Category Archives: Professional Learning Communities

Rekindling the Commitment

Screen Shot 2013-03-24 at 4.32.29 PM

I think last year’s World Cafe reminded all of us that collaboration is hard and is often uncomfortable. A number of colleagues pointed out that Professional Learning Communities are as much about who were are as learners as it is about supporting student success. As one colleague admitted, “I’ve learned a lot about myself as a learner. Collaboration is not always easy – it takes time, energy and practice.” Another stated, “I learned collaboration is challenging, but it’s necessary to go through the process in order to create change.”  Snapshots from this Wednesday’s PLC continues to highlight the power of our cross grade level and multidisciplinary teams.  What does some of that work look like?

  • Teachers turned to one another to examine case studies focusing on effective feedback strategies
  • Teachers used a dilemma protocol to get past barriers for using digital tools to nurture metacognition in the classroom
  • Teachers shared shifts in shared language aligning to the integration of key concepts from Theories of Knowledge across the high school
  • Teachers reported out on the impact of peer observations during workshop lessons
  • Teachers highlighted projects that enable more individualized learning
  • Teachers showcased depth of student learning and reflection through revised portfolios

In short, teachers used PLCs not only as a means of accountability to “force us to keep commitments for change” but inspired colleagues to reconsider a practice, an assessment, a day’s plan for supporting students better.

The invariable chill…

When I was a kid, my brothers and I used to play this weird game on each other’s backs. For some reason, we found it absolutely hysterical. One would stand behind the other and synchronize a story with hand motions. “X marks the spot with a dash and a dot…” it would begin as we marked each other’s back.  “In goes the fork…” we would say as we pretended to stab, “out comes the blood” we would follow with fingers drooling down. “In goes the knife… out comes the blood.” On it would go, ending with spiders and cool winds blowing – and something made up –  then the invariable chill that always followed.  I bored easily from the predicted rhyme, but loved when they made something up to add to the story.

The plot of Graded’s Professional Learning Communities reminds me of this game. We’ve taken a structure used by schools all over the world  and collaboratively we’ve made something up that adds to the story of learning for educators.  The last round of reflections from this semester not only serves as a celebration of how far we’ve come, but the data maps clear next steps for us to tackle in order to ensure this structure serves teachers, and ultimately students, in powerful ways. (If you click on the charts, they will open a bit bigger).


Observation 1:  Although designed to support the core work of Graded’s school improvement goals, PLC’s are falling short  in terms of supporting all teachers in meeting expectations. 36%  of teachers did not choose into a PLC that aligned with the expectations for unit refinement. Where does the time and support come from to support the 41 teachers who do not use this structure for that purpose?

ScreenHunter_30 Dec. 04 17.57

Observation 2:  We’re making progress in two key, significant areas. 34% of teachers embrace one of the primary reasons our PLCs are designed specifically to cross divisions and find the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues from other divisions the most powerful aspect of this semester’s PLC work. This represents an increase of 10% from last year’s data. Additionally, PLC work is  applicable to classrooms in various ways. The greatest percentage, 22%, believe that their instruction has been impacted as a result of the work with colleagues. The next greatest category, 20%, explicitly aligns to our school-wide goals.

ScreenHunter_31 Dec. 04 17.58

Observation 3:  Graded School reflects a community of voracious learners, yet we still struggle with taking that learning to a classroom level in a way that impacts student success. 56% believes that their work with PLCs will impact student success within the next semester.  This data point, along with the feedback that teachers provided last year, serves as a clear rationale for year-long PLC groups.

Observation 4: Graded School reflects a community of voracious learners who know how to advocate for their needs.  The greatest need for support falls into three key categories: additional research, models and structures to track impact.  How can leaders best provide these resources so they are valuable, timely and are easily transferable to the craft in your classrooms?

ScreenHunter_33 Dec. 04 17.59

Observation 5: This last piece of data is a text analysis that identifies the 28 most important words that emerged in your responses focused on highlights. You can judge where its importance resides based on the size of the word. Assessment, Colleagues, Discussion, Sharing, Learning. Students/Teachers, and Tools are all elements of success for this semester.  The good news is that all of these concepts related directly to our school-wide goals on nurturing the conditions for collaboration, assessment and the integration of technology.

It takes time for a structure to grow deep roots in an organization. A mere eighteen months later, Graded’s multi-divisional and multi-discipline PLC structure is beginning to take shape. I never said it was going to be easy, only that it would be worth it. It is with deep gratitude that I read and reflected on the semester’s learning. I look forward to the next round with the same anticipation of predicting how my brother may change the story. Such thoughtful work will forever give me chills.