PLC Commitment to Learning: Collaborative Professionalism

PLC Commitment to Learning Pyramid

In part 2 of the PLC Commitment to Learning series, I will be discussing the true foundational piece of the PLC CTL Pyramid: Collaborative Professionalism.  Addressing the deficiency needs of any organization or team requires a common understanding of actions and values that guide the collective work and dialogue of those individuals.

Collaborative Professionalism is a re-framing of the idea of professional collaboration, seen commonly in the professional learning community (PLC) movement in education.  Andy Hargreaves and Michael O’Connor have done extensive research involving collaborative structures and effective schools around the world.  Their work was released in 2018 in a report from the WISE Foundation.

The reason collaborative professionalism is so fundamental to the effective and successful work of any PLC is because it defines the work and values of those who arePLC Commitment to Learning_CP Looks Like engaged in the day to day interactions of a PLC.  Collaborative Professionalism is about more than merely collaborating and coming together as a team or group.  It’s a normative process that seeks to change the behavior and attitudes of those who are engaged in collective work.  Collaborative Professionalism is about how people collaborate more professionally while also working as a profession more collaboratively.  This understanding is a fundamental shift in the thought practices and work experiences for most PLCs.

For PLCs to be more effective and ensure the success of every student, there has to be not only more collaboration among teachers and leaders but more professionalism involving good judgement, valuable data, professional and respectful dialogue, thoughPLC Commitment to Learning_CP Shifttful feedback, and a collective responsibility for each other’s results (staff and students).  Collaborative Professionalism looks quite a bit different from what many PLCs tend to exhibit on a routine basis.  Collaborative Professionalism looks and sounds different from professional collaboration (the typical description of PLCs).  A key feature of Collaborative Professionalism is the idea of “collaborative inquiry.”  This is the notion that effective PLCs have a relentless pursuit of equitable approaches that support all students.  The best PLCs treat this pursuit as a moral imperative for collective responsibility.  Moreover, the team embraces an “inquiry stance” as the fundamental approach to the craft of teaching.

While the idea of Collaborative Professionalism may sound good and few would argue bringing more effective dialogue and professionalism to the PLC process on campuses is a bad thing, there are some factors that need to be addressed to ensure collaboration and professionalism are both realized.  Two areas that must be addressed are collaborative leadership skills and the systems/structures in place to promote and establish collaborative professionalism.

PLCs tend to fail or exist in a level of mediocrity because collaboration can often times be more of a directive than an experience and valued asset in developing a culture of shared growth and responsibility.   To shift our thinking on collaboration and the professional qualities that must permeate such work, it is imperative that leaders have a deep understanding of collaborative leadership.

Collaborative Leadership Framework_DeWitt

For collaboration to be valued on a campus it must first be valued by leaders and effectively modeled for the organization.  Peter DeWitt has written a book titled Collaborative Leadership: Six Influences That Matter Most which proves to be a most helpful resource in guiding leaders towards a more collaborative leadership style.  In his book, DeWitt makes the argument collaborative leadership requires purposeful actions that enhance the instructional talent of teachers, build deep relationships with stakeholders, and builds collaborative/shared learning together.  Collaborative leadership is not about manipulation but rather rolling up one’s sleeves and diving in to the work necessary to build open communication and transparency.  Effective leadership practices set the priorities for Collaborative Professionalism to occur on your campus and builds the climate that supports such endeavors.

Finally, there are some essential structures and best practices that need to be in place for Collaborative Professionalism to have a fighting chance.  Collaboration is one of those things that not everyone embraces.  The teaching profession is still influenced heavily by an individualistic view of the teacher’s role in designing lessons, interacting with students, and addressing the day-to-day challenges that arise.  Simply announcing that collaboration or PLCs shall occur on a campus isn’t enough.  In fact, if that is all that occurs then PLCs are most assuredly doomed to fail.  Instead, consider the following as you build a culture of Collaborative Professionalism on your campus or in your district:

  1. Be intentional as a leader and take the time to develop a shared vision and goals with your staff.
  2. Identify group norms and don’t take it for granted that teams will just collaborate on their own without norms to guide their dialogue and collective work.
  3. Promote dialogue and relational trust.  This is best achieved when the leader models this and routinely engages in both with all stakeholders.
  4. Find time for teachers and staff to be collaborative and protect that time as some of the most sacred time throughout the year.
  5. Have a clear process for carrying out collaboration on your campus and commit to it.  Build collaboration time into calendars, agendas, and professional learning events for the year.
  6. Use a gradual-release approach.  Don’t be afraid to model what you want to see from your teams and engage more heavily with teams that need your support while empowering more effective teams to run with it!
  7. Move towards the roar!  Deal with conflict and don’t let it fester.  When you see a team that is struggling, be the support and encouragement they need and help them address the issues at hand.  Remember, it’s a moral imperative to collaborate!
  8. Give it time!  Developing a culture that embraces collective effort, dialogue, and values takes time.  Be like a rat on a Cheeto in sticking to the work but know that anything worth savoring doesn’t happen over night.

Part 3 of this series will focus on the other deficiency need of a PLC, Consistent Response.  I will examine how effective PLCs define their responses to student struggle and make those responses consistent and available to all students.


PLC Commitment to Learning: A Framework to Improve PLC Efficacy

Where is your grade level/department, campus, or district in terms of professional learning communities?  Do they meet because they have to?  Is it more of a duty than a community?  Is it more about checking off agenda items than engaging in deep, collaborative inquiry?

In the coming weeks I will be sharing about the components of a PLC Commitment to Learning framework I’ve developed that I believe can be a useful tool in growing the people and the work involved with any PLC.

PLC Commitment to Learning Pyramid

PLC Commitment to Learning_CP Looks LikeBefore any PLC can become effective, the deficiency needs of the team must be addressed.  This is done by ensuring everyone on the team has a clear and unified understanding of “Collaborative Professionalism” and how it impacts the entirety of the work carried out by the educational professionals who participate in the PLC.  Andy Hargreaves has done extensive research on what collaborative professionalism means and how it is a normative process that creates stronger and better professional practices.  Collaborative Professionalism is about how people collaborate more professionally while also working as a profession more collaboratively.  This understanding is a fundamental shift in the thought practices and work experiences for most PLCs.

PLC Commitment to Learning_Consistent Response EquationOnce the foundational understanding of collaborative professionalism is embedded in the work of the PLC, the other deficiency need of Consistent Response can be addressed.  Rick DuFour said, “Don’t tell me you believe all kids can learn, tell me what you’re doing about the kids who aren’t learning.”  A typical school’s response to struggling learners is not systematic, usually depends on the will and discretion of individual teachers, is marked by intentions trumping practice, and often times is no response at all.  A Consistent Response for any PLC is focused on student learning and even more so, student mastery.  Ineffective schools keep quality instruction & instructional time a constant while allowing student learning to be variable.  Effective PLCs have a consistent response that ensure student learning is constant with instructional practices and learning time the variable factors (depending on personalized learning needs of students).

PLC Commitment to Learning_Common Work Collective Teacher EfficacyOnce the deficiency needs are addressed, the real work of a PLC can begin with a focus on Common Work.  Common Work is essential because it is through the common, purposeful, and targeted work of a PLC that student performance improves but Collective Teacher Efficacy grows as well!  John Hattie’s latest Visible Learning Research tells us that Collective Teacher Efficacy has the greatest effect size influence on student learning (1.57).  It is this growth in teacher efficacy, competence, expertise, and confidence that brings about fundamental performance changes among students and staff on a campus.  The common work of a PLC has four critical efforts that must define the routine structures of the dialogue and work of a PLC.  I refer to these as “The Essentials.”  These routine structures build the scaffolds that allow for the development of collective teacher efficacy.

PLC Commitment to Learning_Common Work Essentials

The final level of the PLC Commitment to Learning Pyramid defines the realization of a Culture of Confident Learners.  Through the use of a defined learning progression and systematic strategies, the students and the educators in the school system begin to thrive.  Students shift from focusing on studying hard and pursuing a grade  to understanding what success looks like and how they can use various performance data to understand how to do better each and every time.  Teachers shift from focusing on covering material or standards to understanding the importance of collaboration with colleagues (and students) to best understand student learning needs.

EoL Progression Graphic

The PLC Commitment to Learning Pyramid is a framework designed to help move professional learning communities beyond the mundane and stale work typically associated with PLCs.  The framework provides a theoretical understanding of how to address deficiency needs within a PLC at the outset so that growth needs and cultural shifts in form and function can be realized.  In the coming weeks I will be sharing more specifically about each of the levels within the CTL Pyramid.  I hope the framework an associated resources provide your team, campus, or district the tools necessary to create a true Culture of Confident Learners.

The travesty that is STAAR testing in Texas

Well, today is the first day of the Spring 2018 STAAR testing cycle. This always begins a bit of a sad and frustrating time as an educator. This is the point of the year where our legislators, in their infinite wisdom, begin their assault on student self-worth and value. Image result for STAARIt’s the time where the state decides to judge the intellectual value of each child based on one test, on one day, with disingenuous and ill-designed assessments. It also creates the data they’ll use to assign haphazard letter grades of A-F on districts as if test scores are the be all-end all way to measure educational system effectiveness. This war, and my required participation in it, on the dignity of students is the worst part of my job as a public educator!

We have legislators who design accountability standards they were never held to when they were in school all the while they’ve allowed learning standards to be shoved further and further down system to where we have 3rd and 4th graders being held accountable for what junior high and high school students were expected to learn 20 and 30 yearsImage result for dignity ago. They give educators dozens and dozens of learning standards to teach at a level of depth and complexity that is unrealistic and unreasonable. To top it off, they make students with intellectual special needs take the same exact test non-disabled students do AND perform on the test at the same passing standard. This is insane and immoral!

We see protests across this nation (gun rights, abortion, teacher pay, the president) but until parents and educators unite to say “No more of this nonsense!”, we’ll unfortunately continue to be pawns in this political game of “public school accountability.” It’s time to give back accountability to local districts and trust the PROFESSIONAL educators to develop systems to measure student progress and performance. They know the students, the care and love for the students, and they want what is best for the students. It is clear our state lawmakers do not have those same goals or else they’d address this ridiculous accountability system we have in place and put the dignity, self-worth, and intellectual development of students ahead of political rhetoric that tries to conflate absurd accountability laws with student learning.

BTW, students have a great day and trust your training and learning all year and do yourImage result for you can do it very best. Your teachers and administrators (and parents) love you, believe in you, and we know this one test on one day in one year does not define you nor will it condemn you (if we have anything to say about it).

The Struggle is Real


I work with teachers every single day. I work with veteran teachers, new-to-the-profession teachers, highly skilled teachers, and teachers who are still learning the craft. Teachers most often feel confident about teaching the content they are required to teach. They tend to struggle more with classroom management/organization, classroom discipline, and providing for the multiple needs of their students on a routine basis. Another area of challenge for many teachers is allowing students to struggle.

Teachers by nature want to see students succeed; so much so that all too often teachers don’t allow students to struggle long enough to build deep understanding. Whether one calls it “productive failure” (a concept coined by Dr. Manu Kapur) or “growth mindset” (Carol Dweck) or something I like to refer to as “effort creates ability”, giving student time to struggle is a challenging instructional concept for many teachers.

Allowing students to struggle is different from intervening with struggling students. We know students will come to us with learning gaps. In education, we tend to think of struggling as something we need to eliminate or remove from the equation of learning for a student. In fact, if you do a Google search on “helping students struggle” you will find pages and pages of links to help the “struggling student”. We know we have students who struggle to learn and reducing the learning gaps that cause that kind of struggle is necessary. However, the purpose of this article is to help educators think about how they can build “struggle” into the learning process in order to help all students build knowledge, competency, and confidence in their academic pursuits.

Letting students struggle has some very important, and lasting, effects on students. Students who are given time to struggle with content, concepts, and critical thinking benefit by:

  1. orienting students to a focus on learning over knowing
  2. engaging in challenging tasks that help the brain make new connections and, thus, become smarter
  3. seeing how a “work hard and get smart” approach allows them to overcome many challenges
  4. learning that is easy isn’t usually a good use of their time
  5. developing a sense of academic pride and self-confidence in tackling and resolving challenging problems
  6. seeing the value in embracing mistakes instead of avoiding and covering up mistakes as a necessary part of learning
  7. gaining motivation and interest in the learning process as they seek solutions to mistakes and unknowns

Allowing students to struggle in the learning process promotes the process of studentsimage working hard at reasoning through challenging problems in order to gain new knowledge and understanding. The process of struggling will oftentimes include failure as students try out new thinking and apply prior learning to novel experiences. Students need to engage in difficult experiences where solutions and answers don’t come easily. They need to experience failure and frustration as part of the problem solving and learning process.


How can teachers help students embrace “the struggle”? What are some ways in which teachers can foster, in students, the appreciation of struggling to find answers and make learning connections? A few easy strategies include:

  1. Design the questions you will use as the teacher in a way that requires students to think more deeply about the problem or make connections to other content or concepts.
  2. Have students articulate their thinking process to their current point of struggle or even ask them “what would you do if you knew what to do?” Sometimes thinking from the endpoint to the point of struggle allows students to see new options.
  3. Utilize classroom routines that promote and develop struggle while providing a structured process to move students towards a solution. As the teacher, see how you can teach a concept/skill without explicitly telling students what they need to do.
  4. Utilize small, incremental goals throughout the learning process to help students see their progress and understand that success can occur throughout the struggle.
  5. When students succeed, praise their efforts and strategies as opposed to their intelligence.
  6. Design classroom activities that involve cooperative–rather than competitive or individualistic–work.
  7. Include student choice and voice in the learning process. When students can choose their topics of interest and evidence of learning, they are more likely to persevere during challenging learning experiences.

Helping students understand that struggling is part of the learning process is an essential consideration for all educators. Students need to understand that learning can sometimes be very difficult and answers don’t always present themselves easily or clearly. When we rely on the typical process of “I do – We do – You do” for our imageinstructional delivery, we may inadvertently shortcut deeper learning available to our students. Implementing the strategies mentioned above can help your students understand more deeply, persevere more consistently, and grow more fully. How will you help your students struggle this year?


Take the Wheel!

In cycling, there is a phrase known as “taking the wheel”.  The phrase refers to taking thecycling lead in a pack that is drafting.  The leader creates an aerodynamic “bubble” that allows others to take advantage of the slip stream and conserve energy.  In fact, the work of the leader and the pack that follows allows the entire group to ride faster and conserve energy!

As leaders, there are things we can learn from this cycling analogy in our own work with educators on our campuses or in our districts.  We are always trying to develop our team and encourage them to achieve goals and improve the work of the team members, individually and collectively.  Knowing the most effective actions a leader can take in steering the process of collaborative improvement is critical.  Let’s take a look at some of the principles of “taking the wheel” that can help us as leaders:

  1. If you’re the stronger rider, take the wheel!

In cycling if you’re a strong rider you are expected to take the lead for the group and help pull everyone else towards the goal. follow-my-lead

As a leader on your campus or in your district, you’re staff is expecting you to take the lead and help to pull them towards the goal and to encourage them to push on even when they are tired and ready to stop.  Leaders aren’t afraid of challenging headwinds and they refuse to allow excuses to rise up and prevent the team from charging towards the intended goals.

  1. Be a mindful leader!

The leader who takes the wheel is allowing the riders who follow to recover by riding in aerodynamic slipstream that forms behind the leader.  The bubble can actually extend to 7 or 8 riders behind the leader.  This can prove helpful for the pack in keeping them fresh cycling-2and together but the leader has to remember to watch the pace of the ride and the terrain ahead.  If riders aren’t prepared they can easily be dropped from the pack and might not be able to catch up to the pack once left behind.

As a leader on your campus or in your district, you too need to be a mindful leader.  You have to monitor if or when your followers need a rest and when the pace of work needs to be adjusted.  You have to be watching the terrain ahead and prepare your followers for what is coming.  The goal for the leader is to not “drop” anyone along the way.  The best leaders help their team set attainable goals with clear markers along the way.  They know that progress can be its on motivator and they ensure that the whole team experiences that progress.

  1. Know when to lead and know when to follow!

In cycling, if you tend to follow too often and are reluctant to do any work in leading out you’ll be labeled lazy and considered a “follower”.  In cycling terminology, a competent rider never wants to be labeled a follower.  On the flip side, jumping out to the lead too often or for too long can lead some to be seen as the hero for sacrificing themselves for the good of the team.  They can also be seen as a sort of donkey with no brains for failing to use their efforts more wisely.

As a leader on your campus or in your district, it’s imperative that you undergatens-leaders-followersstand your team and your organization well enough so you can lead when you need to but follow when necessary as well.  Understanding that giving others on the team who have better or different skill sets than others a chance to lead is important if the team is going to improve and getter better at what they do.  As a leader, if you’re always out front you will get burned out and your effectiveness will diminish as other team members crave a chance to lead or grow tired of looking at the same back side.  By developing other leaders who can take the wheel for your team, you develop capacity in your team and relieve yourself from being the only one who breaks new ground.

  1. Equipment can make all the difference!

I can remember when I started riding as part of my training for a spring triathlon.  I used my hybrid “get around” bike and it often times seemed like I was pedaling a bike with cement tires.  Once I finally invested in a true road bike, not only did my times improve but riding was actually enjoyable!

As a leader on your campus or in your district, do you have the right equipment?  Do your plan-prepare-performteam members have the right equipment?  If your organization is going to meet the goals set before them, they will be more likely to
do so if they have access to the right kind of data along with coaching in how to use the data and time in which to do the work it takes to improve instruction.  How about professional development?  Equipment makes a difference but the skill and competence of the rider has to improve to get the most out of the equipment.  It works the same way with our teachers.  Leaders have to develop the skills, talents, and understandings of their staff in order to maximize the benefits of having the right tools.

New Texas A-F Accountability Ratings are a Failure!

This week districts across the state of Texas received the preliminary “What If” A-F rankings based on the proposed new accountability system for public schoolfailures in Texas.  The preliminary rataings landed with a resounding “thud” and what most educators knew would be a haphazard and arbitrary rating process was proven to be just that.

I’ve spoken with numerous campus leaders and fellow district leaders this week and all of us are left wondering how to make sense of a system that so easily and widespread assigns Cs, Ds, and Fs to the very campuses and districts that “Met Expectations” across the board on STAAR or even received “Distinction Designations”.  Somehow TEA has managed to use the SAME DATA to denote a campus and/or district as meeting expectations, and even recognizing great work through distinctions, while also giving those same campuses and districts grades of C, D, or F using this new accountability system.  Talk about a failure to communicate effectively!

The sad reality that was revealed this week with the release of the preliminary “What If” ratings is the state of Texas has a long way to go in convincing educators, parents, and the community at large this new rating system is anything other than a disappointing effort at taking the easy way out on accountability by assigning arbitrary grades to campuses and districts.  The new rating system is built upon high stakes tests, STAAR, and heavily relies on student test performance to rate and rank schools/districts.  The system is not fair, clear, nor is it transparent.

It’s time that educators, parents, and those who care about the quality of education in our state stand up to this ridiculous and unfair A-F Rating system.  It’s time we reach out to our elected officials and articulate why this rating system is absurd, arbitrary, and ineffective in accomplishing the purposes for which it was developed.

The state called this recent release of ratings a “What If” run of data.  I say we should ask lawmakers and those in TEA our own “What If” questions:

“What If” if we recognize the unfair nature of this A-F rating system as it pertains to stueducated-preschool-kidsdents from low socioeconomic and limited English settings?  Research has shown that these students, and their families, face challenges to access of basic needs and essentials that make it difficult for parents in these settings to prioritize education.  We also know these students require additional support during their educational careers to close gaps in language, literacy, academic vocabulary, and background knowledge.  To rank schools and districts who have a high percentage of low socioeconomic families and English language learners the same way districts with low percentages are ranked is patently unfair and ignores educational research.

“What If” we recognize the unfair nature of this A-F rating system as it pertains to teacherstressteachers?  This new system will denigrate and marginalize teachers who work tirelessly and with great effort to teach, encourage, develop, and care for the multiple needs of each of their students.  We’ll see teachers leave the schools that need the best teachers, often times those that will receive lower grades in this new A-F rating system, in order to move to schools with higher ratings so they can feel more valued and appreciated.

“What If” we recognize how unfair this A-F rating system is for communities across the state?  Affluent communities that will have more schools and districts with A’s and B’s in the new rating system will continue to draw businesses and enterprise growth while struggling communities and those with less economic enterprise will be granted the scarlet letters of D and F and the cycle of struggle will be perpetuated by the state accountability system.

“What If” we recognize this A-F rating system is being built upon a foundation that is an unfair and poorly implemented state test, the STAAR?  The STAAR test has been miss-the-targetimplemented with routine issues and failures since its inception in 2012.  We know the test has biases in it and even the state has run into repetitive issues in scoring the tests, losing test documents all together, and originally didn’t even release questions the first few years so teachers could even see what their students were being assessed on.

Finally, a sad bit of irony rests in the fact that our lawmakers have chosen to rely on this failed A-F rating system all the while being guilty themselves of failing to adequately fund education.  Most national education finance reports give the state of Texas a failing grade when it comes to how they fund education.  For nearly two decades state lawmakers have systematically shifted the cost and burden of educating our children to the local school districts.  This has allowed lawmakers to claim they fight for low property taxes at the state level while forcing local districts to be the “bad guy” in raising local property taxes to fund the educational needs of the district.  “What If” part of the accountability process required local districts to rate the state of Texas and lawmakers on how they provide for a free and public education for our students?

Low SES and Minority Students More Likely to Have Inexperienced Teachers–How to Address this Challenge!

A new White House report reveals what many of us in education have known for a long time: our most needy students often times have the least prepared and experienced teachers.  The report states the share of first-year teachers was strongly correlated with the share of black and chart3_k12_sharefirstyrteachersHispanic students.  Nearly twice as many first-year teachers are teaching in predominantly minority schools (which are often times low SES as well) compared to schools with no minorities.

We know that teaching is a very difficult profession to gain mastery in and that it takes teachers 5-7 years to develop the content knowledge, pedagogy, and skill sets to become a master teacher.  For minority students, the constant revolving door of first-year teachers comes with the reality that their academic gaps will most likely not be closed with novice, inexperienced teachers.  Many schools and districts compound this challenge by placing minority students, often the ones with the most academic needs, in the most inexperienced teacher classrooms.

Our minority students deserve to have the same access to high quality teachers and resources as non-minority students.  Our low SES students, which often cross over racial demographics, deserve the very same access to high quality teachers.

Districts and campuses that serve minority students and low SES communities have to begin to think about providing the in-service support new teachers need in order to develop competencies and confidence as quickly as possible.  A well implemented teacher induction program is not only the best way to support new teachers in those crucial first years but it will also help improve the likelihood that new teachers stick around longer and become the invested teachers these campuses and districts need if they are to truly turnaround the achievement gaps in their system.

Here in West Oso ISD, we are trying to address this very need through our teacher induction program, Bear TIPS.  Our program seeks to provide 3 years of in-service support teacher-induction-logoto our new teachers.  We begin with a First Year Teacher Academy (FYTA) that meets with teachers six times during the first year.  We follow that up with a FYTA2 in year 2 that focuses on deepening teacher understanding of best practices and effective instructional strategies.  FYTA3 is in year 3 and focuses on assessing for learning.  The program also has specific mentor training so that our new teachers are supported by an experienced colleague on their campus in addition to the FYTA supports and the site leader support.  We add to these components a periodic newsletter that lets the entire district know what the FYTA teachers are working on and how to support our new teachers in those crucial first years.

We were fortunate enough to be recognized by Texas School Business magazine fobragging10r the Bragging Rights 2016-2017 issue as an innovative program.  We’re humbled to be included with the other 11 districts recognized in the issue.  We accept the recognition as proof that when district leadership wants to take specific steps to address the staffing challenges and the academic challenges that can come with minority dominant communities, great things can happen.

We know that much work remains and the struggle to provide our students with the highest quality teachers available will exist for some time.  We hope that we have at least modeled a way in which districts, small or large, can begin to address the needs of all students and create the equity we know should exist across the educational spectrum.