, establishing a coaching culture creates the necessary trust. What is a coaching culture? Here are some key markers, available as a handout at the Solution Tree site for my book Creating a Coaching Culture for Professional Learning Communities. Which apply to your team?

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  • Members welcome diversity as a tool for making better decisions and use a common framework to communicate more clearly and understand other viewpoints
  • Members can ask questions, share beliefs, challenge ideas, and disagree with each other as part of their mutual commitment to adult learning and improved student achievement;
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Are We Open to Finding Answers?

Before you read this, read Bill Ferriter’s great recent blog, Are We Asking the Right Questions?  He is spot on about the dangers of focusing too much on “right answers” when asking questions about what is and isn’t working in schools. “Why did this student answer this question wrong?” is a far different question than “Can this student use what we’ve taught to innovate in some way?” Bill points out,

Phrases like “what would happen if” and “why should we believe in” that play a regular role in the language of innovators and entrepreneurs are replaced with phrases like “do you know how to” and “what do you remember about” which do nothing more than emphasize the skills required to find the right answers to someone else’s questions.

As an outside consultant, I’m often struck by how reluctant or even afraid professional learning communities can be to raise, and then seek answers to, questions involving anything but instruction and testing these days, even when finding answers might improve student outcomes. !

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Genuine Professional Collaboration

Recently I overheard a conversation between two eye doctors. One was treating a patient who had had a glue gun malfunction, spraying glue all over his eyes. “Yesterday, cleansing away the glue went far better than expected,” the doctor reported. “but I had him come in again today. Now the cornea is clouding and…” He went on to describe his concerns and a possible treatment. My own doctor listened carefully, asked some questions, and called another doctor into the conversation. Together they raised pros and cons of various options and helped the attending physician decide what to do.

All too often, I find that teachers shy away from such collaboration. Maybe they’re afraid that they’ll be judged if anyone finds out that they are struggling with a student or a teaching strategy or certain required concept. Maybe veteran teachers are only sharing what is going well in their classrooms. Maybe they’re thinking, “If I were really a master teacher, I could solve this on my own.”

WRONG. My eye doctor and his colleagues have extensive advanced training, around 20 years of experience, and are each experts in certain eye conditions. Yet, they actively consult with one another. Don’t you agree that teaching is every bit as complex as medical practice? !

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Tripped Any Teachers Lately?

One of just a handful of early risers using a hotel health club, I was “in the zone” on a treadmill, my attention glued to one of my favorite movies on the television screen above the row of machines. Suddenly the image disappeared, replaced by a news station, and…I tripped and skidded off the treadmill. Ouch! A newcomer had changed channels without even asking whether any of us minded. As I brushed off my scraped elbow, I thought, How rude can you be? If she’d asked, I wouldn’t have minded changing channels, and I would have had enough warning to avoid taking a tumble.

Teachers get “in the zone” in their classroom, too. Granted, they can be in a rut, teaching in their favorite ways just as I stuck on watching my favorite movie. But how often do we force change on them without enough preparation, causing them to trip? We say, “Make it so” and expect them to implement something foreign–without considering how each teacher must adjust in order to make the change. Here are three anti-tripping tips.

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Deep, Level III Collaboration for Professional Learning Communities

Occasionally people ask me, “Aren’t you introverted? Then why all the co-authoring and co-presenting?” Because collaborating with people who don’t think quite like me increases my chance of heading in a good direction.

If your colleagues or staff roll their eyes at the mention of professional learning communities, it just may be that they aren’t engaged in the kind of deep collaboration that makes meeting time invaluable to all involved. In preparation for facilitating the #atplc chat # 16 on Twitter , I posted this excerpt from my book Differentiated Coaching: A Framework for Helping Teachers Change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2006), pages 53-55.

Collaboration: to work jointly with others in an intellectual endeavor. That’s the dictionary definition.

In my first career as a financial controller, collaboration was the norm. At each new job, colleagues shared computer programs, spreadsheet templates, and every trick of the trade they knew to get me up to speed as soon as possible. The faster I could carry my own weight, the better for all. However, collaboration continued even after I was competent. We had no choice but to collaborate, for many reasons:

  • We often faced unworkable deadlines
  • Many tasks were too big for one person to handle
  • Coordination among departments was key to success
  • We needed to share resources
  • Often, tasks required skills I didn’t have; I partnered with others who needed my skills.

Look back through the list; those same reasons apply to educators as well, yet few teachers collaborate. When I first began working in schools, this lack of teaming astounded me. I asked a friend, head of the world language department at a large high school, why teachers didn’t work together more. She said, “Deep down, many view it as stealing. It took me years to get the other teachers to share lesson plans. ‘Competent teachers do it themselves,’ was their message back to me. And finally, when they used something I’d created, students said, ‘Ms. Hartman, did you know someone stole your idea?’ I made sure my name didn’t appear on anything after that!”

In a sense, teachers seem to use a second dictionary definition of collaboration: cooperating with the enemy. They avoid it. Yes, there is a push for teaming, professional learning communities, small schools-within-a-school, and other possibilities for deeper team work, but let’s look at three different levels of collaboration and see where most teaching teams fall:

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