Short answer: Yes.
Yes we do. Yes we do for so many real reasons and not one of them has to do with our administration not trusting us as professionals. No way. That's not real. It's because our administrators trust us as professionals that they need to equip our teams with tools and expectations that will move us forward, and an agenda is there to do just that.
What leaders must realize is that their teachers are in the midst of a constant competition for their time and attention. Everything, and I mean everything, is pulling for more from our teachers. Between the 5.7 million emails, the messages and comments from students in online learning platforms, and regular documents, meetings, and resources within the building--teachers are inundated with information, ideas, requests, docs, sheets, forms, etc.
There. Is. So. Much.
So when it's time to sit down with their professional learning communities to have rich, deep, meaningful, focused, data-driven conversations about student learning...keeping and maintaining the needed focus is a real struggle. And for the obviously clear reasons I just mentioned.
If we say that we value our teachers, then we must value their time. Many districts say that PLC time is "sacred" but then fail to set their teams up with tools that help them to maximize their minutes, keep track of their decisions, and anchor their focus when needed. People really dislike it when they feel their time has been wasted, so it's critical that leaders create systems that help keep the minutes moving towards the goal.
The agenda is not there to control you. It is there to create a system around the deep, and often difficult, conversations that create growth and learning.
So let's dive in: PLC Agendas 101.
First off, call it an agenda.
Not a form (that feels like homework or like I'm turning something in to you) and not notes (that feels a bit more disorganized). Rather, an agenda is an incredibly useful tool for any and all meetings that we ever attend. An agenda sends a signal to our brains that it's okay. There is a plan. This meeting will have purpose (or at least attempt to).
Determine a simple, school (or department) online storage system for these agendas.
If time is valuable, then we need to make it crystal clear for everyone where they find these agendas. A common folder where each PLC's agendas live makes the most sense. You have support teachers who need to access multiple teams' agendas. You have administrators and coaches who also do the same. Keep these documents in 1, common, shared place. Also: create a simple naming convention that everyone follows. It just saves time in the long run.
Make the purpose of the agenda crystal clear over, and over, and over again.
The agenda is there to aid in the following ways: it creates a predictable, cyclical discussion structure that is the basis for this meeting; it provides an accessible engagement tool for all members of the PLC; it captures ideas and decisions made by the team for future reference; it serves as the third point--when needed, it helps keep the discussion moving forward (again, to maximize time); it provides a much needed visual to increase our ability to process, brainstorm, and synthesize ideas. If the goal is to respect each other's time, then let's use a tool that helps us stay on track to make the most of our minutes.
Require all members of the PLC to access, view, add to/edit the agenda during the meeting.
While the agenda will definitely help the leader facilitate the conversation, this is a group tool. That means: all group members need to be in it! A non-negotiable norm should be that all members are either viewing the agenda on their computer screens, or there is a paper copy of the agenda in front of each person. I know we'd like to pretend that we'll all pay attention, but we won't. We have 5.7 million emails, remember? We use this agenda to help signal to our brains (and to one another) that we are focused on our common task at hand.
Ask someone, who is not the leader, to type/take notes in the agenda.
When the leader is the one who also must capture pieces of the discussion, the entire flow of the meeting slows down. A great way to share the responsibility and increase collaboration is to make it a norm that everyone will take turns capturing the discussion in the notes. This agenda is there for the team (even if an administrator or coach peruses it after). The entire point of this document is to help the team stay focused and recall the decisions they made previously. Take good notes!
Keep the actual document simple. And singular.
For simplicity, I suggest either a rolling agenda (with the most current agenda at the top) or Google Sheets (where each tab is a new meeting). Avoid what I used to do (making multiple copies of the document in a folder--sorry English Department!) and help the PLCs keep their work in 1 document. With 1 link. That they can all learn how to bookmark. Then, precious time is saved at each meeting because everyone knows how to find the agenda. Use a simple naming convention to identify the PLC, the year, etc. Here's a copy of my simple PLC agenda to explore.
If your teams want to create their own agendas, AWESOME!
Just be sure that everyone includes these items (because these items literally make up the meeting; discussing these items is the sole purpose of the meeting):
Review of any data or student samples that the team agreed to bring
DuFour's 4 main questions: What do we want students to know? How will we check their understanding/progress? How will we support those who are struggling? How will we enrich for those who need more?
I also suggest adding the following items (but really, nothing else): the school and PLC goal; the PLC's norms; a section for next-steps and reminders for the next meeting; questions for admin/coaches; reflection. These pieces are helpful, needed, and suggested...but these are NOT the core of a PLC conversation. Items 1-3 are the core of the PLC meeting.
Do Singleton/Mixed PLC teams follow the same agenda as grade-level or content teams?
Yes...but! just a little differently. For a mixed PLC team, where we are not teaching the same content at the same time, but rather, we are collaborating around common practices, addressing student needs, improving common strategies, we might spend entire PLC meetings deep-diving into just one of the four questions (but not cycling through them all). What does that look like? A science department might spend 2-3 weeks creating a common lab report rubric or guide that they'll use 9-12. Or a special education team might discuss speech goals and behavior concerns every other week. As long as the discussion anchors under one of the four questions, it's a PLC related discussion.
Where mixed PLCs sometimes veer into tangential PD strands is if data is never agreed to be reviewed, or there is never really a common anchoring goal or strategy that unites the team. A PLC is not a meeting for random acts of PD, but, we do learn from another other and share research that we find. PLCs need to be comfortable not always answering EACH of the four questions, and this is especially true for mixed groups or singletons that work together.
Should anyone review our agendas or provide feedback?
Again, I'm going to go with yes. While the true purpose of the PLC agenda is to serve the team that's using it, it can also offer a quick check point for the coaches/administrators who are wanting to get a glimpse into what a team is working through. In a way, the agenda is a check-for-understanding for your admin team. Feedback is absolutely needed, but coaches and admin need to be very purposeful in the types of feedback offered. The agenda is not the place to offer negative, critical concerning feedback. Ouch. The agenda is the place to offer encouragement, suggestions, ideas, and prompting questions to spark discussion. This is not a gotcha tool, so admin need to be sure not to make it one.
I know it can be tempting to want to scoff at the idea that we need an agenda in our meetings, but the truth is we just do. Seriously, we do. PLC meetings are supposed to allow us to dig in, process, question, hypothesize, brainstorm, and synthesize information. Those tasks require focus, clarity, visual aids, and full participation from all members. The agenda is our learning tool that helps move the discussion along, or at times, gives us permission to pause and unpack a topic just a bit more.
If you actually want your time to be valued, embrace a simple tool to help make that happen.
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