Why We Need Professional Learning Teams

“Unity is strength. . . when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.” By Mattie Stepanek

Traveling across the country and working with districts I get to witness, interact and work with many different teams. I have started noticing a pattern no matter if the districts are large, with many schools, or if it is a district that is small with three schools, the way they work together is all the same.

The Cabinet level has an idea of how to improve X in their district. They inform the central office departments that need to know the information, then the central office tells the principals who inform the school building. This style of delivery chain works in silos yet we know based on Hattie’s work, collective efficacy has the highest effect on student achievement, so why are we still working in silos this way?

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I believe that we need to create Professional Learning Teams (PLT) for different topics/initiatives that work together cross-functionally.  PLTs would work similarly like PLCs would such as designing together, analyzing data, creating action steps and allowing everyone to have a voice. For example, if a district goal is implementing personalized learning, they should create a PLT of multiple stakeholders and move the work forward together.

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By doing this, you break silos, have clearer communication of delivery chains and one person doesn’t own all the content knowledge. Teams continually build trust, learn together and challenge the status quo in order to do what is best for all students.

I would love to hear your thoughts or ideas, add them to the comments.

How PLC’s and Personalized Learning Are Connected

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” By Helen Keller

If you are in education you have heard the term PLC which stands for Professional Learning Communities. Every school should have them as it’s a great way to help improvement teachers practices and increase student learning. Strong PLCs ensure equity of resources for students and redesign learning to accommodate the students needs.

PLC involves much more than a group of teachers getting together to discuss their lesson plans or data. Instead, a PLC should represent a focus on continuous improvement in staff performance as well as student outcomes. If teachers are working together in PLCs answering these questions then they are working towards a more Personalized Learning environment for their classrooms. According to Rick DuFour, the guru of PLCs, the four critical questions of a PLC include:

  1. What do we want all students to know and be able to do?
  2. How will we know if they learn it?
  3. How will we respond when some students do not learn?
  4. How will we extend the learning for students who are already proficient/shown mastery?

I would tweak these questions to provide support to help educators change their practices in the classroom and to promote more of a personalized instruction by  bringing in the students responses along with a few more I added in green below:

For students during a PLC:

  1. What do I want to know and be able to do?
  2. What dispositions/soft skills will help me accomplish my goal?
  3. How will I know if I learned it?
  4. How will I demonstrated that I have mastered the skill/concept? 
  5. How will I respond when I do not understand the concept or am not learning it? What resources can I turn to?
  6. How will I extend my learning?

Adding student responses into the PLC process starts transforming the agency and shifting practices from a PLC that is student centered to a PLC that is student driven. When PLCs come together to analyze their current reality and make changes to improve upon their practices with students voices at the table; they will not only increase student outcomes but also classroom culture and student motivation.

Empowering People to Make a Better Team

“Empowering those around you to be heard and valued makes the difference between a leader who simply instructs and one who inspires.” By Adena Friedman

All leaders want people who show initiative by taking on and completing tasks with little guidance. In order to do that leaders need to empower people which is not always easy when there are many initiatives to balance, lack of time and guiding employees  that are facing personal challenges. Below are tips and tricks I have learned and continuing to develop as I grow as a leader.

  1. Cultivate Open Communication: This can be done many ways and needs to be often referenced back to help employees continue to feel safe. One way to cultivate open communication is having an open door policy. Employees can come in anytime the door is open if they have a question or an idea. During this time, the leader needs to stop doing what they are working on and listen. This is not always easy as you as a leader also have items on your plate and to do items to be done but it is something that needs to be done. I know I am not the best at this but hoping that writing about it will help me practice what I preach! Another way to cultivate open communication to empower others is to building a community of authentic feedback. We do this as a team through reviewing all our work as a team so that many eyes are on it and we are always producing our best content. This does not happen over night and will make some employees uncomfortable but over time they will open up as they see that it is a safe learning environment. The other great part of this approach is that it nudges people to produce their best work because they know others will be looking at it with a different “eye.” Just like how students produce better work when they know they have an authentic audience verse just the teachers.
  2. Be Transparent: I feel that the more transparent you are, the easier change becomes and it empowers people with the right information . This doesn’t mean as a leader you don’t filter things to protect employees. For example, for me, I do not tell employees things until they are facts! There are often times many rumors floating around and I will address that with them because they are just that…rumors. If I know a change or changes are going to occur but the leaders above me have not made final decisions, then I do not tell them what could be, I tell them the facts, there are going to be some changes and they are not sure what they are. Another way I am transparent is by having an employee handbook for our department so that each person knows what is expected of them and there are no surprises. If I make a change to the handbook, it is something that we have discussed as a team.
  3. Show Appreciation:  Everyone likes to feel appreciated and for many that empowers them to want to do a good job for the team. I like to show appreciattion differently so they see that I truly care about each one of them (I may be bias but I do have the best team).  Sometimes it is through celebrations at our staff meetings, sometimes it is a thank you note on their desk while other times it is a favorite treat. I also like to do team appreciations such a making breakfast  or getting pizza for them or doing a fun activities such as bowling. It is important to note here something I have recently learned as well, you may feel you are doing a good job of showing apprciation but that does not always mean other on your team feel that way. It is important to try to find out how they view apprecition too.

As always, I would love your ideas and feedback because leadership is always something I am trying to improve my craft in.

Reviewing Google’s Project Oxygen

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. ” By Warren Bennis

I was reviewing my notes on Google’s ‘Oxygen Project’ (yes I know that is from years ago – 2012 to be exact) this week and it got me thinking about why I never took actions on the notes I had down such as how does it fit into education?

Let’s back track a little. For those of you that never heard about Google’s Project Oxygen. “Google’s Project Oxygen was designed to identify what successful Google managers do. Too often, training departments try to help managers improve their competencies — traits of good managers. But changing traits rarely works. Instead, Google chose to teach managers what to do.” They took their extensive research and found that there were “8 Behaviors of Great Managers”.

1. Be a good coach.

2. Empower; don’t micromanage.

3. Be interested in direct reports, success and well-being.

4. Don’t be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented.

5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team.

6. Help your employees with career development.

7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.

8. Have key technical skills so you can advise the team.

With a few minor tweaks, I think these 8 behaviors also fit any leader verse just managers.

Be a Good Coach

  • Provide specific feedback
  • Solution orientated
Empower Your Staff

  • Don’t micromanage
  • Be a lead learner
Be interested in your staff

  • Know their passions
Be productive and results-oriented

  • Help prioritize tasks
Be a good communicator and listen to your staff

  • Two Way Street
Help your staff with career development

  • Let them lead PD/trainings
Have a clear vision and strategy for the school

  • Involve the team
  • Keep them focused on the goals
Have key skills so you can advise the school

  • Change Agent
  • Problem Solving

 

“Google’s Project Oxygen Pumps Fresh Air Into Management – TheStreet.” 2016. 19 Jun. 2016 <https://www.thestreet.com/story/12328981/1/googles-project-oxygen-pumps-fresh-air-into-management.html>