What if we valued teacher teams as much as sports and music teams? How often does your school football team practice? How often does your band or orchestra rehearse? How often do your teams of teachers rehearse and practice together? Do you even think of your teachers as collectives of teams? School transformation will happen when we commit to rehearsal and practice.
On Friday, February 17, Jill Gough and Bo Adams worked with The Randolph School faculty to share the story of PLC (Professional Learning Community) development at The Westminster Schools’ Junior High, as well as to facilitate a small piece of Randolph’s continuing, multi-year efforts to transform their school with the PLC ethos. Below, Bo and Jill have embedded the slide deck that they used during the Friday morning keynote. As usual, though, a slide deck cannot capture the rich conversations and invaluable discussions that surround and permeate professional work based on shared experience.
Randolph has been piloting PLCs for two years, and they are making formidable steps to enhance their teacher teaming and learner strategizing. Westminster and Randolph are imagining different ways to stretch time and embed regular teaming. There is no one-size-fits-all structural approach to PLCs, but there are universal ideas and questions that must guide our work:
3 Big Ideas:
- Learning is the focus.
- Collaboration is the culture.
- Results guide our decisions.
4 Key Questions:
- What should be learned?
- How will we know if “they” have learned?
- What will we do if “they” already know it?
- What will we do if “they” aren’t learning?
What a privilege and bright spot it is to collaborate among schools and learn with and from each other. Could our institutions and organizations actually stretch the PLC ethos to include more such collaboration among our schools? Could we model being PLCs among schools, like we model forming PLCs among our adult learners?
[Cross-posted at Experiments in Learning by Doing]
Working to understand better the functions and processes of PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) – this is a constant pursuit and area of deep investigation and learning for me. I am coming to believe, more and more, that high-functioning PLCs are like some hybrid-cross consisting of the following parts: chefs, surgical teams, and jazz musicians.
The three TED talks below are interesting and intriguing in their own, content-specific right. However, I think all three offer metaphorical meta-lessons about the nature of PLCs – teams of teachers working to learn with each other for the ultimate purpose of enhanced student learning. All three TED talks, when woven together into a common braid, speak to the power of CREATING SOMETHING NEW AS A TEAM. Great PLCs are like the innovative team of chefs at Moto – stretching concept and experimenting for fulfilling and engaging one’s appetite and taste buds (analogous to quenching the thirst for knowledge and wisdom). Great PLCs are like the collaborating surgeons who have discovered that luminescent dyes can be employed to light-up that which needs to be preserved and that which needs to be cut out (analogous to curriculum re-design and systemic formative assessment practices). Great PLCs are like the improvisational harmony of a jazz quartet that measures their successes by their level of responsiveness rather than by any sort of fixed-mindset worrying about mistakes (analogous to the thoughtful development of teamwork and use of RTI – response to intervention). Collectively, the three talks also point to the balance of art and science that seems essential to crafting the alloy which is a team of people working together to CREATE.
The Creation Project
This past semester, the English 7 team of the Junior High PLC developed a student-learning challenge about the nature of creation and creativity. This team of teachers acted in that careful blend of artists and scientists, and they utilized the professional practices of lesson study and instructional rounds to develop a common lesson and common assessment for their classes of English. Instead of simply sitting and being consumers of creation-archetype understanding, the students would become world creators themselves. [This reminds me of a recent post from Jonathan Martin: “Fab Labs and Makerbots: ‘Turning Consumers into Creators’ at our School.” Who knows…this may even partially inspire the next iteration of the world creations described below!]
Below you can find a Scribd document that provides more details about the learning challenge created by this team of teacher-learners. To me, they behaved something like that team of innovative chefs at Moto…that team of integrated-thinking surgeons pioneering the use of luminescent surgery…that team of improvisationally-responsive jazz musicians. This team of teachers is creating together in harmony – they are prototyping a product, as well as a process for using lesson study and instructional rounds to derive a better dish, a more successful surgery, a more beautiful harmony. They are innovating and creating. This stretch will provide potential for a further stretch next time. Their muscles are learning to work this way – a way that has been foreign to egg-crate culture schools for far too long.
“I’m passing along the “nuts and bolts” of our “What in the World?” Creativity Project, which is the product of our collaborative work in the 7th PLT…what a gift!”
What In the World – Creation Project (used with permission)
Peer Visit – Mackey visit from Snyder 11-16-11 (used with permission)
I am working on a blog post about this Creation Project – from the principal’s point of view. I plan to include the actual assignment document, and I am hoping to have a few more artifacts that point to ways that we (teachers, educators, etc.) can work on “teachers working in teams” and “integrated studies.” I think your peer visit serves as a superb artifact of how ideas and lessons can “seep” and “ooze” across disciplinary borders when teachers visit each other’s classrooms. [Brief backstory (from email to teacher requesting permission to use this peer visit)]
Now, we have a teacher of the subject of history interacting with a teacher of the subject of English. What interconnected learning and integrated studies might emerge from this seed? In other areas, we have World Cultures teachers teaming with Science 6 teachers to create a semester learning-challenge on global climate change in various world regions. We have PE and biology teachers crafting ideas of courses devoted to the understanding of the human body from an integrated approach through anatomy and exercise physiology.
We have distributed R&DIY “culinary, jazz-fusion luminescence” developing among our learners – teachers and students. Those are ideas worth spreading. Additionally, those teachers are inspiring me to think about the worlds that I would contribute to making. Hmmm….
Listening. Responding. Refusing to bully one’s ways. Pulling ideas. Improvising. Innovating. Working with the color and emotional palette. Collaborating in concert with one’s team and one’s band. Making beautiful music. [Watch the TED below, and more of those phrases may be put into greater context.]
I think a lot about what school could be like. I love school. I have always loved school. But I think school can be better.
This morning, I viewed the four TED talks that were awaiting me in my RSS reader:
- Luis von Ahn: Massive-scale online collaboration
- Cheryl Hayashi: The magnificence of spider silk
- Yoav Medan: Ultrasound surgery — healing without cuts
- Stefon Harris: There are no mistakes on the bandstand
I learned about “Captchas,” and I learned about spider-silk biomimicry. I learned about MRI-focused ultrasound for non-invasive surgery, and I learned about jazz improv. But I learned about so much more than just these things. As a whole, I learned about people working to make things better…to make things more beautiful. From the whole, I learned some meta-lessons about innovation and improvisation.
When will school reflect the ideas that Stefon Harris espouses in his talk? When might we see the only “mistakes” in school as those moments which reveal that we failed to respond as deep listeners? Where are these types of innovations and improvs happening in order to enhance schools in ways that we are working to enhance language translation, armor and connective fibers, medical procedures, and jazz music? Where is the real R&D? Where are the jam sessions? Rest assured, there are some! There must be more!
I believe teacher teams – PLCs (professional learning communities) – can function very much like that quartet that is playing with Stefon Harris. I have been blessed to be a part of such a team in the Junior High at Westminster for quite some time. But we might need to think of ourselves less as pianists, drummers, bassists, and vibraphone-ists – less like history teachers, math teachers, science teachers, and English teachers. We may need to think of ourselves more like a quartet…a band – more like teachers of children, problem-finders and problem-solvers, innovators and improvisationalists, and challenge-facers. Then, our efforts could begin to work more like pulling ideas and listening and responding. And we administrators should be making space and time for such work. We should not restrict with regulations. We should be more concerned with pedagogy and practice than with lawsuits and legal. We should facilitate – make easier to accomplish.
Schools that operated as such would not make mistakes on the bandstand – we would make music!
How would you listen and respond to this riff? What would you add to this palette of thinking? Will you play an E or an F#? How will I consequently listen and respond? Let’s make schools better…let’s tune them to create more beautiful music!
Can we play together? Wanna jam?
I continue to return for focused re-reading of sections from a New Yorker article by Atul Gawande entitled, “Personal Best.” The article is a deep, personal reflection and contemplation of the power of coaching – employing a trusted mentor to provide “outside eyes and ears” in order to improve one’s performance. Gawande makes the point that many professional athletes utilize coaches; however, most of the other professions fail to use coaches at a systemic level. His reflection, as a surgeon committed to improving in his art and science, provides a compelling look at how we all would benefit from targeted coaching and a commitment to the growth mindset.
This morning, I wonder if TEAM TEACHING is such a favorable and valuable experience because of the aspect of co-coaching that can happen when educators team up to guide a classroom of learners. I team teach with Jill Gough. We team teach Synergy 8, and we co-facilitate many of the PLC efforts at our school. We also provide PD for schools and organizations around the country. We continuously coach one another, and I know I learn immeasurably from the debriefs and post-activity reflections that we commit to completing. Recently, I have also watched Clark Meyer and Peyten Dobbs engage team teaching for two, combined sections of Writing Workshop: Environmental Studies. And just yesterday, I heard a teacher new to our school say that she had combined classes with another teacher, and they were likely never to go back to single sections – they were learning so much from each other, and they were seeing so much enhanced learning for the students, now able to learn with two, interactive guides.
In challenging economic times even, I will continue to make the case that schools should do everything they can to provide job-embedded team time for teachers, as well as opportunities for team teaching. Gawande summarizes why…
Coaching done well may be the most effective intervention designed for human performance.
And the existence of a coach requires an acknowledgment that even expert practitioners have significant room for improvement. (p.9)