The Human Side of Teacher Teams and PLCs

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When it comes right down to it, teaching in general, and working as part of a professional learning community (PLC) specifically, are very human endeavors. Our charge as educators and the interactions we have with each other in pursuit of that charge are very personal, indeed.

As such, it’s easy to forget when we’re in the throes of a PLC meeting and working on processes like writing SMART goals, that we’re dealing with people, and with all of the talents, knowledge, curiosities, skepticisms — and yes, baggage — they bring to the table.

By comparison, it’s easier to blindly forge through and tick off items on an agenda than to be in touch with and respond to the interpersonal dynamics that play out as those agenda items are executed. This is the road less traveled, in a sense; acknowledging and honoring the humanity of teacher teams, and not forgetting for an instant that everything we accomplish (or not) happens squarely in this context.

High-Functioning Teams Have High-Quality Interactions

High-functioning teams aren’t comprised of members who are smarter or better teachers than members of their low-functioning team counterparts. But they do have something that sets them apart, and it has to do with having high-quality interactions among members. They have greater social capital in their teams than what is typically true of lesser-performing teams.

Having high-quality interactions is a bedrock characteristic of effective PLCs and teacher teams, but it doesn’t happen by accident. The teacher or teacher leader who leads the PLC (or teacher team), has the single biggest influence on the culture of that team, guiding and pushing members to do their best work together.

In my book, Facilitating Teacher Teams and Authentic PLCs: The Human Side of Leading People, Protocols, and Practices (ASCD, 2018), I offer considerations for the facilitator.

The Role of the Facilitator

A PLC facilitator’s primary role is to increase and maintain the social capital in his or her teacher team. If team members are engaging in quality interactions focused on teaching and learning, then their students’ achievements will improve. This job comes with many other responsibilities, including:

  • Guiding the team through the steps of protocols.
  • Asking thought-provoking questions that challenge conventional thinking and push the discussion to a deeper level.
  • Promoting and modeling honesty and respect in discussions.
  • Ensuring that all voices are heard.
  • Maintaining team members’ emotional safety during discussions.
  • Keeping the team focused and moving it forward when it’s stuck.
  • Mediating disagreements and helping the team navigate the sometimes turbulent waters of interpersonal dynamics.
  • Being able to step back, particularly when being emotionally drawn into a problematic group.
  • Working for the good of the team.

The last bullet point touches on one of the most important responsibilities of a PLC facilitator:

[…] Our decisions, actions, and priorities must not be tainted by what serves our own egos, but instead be guided by what is best for student learning (Venables, 2018, p. 9).”

Green Dot Divide

Respectful Disagreement

Respectful disagreement in a team, when expressed candidly and received safely, can be a positive precursor to team growth. In many teams I coach, there’s a team norm stating some approximation to this: Embrace respectful disagreement or Embrace dissenting opinions. These teams know the value of respectful disagreement and their facilitators are skillful in guiding such discussions.

Doing right by our students in a team setting can be messy work. Remembering that the team is comprised of people first, and teachers second, can be helpful in sorting out what is truly the best plan of action at any given time for the young people we serve.

How do you ensure that your teams are high-functioning and doing their best work together? Post your ideas in the comments below.

Daniel R. Venables is the senior consultant and founding director of the Center for Authentic PLCs and the Grapple Institutes, as well as a member of ASCD’s prestigious National Faculty for Professional Learning. He has spent 24 years as a classroom teacher in both public and independent schools in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Connecticut, serving as a department chair for eighteen of those years. Daniel also has experience as a speaker, a consultant, a professional development coordinator, and an author. His newest book is Facilitating Teacher Teams and Authentic PLCs: The Human Side of Leading People, Protocols, and Practices (ASCD, 2018). Connect with Daniel via email or on Twitter: @authenticplcs.

How Will You Celebrate American Education Week?

American Education Week 2017 banner

American Education Week (November 13-17), first celebrated in 1921, is an opportunity to celebrate public education, to inform the community of the accomplishments and needs of public schools, to secure cooperation and support from the public, and to honor individuals who are making a difference in ensuring that every child receives a quality education.

How will you kick off American Education Week?

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Balance Is Not A Wish: Four Takeaways From #TchWellness

Getting Better Together

This entry is the seventh and final post in the series #TchWellness.

Over the past two years, I’ve worked diligently to balance my various life roles — mother, teacher, friend, fitness instructor, blogger, etc. Inspired by feelings of complete exhaustion and overwhelming emotion, I’ve been intensely driven to reduce the anxiety I often feel. I was tired of feeling pessimistic and frustrated and wanted nothing more than a feeling of calm and peace.

Worry overwhelmed my mind — Was I right for this job? Should I stay in education? Could I handle the pressure as an educator? And so, the past two years have been full of reading, working out, purging material items, and indulging in caffeinated beverages. Ultimately though, my solace and calm is finally within view.

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Video Self-Reflection: What We Don’t Know

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

I felt the blood rushing to my face. I was standing in front of a group of teachers presenting on a topic I was very familiar with and all of the sudden, I couldn’t for the life of me remember what I was saying. The teachers were very gracious, but I was cringing. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have the strategies to make my next move. I sure could’ve used some coaching in that moment.

I often have the opportunity to work with teachers as a professional learning provider or coach around the implementation and assessment of the three-dimensional learning expected from the Next Generation Science Standards. In this work, I’m expected to be the “expert” and the collaborator, but sometimes I need coaching too.

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Teaching Has Taught Me… Nothing

It doesn’t seem possible that my time in the classroom is over.

At the start of this school year, I accepted a position as a principal, after spending the last 15 years in the classroom. At some points, those years seemed to zoom by, but there were moments where time seemed to stand still, the daily struggles nearly overwhelming. Thankfully, the fulfilling days far outweighed the tough times.

While I’m enjoying the challenges and rewards afforded by my career shift, I have times where I’m nostalgic for my days in the classroom. As much as I enjoyed being a teacher, I also revel in discovery, and I expect to learn from each of my jobs. In reflecting on my teaching career, I realized that teaching has taught me… nothing.

teaching has taught me nothing

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Teaching About Teaching: Using Narratives to Share What You Know

National Blogging Collaborative, Leading Out Loud: Teacher as Storyteller

Several years ago, a mentor approached me with an opportunity for which she thought I had just the skill set. It was a far stretch from my comfort zone and my knee-jerk reaction was to reply with a “thanks, but no thanks.” You see, this was at a time when I was just a little seedling of a teacher leader. I was growing, absolutely, but I was still nestled safely beneath the surface, not yet ready to push through the ground and share with the world who I am, what I know, and what I think.

Despite my reluctance, and inspired by the confidence of someone I respected immensely, I applied to be part of a cohort of teachers who were tasked with blogging about standards for learning, instructional best practices, assessment strategies, and basically anything to do with the how-to’s of being an effective practitioner. As a fourth year teacher, what I didn’t know far exceeded what I did, but I was obsessed with learning about learning and I had an insatiable appetite for books, articles, and blogs that discussed how to be a better teacher. Because of this, I accepted the position and felt mildly confident (at the time, that was a big deal) in my ability to put something out into the world that at least one person could find beneficial.

Until it came time to write my first post.

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Five Ways Teacher Leaders Use Storytelling

National Blogging Collaborate

“Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe.
But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”

— Native American Proverb

Leadership is hard; it’s littered with the unknown, filled with the unexpected, packed with the unanswerable, and bursting with challenges great and small. Yet at its core, leadership is an essential element to successful school culture — to developing, building, and even changing the ways in which schools operate, teach, learn, and grow.

When exploring school culture and its correlation to leadership, though, it’s essential that we think of the term of “school leader” in a more global sense. At their core, teachers are leaders. And when the “leaders” of a school realize this fact and empower teachers to help enact change, welcoming them into the STORY of their school, the impossible becomes the reality, the unimaginable becomes the routine.

You see, teachers are leaders because they’re at the center of the humanity within the work; living in and yet simultaneously crafting the story of the school, the narrative of the culture, and this is absolutely essential because the reality is this: a story entertains; it engages; it endears us to others; it enrages; but most importantly, it EMPOWERS. Without the story, we’re left with blank slates. Simply put, we — and our school cultures — are incomplete. As Michael Margolis, CEO at Get Storied said, “If you want to learn about a culture, listen to the stories. If you want to change a culture, change the stories.”

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10 Tips for Finding and Crafting Your Authentic Story

National Blogging Collaborate

Teachers are storytellers.

And like any storyteller, it’s our ultimate goal to reach our students through our instruction. If we’re lucky, we’ll inspire curiosity and a love of learning that will last a lifetime.

Teacher leaders take their storytelling to the next level by sharing their practice, insights, expertise, questions, challenges, triumphs, and more with a larger audience of colleagues, families, communities, and policymakers within the education ecosystem and in society at large. The goal is to resonate here, too — to connect, impact, influence, inspire — in the hope that they will be able to play a small part in transforming climate, culture, and teaching and learning opportunities in schools. But in order to affect this kind of change, teacher leaders must not only tell stories, they must tell effective stories.

Every teacher has a story to tell; but finding and crafting a compelling, authentic story is a skill that requires attention, effort, and a few great strategies. So, let’s dig in and begin the process of uncovering your stories.

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Teacher Leaders: Know Your Story, Share Your Story

National Blogging Collaborate

There are 3.3 million teachers in the United States, which means there are 3.3 million stories that need to be heard. What I’ve been wondering lately is, is it possible for these collective stories to become a critical catalyst to ensuring transformational teaching and learning experiences for students in this country, especially those who are subject to low expectations brought on by their race, nationality, language of origin, or disability?

No one knows teachers like teachers, and no one — in schools — knows students like teachers. This is one of the reasons why when we started ECET2 — Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers — we immediately penned the phrase, “Know Your Story, Share Your Story.”

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PodcastPodcastWomen Leaders in Education: Kristen Swanson

Women Leaders in Education

Sitting down to talk with Kristin felt like talking with a friend.

Kristen Swanson, founder of EdCamp and current Director of Learning at Slack, brings to the table an accomplished career in education and leadership, but during our interview, I was most in awe of her humility and down to earth nature.

It was incredibly clear that, in her life, she listens, connects, and elevates the ideas of others. These qualities are all components that likely enabled her to create the EdCamp platform. For readers not familiar, EdCamp is an “unconference” where participants drive the content, structure, and flow of their professional development on the day of the event. EdCamp provides ownership of ideas, participant voice, internal motivation, and relevance to teachers seeking to redefine their professional learning experiences.

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