This is part three of the “True PLC” blog series designed to articulate the specifics of and to reflect upon an 8-month online Professional Learning Community (PLC).
While the first meeting was largely about getting connected to one another and to the purpose for the group’s collaboration, the second meeting was about getting specific about the problems we want to solve about student learning.
My design work continues to be informed by friends and former colleagues (see quote above), by the book Learning to Improve: How America’s Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better by Anthony S. Bryk, Louis M. Gomez, Alicia Grunow, and Paul G. LeMahieu, and more broadly by the work of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
The plan for this 2nd meeting was to:
- Expand upon personal connections
- Help one another refine respective aims for student outcomes improvement
- Practice the act of understanding the system or key drivers producing the outcomes you want to change
- Build clarity (and share resources) about next steps for identifying change ideas to enact improvement processes
- Reflect on our progress to inform next steps for our work together
This was a lofty set of objectives! Here’s how we went about it…
- 5min: Objectives & Norms for the Day (All Together)
- 5min: Articulate the Problem You Want to Solve re: Student Learning (On Own)
- 5min: Quote Reflection, while facilitator creates break-outs groups (On Own)
- 20min: Improvement Aim Tuning (Small Group Breakouts)
- 15min: See the System Producing the Current Outcomes – Simulation & Practice (All Together & On Own)
- 5min: Next Steps (All Together)
- 5min: Reflection (On Own)
Lots of bite-sized pieces in this one! Check out the modified (for public consumption) and more granular version of this agenda here, and you should feel free to make a copy of the document and make it your own.
Progress & Improvement…Aims?
One participant aims to close gaps in student performance across multiple sections of the same course. Another seeks to identify support structures showing the most promising impact on student writing in STEM courses. Others want to increase the number of students meeting critical course deadlines. And that’s just a taste.
You’ll notice there are multiple improvement aims. This was an intentional choice as a facilitator. Some PLCs might choose to focus on one common aim. I decided to go the route of each individual identifying the improvement aim they find most personally relevant and for this PLC to serve as a collaborative holding space (see Drago-Severson) to support these individualized endeavors. I’ll let you know how I feel about this move in June…for now, it feels right.
I good about the flow of this agenda. If I had to do anything over again, I would keep break-out groups to no more than 3 people to ensure a healthy amount of time for each group member to receive tuning feedback within our 1-hour time constraint.
The norms approach was positively received. Informed by PLC-member reflections at the end of the first meeting, I introduced norms for us to “try on” for the day and to reflect upon at the end. Over my years as an educator and school development coach, it’s taken time for me to find ways to leverage norms that feel natural and useful, rather than forced and punitive. This approach felt like it honored the members of the group, and it garnered positive reflections at the end of the meeting.
I am wrestling a bit with how to build meaningful personal connections in a virtual space. I didn’t know these virtual PLC participants before we started meeting. Some of them only knew each other by association. I worry about the potential for “playing nice” to get in the way of collective capacity building (see Fullan) or for miscommunications to occur due to us not yet having built relational trust or having the conditions for deep, personal connection. So far, I do think we’re on a trajectory that exudes disciplined, collegial inquiry (in fact, this group is pretty darn stellar), but that foundational connection and mutual understanding can be elusive. I will continue testing ways to tend to the affective in an online space.
Participants left this meeting having received feedback on their improvement aims to ensure they are reasonable in scope and able to be measured for understanding if changes they put in place lead to desired improvements. They also observed me coaching one group member’s unpacking of the systemic whys likely leading to the outcomes she’s wanting to change.
These experiences were designed to prepare participants to:
- Engage in their own system analysis
- Identify promising change ideas within that system that they believe will lead to the improvements in student outcomes they want to see.
Understanding the system that surrounds a challenge is no simple task, and I’m hopeful that the resources I provided to support participants’ next steps will be useful. I’ve asked them to show up to our 3rd meeting with concrete change ideas they intend to try. It feels important for me to prompt this crew to ensure they’ve zeroed in on pre-data before enacting their change ideas, so they can really gauge whether their changes lead to improvements.