Updated: Sep 27
If your team has done the hard/easy work of designating consistent, predictable time for professional learning teams to meet each week, the next hard/easy task is to clarify for teachers: Just what exactly are they supposed to be discussing during this time?
Can we talk about this in PLC? is one of the top questions I am asked in both coaching and presenting situations. While I am quick to always, always point teams to Richard DuFour's model where teams cycle through a predictable set of four questions, I am also quick to explain that these questions are guideposts for discussion not answers to complete on a worksheet.
The "four questions" can be altered and adapted to center students' experiences and relationship to their learning, and I think it's important that as teams evolve together, they pause and consider the students' central role in the learning process. Lately, I've been revising the typical questions to use more inclusive, student-centered language:
Revised, Student-Centered Questions
What do we want students to learn?
Curriculum (Standards +Content)
What is the most essential learning that we want our students to know?
How will we know each student has learned it?
How will students know they have learned it? How will we/they check their understanding? What does success look like?
How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty in learning?
How will we/they respond for students who are not there yet? How will we clarify misconceptions, and quickly?
How will we extend and enrich the learning of those showing success?
How will we encourage students to enrich their own learning?
The shifts in language are subtle, and they are not the only revisions I've seen to the basic four questions. I have had the opportunity to work in districts who have created student-centered, inclusive prompts. I have worked with teams who have crafted the questions to promote anti-racist work and response to the data. I have worked with teams who purposefully phrased the questions with more can-do language or more student-teacher partnership. As we grow in our understanding of how these topics and questions prompt our thinking patterns, it's important that we allow the questions to grow with us.
To help our teams clarify Can we talk about this in PLC? I recommend that leaders utilize one (or both) of these simple activities.
First: Practice a PLC conversation with your teams. Create a simple (SIMPLE) PLC agenda, print it out, and then give your teams one sample standards or objective that they will use in the practice conversation. This exercise, start to finish, will take about 40 minutes. Give yourself 10 minutes at the start to model how they will use the agenda (break down about how much time each section may take) and then explain (again) that the questions are prompts and guides. The teams should then have about 30 minutes to brainstorm/practice with a sample standard.
The power of practicing the conversation with a sample standard is that this frees up our brains to think more creatively. When we practice with a standard we typically teach, we aren't really practicing--we're in our "This is how we always discuss it or teach it" space, and we tend to be more closed off in our thinking.
Second: Use the Is This PLC Appropriate? card sort activity. These slides provide 16 simple statements or questions that a team might hear in a PLC meeting. Some are meant for PLC--some are not. Print these out (or create your own!) and then ask each PLC to sort the cards into two piles: Appropriate or Not Appropriate for PLC. By giving your teams actual statements and asking them to sort, you allow members to reflect on their own comments without having to call anyone out directly. This is a teachable activity to clarify what types of comments we should (and should not) hear in these conversations. I purposefully make certain documents super bland so that it's easy for teams to take them, print them, or edit them. This activity might take 20 minutes, start to finish, including time for a gallery walk and debrief among teams.
If you notice that your teams seem stifled in their conversations or their discussion remains surface level--and team members are simply "answering the questions" but not thinking critically about the plans they create, you may need to utilize one of these two quick activities to clarify what a PLC looks like/sounds like.
Clarity (or a lack there of) is usually the culprit of noncompliance or unsuccessful implementation. Before we jump to malintent assumptions or buy-out, let's be sure to provide access of what we expect. To further explore these differences read, Is it a lack of compliance or a lack of clarity?