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Teachin’, Learnin’, and Coachin’ every day– TLC Conference Tidbits

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Teaching Learning Coaching Conference, hosted by Corwin Publishing, here in Indianapolis. Though much of what I gleaned from the conference was directly focused on instructional coaching, there were a number of nuggets from some of the keynote speakers that I felt would be great to share. Though I won’t go into great depth here, I will link to each of the books and resources available throughout the post so you may pursue further anything that interests you.

Bad Work, Good Work, Great Work– One of the keynote speakers was Michael Bungay Stanier, creator of Box of Crayons and author of The Coaching Habit. He was very funny and direct, which I like, and shared this idea that “everything you do forces you into 3 different buckets– bad work, good work, and great work.” So, he asked us to think about the impact we make with the work we do and create a sort of pie chart indicating the proportion of each that we find ourselves in. Here is the breakdown of each “bucket” so that you can do this activity, too. 

  1. Bad work: WOMBAT– Waste of Money, Bandwidth, and Time.
  2. Good work: Productive, efficient, gets things done– your job description.
  3. Great work: Makes an impact and has personal meaning.

Now take a second to draw a circle and break it down into the work you do. What do you see? Michael urged us to think about “that thing you want to work on” that gets you excited, fired-up, and raring to go and how the “good work” might be getting in the way. Check out this video about Do More Great Work. Interested? There are a number of videos on YouTube and links to his website and books are included above.

Wayfinding– Keynote speaker Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students, began her presentation with the idea of wayfinding– how people find their way and guide themselves to their destinations or their “goals”.  How do we help Ss find their way and give them signs or visuals to help them know when they are going off the path? Here is a quick glimpse at a few of her strategies:

  • Power of yet– shift from “always” and “can’t” to “not yet.”
  • Encourage students to write letters to their younger self– highlighting what they now know but didn’t know then.
  • Give them recognition that they already have “grit.”
  • Assist students in finding the gift in the obstacle.
  • When students hit the brick wall in the “learning pit,” that is productive struggle.  We want them to experience that and give them tools to work through it.
  • If we use “friendship” to build an “alliance” then students can begin to become leaders of their own learning.They will give teachers permission to push them because of the alliance they have built together.
  • Notice and name–offer micro-affirmations. In order to start rewiring the brain to see the positive, you have to be able to hold on to something good that happened for over 90 seconds. Try not to let your brain dwell in its negativity bias.

Want to know more? A quick Google search will give you loads of video, info, and more. Also, Jennifer Gonzalez of Cult of Pedagogy has posted a review of the book and more from Zaretta.

Student Voice– Russ Quaglia is the author of Student Voice: The Instrument of Change and is co-founder of Aspirations Academies Trust. Russ shared a number of statistics based on surveys and research he has completed over many years and has compiled in his School Voice Report. Take a look. Russ has also published Teacher Voice and Principal Voice. Here are a few statements he made–  

  • People feel heard when they hear their voice through you.
  • When students have true voice, they are–
    • 7x more likely to learn.
    • 4x more likely to feel confident.
    • 8x more likely to be engaged in school.
    • 9x more likely to have a sense of purpose.
  • I challenge you to… spend more time thinking about where your kids are going, not where they come from.
  • Students are the potential, not the problem.
  • Students want to know the relevance and connection of the content in your class to the other classes they attend throughout the day– not the connection to their lives outside of school.

Did you see anything that sparked your interest?  I apologize for this post being a little “link-heavy” and very surface level, but my hope is you will find a little something to look deeper into. 

Enjoy!

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Growth Mindset– Teacher Edition

My last post was about guiding students towards success with classroom strategies that support a growth mindset. This week, I’d like to flip the script and focus on supporting that growth mindset when you are an adult. What’s out there to help us grow and keep the right attitude when times get tough?

Grow your PLN— There is nothing better than turning to your colleagues for support. They’ve been there, maybe done that, and survived. Building your Professional Learning Network is one way to support your growth mindset. Lots of teachers have begun turning to Twitter for an easy way to connect with other educators. Join a Twitter chat which takes place on a certain day or time about a specific topic, or just take a quick dip into the never-ending river of posts. A number of educators have created groups through Facebook and other social media, as well. Want to know more? Check out this post on TeachThought for the rundown on using hashtags, chats, and more. Not sure where to start? Start following a few people that you know and then check out who they follow. Taking the time to read the person’s “little blurb” and check out a few of their posts will let you know if you are interested in following them. Here are a few Twitter hashtags to get you started– #TLAP   #lrnchat   #edchat   #edtech   #k12

Breaking the Mold– Look into non-traditional professional development opportunities. I just finished reading The Four O’Clock Faculty: A Rogue Guide to Revolutionizing Professional Development by Rich Czyz. What a breath of fresh air it can be to learn something new in a fun, informal, and relevant way. “Un-conferences” such as EdCamps have become popular in my district as well as around the nation. This style of PD brings to mind the idea that “the smartest person in the room, is the room.” Groups hold casual discussion about topics of interest– no presenter, no expert, no agenda. Think about visiting other classrooms to observe another teacher for ideas and strategies. Here at North, teachers that welcome visitors post pineapples outside their doors. Don’t be nervous– they are welcoming you in! Join a book study or even host one. Interested in some “outside the box” PD but not finding it in your district? Ask for it!

Work with your Instructional Coach– Your Instructional Coach is a great resource and is happy to find and share new strategies, ideas, and info– but that’s not all! One of the most relevant and powerful forms of professional development comes from having a few conversations with your coach and trying something new. Here’s what it looks like:

  • Identify an area of growth– what do you want to try, learn, or change? Think about that one class period that you drive home replaying in your mind. Or that idea that you’ve wanted to try but have just never implemented. Possibly that daily battle with a certain student.
  • Learn more about that “something new” by talking with your coach.
  • Improve your practice by trying out this new growth focus and seeing what you think. It might not be perfect the first time, or even something you want to stick with, but it was worth the try! Talk about how it went with your coach.

Notice Self-Talk– Don’t forget to go easy on yourself. Noticing negative self-talk can be difficult for us– we are usually noticing it from our students, right?! Try to stop yourself from verbalizing those negative thoughts you may be having about something you’ve attempted and flip that to a positive. Maybe think about a mantra that you will say out loud anytime you catch yourself like, “mistakes are proof that you are trying” or “all things are difficult before they are easy.”  I know it might sound silly, but a little positive thinking can go a long way.

Get Out of the Building– Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to learn something new that has nothing to do with work. Get out and try something new that does not involve your school, content area, or education. Stretch your brain! Look into a fitness or cooking class. Attend a movie night with a group each month. Sign up for a basketball league, art class or knitting club. Anyone interested in starting a group for “hopeless-adults-that-still-love everything-Harry-Potter?” The possibilities are endless!
Have some ideas on building and maintaining a growth mindset as an adult? I’d love to hear them!

Enjoy!

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The Growth Mindset Playbook– Retrieval Practice

I just received my copy of The Growth Mindset Playbook by Annie Brock and Heather Hundley and thought I’d share a few tidbits. This book follows up the much-loved The Growth Mindset Coach that I am sharing information, tips, and strategies from throughout the year with teachers at North. The feedback that I have received from teachers is that they would like to know the “how” of implementing a growth mindset focus in their classrooms. What do they actually “do” in their classrooms to support this idea? I came across this chapter and it screamed to be shared. Here are a few ideas–

Retrieval Practice– Brock and Hundley hone in on research by Pooja Agarwal and provide a few quick strategies to help support new learning. They say, “Teachers, Agarwal contends, are usually focused on getting information into student brains through the delivery of content, but often don’t consider how the student will get the information out later on.”

  • Quick Quiz– Ask students a few questions about the content that has been taught. This should be a low-stakes quiz, focusing on recall vs recognition, that also provides feedback. My instant thought is to use Kahoot for this, but I wonder if it would lack that essential part of providing feedback? Would another online tool like Quizizz provide more info? Or a Google doc/slide/whatever that students use to respond then get feedback from you and their peers? Brainstorming here.
  • 3-2-1– Many of us use 3-2-1s in different ways already, so think about using the format for an exit ticket. Have students recall 3 things they learned from the previous class period, 2 from today’s class, and then ask 1 question about the topic at hand.
  • Entry ticket– Exit tickets are pretty much a “go-to” when wanting to collect formative feedback from students. Try flipping the script and having students complete an entry ticket to connect learning from the previous class period, such as: connect to their lives or other content/classes, answer an open-ended question, solve a problem, or ask a question.
  • Practice Prompts– Here are a few exit or entry ticket ideas to get students thinking back to what they have learned:
    • Two things I remember from today’s lesson are:
    • If I had to explain __________ from yesterday’s lesson to someone who missed class, here’s what I would say:
    • Draw a picture that represents what we learned today.

I know that none of these ideas are really reinventing the wheel, but do keep in mind that utilizing those tried and true strategies correctly and consistently can lead to big learning. Want more? Check out http://www.retrievalpractice.org/ or check out these bookmarks from The Learning Scientists that remind students of quick strategies for retrieval practice.

Enjoy!

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Close Reading, Leveled Reading, & Reading for Pleasure Resources

We are now starting to take a look at all of our standardized-test data and thinking about what we can do to provide support to our students in those tested subjects across all content areas. So, here are a few resources, specific to reading, that I thought you might be interested in checking out– especially if you are not an E/LA teacher. Have a great idea to share? Let me know!

Close Reading– Take a look at this strategy for reading comprehension that is easy to use in any content area. Kristina Smekens, literacy guru, has a great website and e-newsletter for all things literacy. Close reading is one way to help students tackle a text by reading it 3 times. I know this might sound daunting, it’s tough to get them to read it once, right?! Don’t get discouraged. Take a look–

Image result for smekens close reading

1st– general idea, topic, etc.

2nd– vocab, details, should be using a writing utensil while reading

3rd– zoom out to the “bigger picture” such as author credibility, making connections to other reading/background knowledge, lesson, etc.

Imagine if all of our students were familiar with this process and followed these steps when reading in each of their classes. Not only would we be teaching them a skill to be used later in life when reading any materials such as, textbooks, manuals, articles, etc., but we would also be helping them to understand the text for use right then and there in class. I love the idea of having students become familiar with the glasses, microscope, and telescope icons. Tying that visual to the steps would help them remember the purpose of each read-through. Kristina even shares how to utilize this strategy when working story problems in this post.

Leveled Reading–  Recently on the office whiteboard, a teacher posted that she was using leveled texts in their world language classroom. Though we often think about this in E/LA classes I don’t know that it is common practice in other content areas. What is leveled reading? Here is a great explanation from Gay Su Pinnell on scholastic.com. Leveled reading is simply providing reading materials at varying levels of readability to allow for all learners to be sufficiently challenged.  www.newsela.com is a great resource for non-fiction content-specific readings to support your lessons. Not only does it feature articles that can be used in all content areas, it also allows you to choose the reading level of the text. I ran across this post by Larry Ferlazzo (@larryferlazzo) the other day that shares a few more resources that may be helpful when looking for leveled texts.

Book Recommendations for Tweens– I ran across this post the other day and thought it had some great suggestions. Check out BookRiot.com for posts, podcasts, and videos about books and reading. As we know, to get better at something you have to practice it– let’s keep urging our students to read for pleasure. Great resource!

Epic Reads: First 5 newsletter– Another Connect resource here. I believe I have encouraged you to follow @EpicReads on Twitter in the past for book recommendations and such. If your students aren’t using Twitter think about having them sign up for the First 5http://www.epicreads.com/first5/ to get samples of new and upcoming books in their inbox weekly to keep students reading. Or sign up yourself!

 

Enjoy!

Photo by Mari Helin-Tuominen on Unsplash

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Whiteboard Prompts & Chat Stations

One new thing I’ve tried this year is whiteboard prompts. Though the year has only just begun, I know this is something I’ll want to keep up with this year. Here’s some info on whiteboard prompts–

Whiteboard Prompts– On your classroom whiteboard, write a question or writing/drawing prompt for your students to respond to. They can write directly on the whiteboard (which they love) or can respond on Post-its at their desks that they stick on the board. This could be a great activity to throw into your bell work rotation. A quick Pinterest search will give you loads and loads of examples to choose from and use! Here are just a few ideas–

  • Content-specific prompt
  • Analyze a quote
  • Character-building
  • What would you do if…?
  • Respond to an image, song lyric, idea
  • Getting-to-know you questions
  • Would you rather…?
  • Here is the answer… what was the question?
  • Draw a pic to represent…
  • Jokes

The possibilities are endless! Want more information? Check out this post by Miss 5th. I’m not sure if she is the creator of Whiteboard Prompts or not but she has a great following of teachers using her prompts and sharing their ideas with her. Don’t feel limited to starting the class period with this. I can imagine some of these making great brain-breaks and a chance for students to get out of their seats. Got some great prompts? I’d love for you to send your ideas my way!

This week, on our office whiteboard, I posed the question– “What is one new thing you have tried this year that you will do again?” One of the responses that I received from teachers was Chat Stations. Here are a few resources from Jennifer Gonzalez at Cult of Pedagogy to give it a try in your classroom.

Chat Stations– The idea is pretty simple. Students move around the room from station to station having conversations with their peers based on the prompts posted at each place. This is a great way for students to get up, get moving, and  go from that “safe” to “unsafe” participation in class. Take a look at this video from Cult of Pedagogy to walk through the process. Here is also the post to read the what, why and how of implementing Chat Stations.

Enjoy!

 

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Badges/Brag Tags & Slides Collaboration

Badges & Brag Tags– Interested in offering incentives in your classroom but want to get away from giving kids more “stuff” like candy, small toys, food, etc.? A number of teachers are using badges and “brag tags”– virtual or physical stickers/tags that signify when a student has accomplished a skill, behavior, task, or proficiency level. Doing some looking into this idea, I came across this post on www.facultyfocus.com that does a great job of explaining badges, why you might use them, and how to get started.

Kasey Bell (@shakeuplearning) has a great blog post where she recommends a number of tech tools for getting started with badges. Jeff Peterson (@petersonjeffrey) just tried out  https://credly.com/ and was pleased with the end product, but said the technology was a little cumbersome. Though there was a bit of a learning curve with the technology, Jeff created a badge for each Essential Learning that students are expected to be proficient in by the end of the year. Jeff plans to use these “merit badges”  when a student reaches proficiency of an Essential Learning. He is turning them into stickers for students to add to their interactive science notebooks as they progress through the course. Though Jeff is using actual stickers in his class, there are a number of tech options available– even ones that are supposed to integrate with Canvas. Take a look at Kasey Bell’s post that was mentioned above.

I’ve also heard this similar concept called “brag tags”, which might be more prevalent at the elementary level. There are loads of resources, Pinterest boards, Teacher Pay Teachers templates, and posts online if you’d like to give a physical incentive vs. digital. A quick Google search will give you tons of ideas and resources.

 

Collaborative Google Slides– Last Spring I attended the Ditch That Homework workshop with Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler) and Matt Miller (@jmattmiller) where using Google Slides as an interactive way to lead a class period was shared. I have noticed that I love using all of the Google Apps but often struggle with utilizing the best part about them– the ease of collaboration. Here are a few ideas that Alice shared that might kick-start some collaboration and feedback in your classroom:

  • Feedback Loop– Alice demonstrated how she has students work on an assignment in a Google Slides presentation that is the “template” for their work. All students share the same presentation but add their own slide. She sits with a few students and provides feedback while looking over their shoulders and then goes to her computer and posts comments on slides for a few more. She repeats this process and attempts to provide personalized feedback to as many students as possible. She talked a lot about providing quality feedback and even teaching students how to do the same. Since the presentation is shared students can also leave feedback for each other. To get started, be sure to make a copy of your Slides presentation then share the copy (with editing rights) with your students. This can be done directly by inviting them to edit or making the URL accessible to them.
  • “Post-its”– Create a slide in your presentation that poses a question or task that requires a response. Then create an empty text box, change the fill color, copy & paste it a number of times. During class, students will then drag and drop a text box on the slide and type their response. The end result looks a lot like Padlet, but the comments button allows the teacher (and students) to push or guide thinking. Students can also be asked to comment on other students’ responses.
  • Polling– Want to ask a super quick question but don’t want to exit out of your presentation or use a polling app like PollEverywhere? Pose a question at the top of the slide and create a large text box for each possible response (such as “yes” and “no”). Choose an image or icon and copy paste that image a number of times into the slide. During class, students will show their response to the question by moving an image into the appropriate response box.

To access more ideas, step-by-step instructions, and templates visit Alice’s website http://alicekeeler.com/.

Enjoy!

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Beginning of the Year Strategies for Making Connections from Poor Students, Rich Teaching

I borrowed a book from a friend and colleague that I’d like to share a few tidbits from. They are particularly relevant for these first few weeks of school, no matter your student population or make-up. Poor Students, Rich Teaching: Mindsets for Change by Eric Jensen is full of classroom strategies for student success that he places under 4 categories: relational mindset, achievement mindset, rich classroom climate mindset, and engagement mindset. I’m still reading, but finished the chunk on relational mindset with a list of ideas to share. Image result for poor students rich teaching

As we know, building relationships with our students early in the year will lead to more positive experiences in the classroom all year long. Jensen says this about the “relational mindset”– “We are all connected in this life together. Always connect first as a person (and an ally) and then as a teacher second.” Here are the 3 big ideas from this mindset:

  • Personalize the learning.
  • Connect everyone for success.
  • Show empathy.

To put these ideas into practice, Jensen describes a number of activities and strategies to use in your classroom. Here are just a few that I found relevant and timely–

Name Learning Strategies for Teachers & Students– This is always tough at the beginning of the year, isn’t it? Check out a few of these ideas.

  • Introductions– have students say their name before asking a question or making a comment for the first few weeks of school. You’ll eventually tie the name with the face.
  • Desk Name tags
  • Alliteration– create a connection to the student and their likes by making an alliteration of their name (I love the idea of students creating these for you!) like “Chelsea chatty.”
  • Interviews– Partner students up for 2-3 minutes to find out something about the other person that is hard to forget. Each partner takes turns introducing the other to the class.
  • “Me” Bags– students fill a lunch sack with items that tell about them and their interests. Teachers create one, too. Share a few each day. Could be done with tech instead of using actual objects, as well!

Icebreaker Questions– Also check out this post on WeAreTeachers.com for a month of icebreaker questions to use with your students. The calendar is cute and has some great questions to help you get to know your kiddos!  

A Month of Icebreaker Questions for Kids

Cooperative Learning Groups– Another part of building relationships early in the year involves students working together. There are many structures out there for cooperative learning and reciprocal teaching. Give students the tools for a positive experience with a few of Jensen’s tips–

  • Allow groups to create team names, slogans, cheers, or logos for their group
  • Provide students with unique and valued roles
  • Create class norms for group behavior
  • Allow for some occasional down time

Showing Empathy– This passage from Poor Students, Rich Teaching really was a powerful one for me to read. Take a look and see what you think. I can imagine how this would “change the game” for some of our students.

“If a student is late for class, remember the first of Stephen R. Covey’s (2013) seven habits: seek first to understand. Listen more, and talk less. Before anything else (like a reprimand for tardiness), check for safety. “Are you OK?” Ask what happened without judging. Instead of reprimanding the student, talk privately when you have a chance. Say, “We missed you. Are you OK? Can you talk about what happened?” A lecture about tardiness is unnecessary; make sure students know you miss them and want them in your awesome class. This is what gets students to show up: when someone cares!”

For me, this really struck a cord. What would have happened all of the times that I reprimanded a student for doing something they shouldn’t have if I had approached the situation like this? He goes on to explain that many of the behaviors and reactions we see from students are a result of them not knowing how to respond. Modeling calm, appropriate responses and then talking students through the correct behavior not only keeps the situation from escalating, but teaches the student a life skill.

Enjoy!

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Brain Break Ideas– Minefield, Positive Notes, & More

I had the pleasure of leading some brain break activities at our Staff Council Retreat yesterday. Though I lead adults through these activities, each of them could easily be adapted to fit  your grade level and content area for student participation.

  • Minefield– This challenge is SO much fun! The object of the challenge is to get each team member or student across the “minefield” without getting buzzed out and without speaking. First, place thirty, 8.5 x 11 pieces of paper on the floor in 6 rows. Line up participants and have them step on the pieces of paper to make their way across the minefield. Only 1 square per row is “safe”. If participants step on any of the other papers in the row “buzz” them out– I used a free buzzer app on my phone. Participants get back in line until all make it across by stepping on the correct pieces of paper. Remember that NO TALKING is the only rule. Feel free to allow them to communicate non-verbally. You will need–
    • Paper–  placed in rows
    • Pre-planned “safe squares”– I drew a little diagram & made “Xs” on the correct squares
    • Buzzer app
  • Best Smile/Legs Contest– The name of this one is a little misleading. It is much more of a guessing game. Take a few pictures of teachers’ smiles or legs (I kept all leg pics below the knee & all had long pants on) that are cropped enough that you cannot tell who they belong to. During a quick break, have participants try to guess who is the owner of that leg or smile. It is just that simple! Have participants trade & grade or grade themselves. I could see this being done with celebrity smiles or cartoon legs, too! Supplies needed:
    • Images of smiles or legs labelled with numbers
    • Paper for participants to write their guesses on
  • This is Better Than That–  For this challenge, participants work in groups to rank objects in their usefulness in a provided scenario. The goal is to be as creative as possible. Here is the prompt that I used–

You started from a tropic port aboard a tiny ship. You and 5 other passengers set sail that day for a 3 hour tour.
The weather started getting rough and the tiny ship was tossed. If not for the courage of the fearless crew the ship would be lost.
The ship set aground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle.
Now you’re here for a long, long time and have to make due. Rank and explain the items from most to least important to you. Be as creative as you can!

After reading the prompt aloud, show the group 6 items to rank–  I used a plastic cup, 2 sets of chopsticks, a ball of yarn, a golden rubber duck, a plush Pokeball, and a bag of decorative marbles. Groups then split up and work together to rank the items and provide their reason for choosing that item. The responses will range from logical to creative and downright silly. Have group share their responses. You will need–

    • A number of random items
    • Prompt or scenario
    • Paper/handout for ranking & responses– 1 per group
  • Positive Posts– This activity was a great way to wrap up the day. I think it would be wonderful to use maybe within the first few weeks of school when students have just gotten to know each other. Pass out a piece of construction paper to each participant. Have them write their name in any way they wish in the middle of the paper (some will use decorative lettering, draw pictures, etc. while others will simply sign or write their names). Collect their papers and line them up around the room. Have participants then move around the room and write a positive note to each person whose name is in the middle of the paper. Once everyone has commented on every paper, collect, laminate and then pass back. It is great for participants to see the positive thoughts people have of them! Supplies needed–
    • Colored paper for each participant
    • Markers, pens, etc. for writing on paper

Enjoy!

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Welcome Back– A Couple Quick Tips

Here are a few small ideas for the beginning of the year. If you would like more information or help putting any of these ideas into action, please let me know!

  • Sub Tub— This is something elementary teachers may be familiar with– so let’s steal it! Create a bin/milk crate/tub that contains lesson plans, seating charts, and any needed handouts for those days that you are unable to come in and prepare substitute lesson plans. It’s also great to keep everyone organized and in one place for those times when you may have up to 5 or 6 different subs in your room!
  • Seating Chart Pictures— Just a reminder that you can print seating charts with student pictures on them. This is great for substitute teachers and for the first few weeks of school while you are learning names. Hop into Skyward after assigning seats; click By Seating Chart; Printer Friendly Listing and adjust the size of the pictures to your liking before you hit print.
  • New Student Bags— While you have all of your beginning-of-the-year paperwork and supplies out the first few days, place extras in individual Ziploc gallon-sized bags. You can even write a note such as, “Welcome to class!” on the front. When new students enroll or schedules change, you can simply hand the new student a bag with everything they need to start your class on the right foot.

Enjoy!

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PLCs At Work– Understanding the Big Picture

Last week, I attended the PLC At Work Institute by Solution Tree in St. Charles, MO. Before I fill you in on the conference, I’ll let you know that St. Charles is a historic, unique little place just outside of St. Louis. Our group really enjoyed all of the locally owned and operated shops and restaurants in the area. Though we stayed at the hotel connected to the conference center, it was easy to get the hotel shuttle back and forth to Main Street to enjoy the town’s offerings each evening. We dined at Trailhead Brewing Co., Tony’s steakhouse and Hendricks BBQ and enjoyed them all. 

Now, on to the good stuff! Our district has only just begun our “PLC journey” (as it was called throughout the week) so I came to St. Charles ready to learn. After hearing from a number of PLC “gurus” I feel as though I have wrapped my brain around a few big ideas that weren’t necessarily clear to me from my district’s initial roll-out of this concept–

  • Professional Learning Communities are a structure used by many schools to guide collaboration and ensure student learning.
  • The focus is on student learning. No matter what.
  • The 4 guiding questions used by a PLC are not an agenda but are the driving force of the work.
  • The work of a PLC centers around a growth mindset– students and teachers are always learning more and working towards success.

The presenters throughout the week said many of these points much more eloquently than I did here but these were my basic take aways. Overall, it makes a lot of sense why districts, buildings, and teacher teams would embrace this concept. It is a focus on student learning while working in a collaborative environment. In my mind, if you think about the PLC process as a structure, just like a structure you would use in your classroom to guide group work for instance, it is no longer another “thing” but a strategy. It is a way to guide collaboration of teachers with the sole purpose of helping kids learn. Presenter Anthony Muhammed said, “PLC is just a way of doing business. Think about it as the operating system for your computer– it organizes the work.” That’s it.

It is my understanding that there is a lot of freedom within form that wasn’t necessarily clear at our school last year. I think we all got tied to the 4 questions as more of an agenda and that limited the discussions that were had during our PLC work time. I also think that the connection between our work in our PLCs and RTI was lacking. In my opinion, questions 3 & 4 (what will we do if they don’t know it? If they already do?) were the “nice to knows/do” versus the driving force of our time together. Now that I have attended the Institute, I understand that a PLC structure is a way for teachers to work together to ensure that all students are learning at high levels no matter what skills they come to the table with. Though we need to be very clear on what it is we want our students to learn (which our district is working on right now through curriculum collaboration work) the real focus of our work time together must center around the students in our classrooms and how to get them to succeed at high levels.

It made sense to me that we would start thinking about “our” students as a group instead of comparing class averages that belong to the teacher. The idea is to find students that need extra help and give it to them– no matter who their teacher is. Here’s a taste of a few of the powerful statements that were made throughout the week–

  • “Are we talking about success for all or success for some?” – Tim Brown
  • “If you wait for kids to fail, they will.” – Mike Mattos
  • “They built this school so that students have a place to learn… not so that I can teach.” – Mike Mattos
  • “Are the decisions we are making right here and right now what is best for students or most convenient for us?” – Luis Cruz

As you can see, what really hit home for me was the big picture of committing to PLCs. My hope is that our district will send teacher teams to the conference in the future. More focused ideas from the institute to come. I will be attending a district training on PLCs next week and will try to share info gleaned from it, as well. Want more tidbits from the Institute? Search the hashtag #atPLC on Twitter and check out the resources at www.allthingsplc.info for loads of quotes, ideas, reproducibles, and more.

Enjoy!