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Beyond the Surface: Deepening Discussions in PLC Meetings

We work with many schools who are ready for their PLC meetings to transition past surface level discussions.  We often get asked, “How do we get the teachers to have deeper conversations around data that will inform their instruction?”  

Our general answer is often,  by creating clarity around what the PLC conversations can be!  Teachers tend to be rule followers and are quite literally just “answering the questions on the agenda”.

By questions on the agenda, we mean the four critical questions for PLC discussions developed by Richard DuFour.

  • What do we want students to know, understand, and/or do?

  • How will we know that students have learned it?

  • What might we do to scaffold & support all learners?

  • How might we enrich students?

These questions are called “critical” for a reason, they are the meat and potatoes of the PLC conversations.  However, we often find that teachers are only going surface level with their discussions and answers.  For example, “What do we want students to know?” Typically we would see and/or hear the teachers identifying the state standard from their pacing guides or textbook and copying those verbatim into the PLC agenda form.  And the conversation stops there!  There are many more important questions that need to be answered in order to inform our instruction. Unfortunately, many teams stay at a surface level of answering instead of progressing to a deeper level of thinking.

What if we discussed the unpacking of the standard together?  Imagine the power of defining proficiency for the standard, naming common misconceptions & how to avoid them, identifying the best ways to teach the content or skills, or developing a list of common vocabulary words! Alignment, clarity, and intentionality of instruction all increase.

In order to improve the quality and intentionality of PLC conversations, teachers need clarity of all of the possibilities of things they might discuss tied to each critical question. Provide graphics with questions to help PLCs make the transition to deeper conversations. These deeper conversations are needed to ensure that all students are learning.

Three Ways You Might Utilize the Deeper Convos in PLCs Graphics:

  1. Provide graphics to each PLC as “anchor charts” for them to refer to when discussing the four critical PLC questions.  Encourage PLC leaders to add to a protocol binder or bring to their team in a physical copy.

  2. Use the graphics in a professional development activity. Ask each PLC to generate a list of topics/questions that they might discuss under the umbrella of the four critical questions.  The staff could then receive the graphics and compare them to the lists they created.  If time allows, you could have them practice these deeper conversations around an upcoming standard that they will be teaching.

  3. Utilize these graphics to help provide intentional feedback to the PLCs on their discussions to push their growth.  What aren’t they discussing?  What are they doing a quality job of answering? These questions can deepen the feedback you provide your teams throughout the year.

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