Category Archives: PLC

Empower learners to deepen their learning

How might we empower learners to deepen their understanding?

After creating and administering common assessments, the next question is perhaps the most challenging: “Are students learning what we think they are supposed to be learning?” (Ferriter and Parry, 75 pag.)

What if our learners are grasping the content, but they are struggling to communicate what they know and how they arrive at a conclusion?

How might we make our expectations clear? What if we empower our learners to take action on their own behalf?

What if our culture embraces the three big ideas of a PLC?

Learning is our focus.
Collaboration is our culture.
Results guide our decisions.

Our #TrinityLearns 2nd grade team sat down together last week to analyze the results of the most recent common assessment.  While our young learners are grasping the basic concepts, we want more for them. We want confident, flexible thinkers and problem solvers.  We want our learners to show what they know more than one way, and we want strong clear communication so that the reader can follow the work without to infer understanding.

Teams at this point in the process are typically performing at a high level, taking collective responsibility for the performance of their students rather than responding as individuals. (Ferriter and Parry, 77 pag.)

As a team, these teachers sorted their students’ work into four levels, shared artifacts of levels with each other, and planned a common lesson.

Laurel Martin (@laurel_martin) explained to our children that the artifacts they analyzed were not from their class and that they belonged to a class across the hall.

Here’s the pitch to the students from Sarah Mokotoff’s (@2ndMokotoff) class:

Don’t you just love the messages: Be like scientists. Make observations. Offer feedback on how to improve.

Here’s what it looked like as the children analyzed artifacts from another 2nd grade class:

Once the analysis was complete, our teachers facilitated a discussion where the children developed a learning progression for this work.

From Kerry Coote (@CooteMrs):

We created these together after looking at student work samples that were assigned at each level. Our kids were so engaged in the activity; they were able to compare and give reasons why work was at a level 3 versus a level 4. It was really good to see! I believe this will empower them to be deeper thinkers and gradually move away from giving an answer without showing their thinking and work.

Here’s what the students in Grace Granade’s (@2ndGranade) class developed:


More from Kerry Coote:

After we helped them develop the learning progression, we conferenced with each child looking at their math assessment. They  automatically self-assessed and assigned levels for their thinking. Many scored themselves lower at first, but the activity of crafting the learning progression helped in making sense of explaining their thinking! Today in math a boy asked me – “so Mrs. Coote, what are those levels again? I know the target is Level 3, but I want to use numbers, words, and pictures to get to level 4.”  It is all coming together and making sense more with these experiences!

In their morning meeting the next day, one of Kathy Bruyn’s (@KathyEE96) learners shared the poster she made the night before.

Don’t you love how she explained the near doubles fact and her precise language?  Wow!

Since we focus on learning and results, this team offered learners an opportunity to show growth.

From Samantha Steinberg (@spsteinberg):

This is an example of leveling up after looking at our assessment.  Initially, [he] used the learning progression to rate his work at level 3.  After reading my feedback, he added words to his next attempt to show his additional thinking.

Before the class developed the learning progression:

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After the class developed the learning progression:

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Can you see the difference in this child’s work, understanding, and communication?

A growth mindset isn’t just about effort. Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is key for students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches—not just sheer effort—to learn and improve. (Dweck, n. pag.)

Kudos to our 2nd grade team for reaching for the top stages of  the seven stages of collaborative teams! Learning is our focus. Collaboration is our culture. Results guide our decisions.

How might we continue to empower learners to deepen their understanding?

Dweck, Carol. “Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’” Education Week. Education Week, 22 Sept. 2015. Web. 02 Oct. 2015.

Graham, Parry, and William Ferriter. Building a Professional Learning Community at Work: A Guide to the First Year. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree, 2010. Print.

Strategic Teaming: 3 Big Ideas Learning Communities embrace

Bringing differences to the same essential-to-learn highlighted our 2015-16 community goals and how the lessons were designed and delivered from our Head of School and Division Heads.  Today, I facilitated the next lesson for our teams.

We reviewed the 3 Big Ideas and the 4 Key Questions that high functioning teams embrace.

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We want to grow in leadership and in teaming.  In The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle writes

The trick is to choose a goal just beyond your present abilities; to target the struggle. Thrashing blindly doesn’t help. Reaching does. (Coyle, 19 pag.)

How might we, as a team, reach to target the struggle, to work on the edge of our abilities?

What if we use the seven stages that collaborative teams traverse from  by Parry Graham and Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) as a way to target our struggle? How might we use formative assessment to self-assess where we are now to make an informed decision about our next reach as a team?

Below are a sampling of the results when teams were asked to reflect and respond to the question At what stage do we currently function (most of the time) during team meetings?

If we focus on learning, have a collaborative culture, and use results to guide our decisions, how will we now differentiate with and for these teams who are different points in their collaborative journey?

Coyle, Daniel (2009-04-16). The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. Random House, Inc. Kindle Edition.

Graham, Parry, and William Ferriter. Building a Professional Learning Community at Work: A Guide to the First Year. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree, 2010. Print.

Developing a Virtual Learning Community – #T3Learns session

How might we stay connected, offer additional ideas, and share experiences with others? What if we leverage social media tools? How might we continue to lead learning without stretching ourselves too thin? How might we continue to contribute to our learning community when we are apart? How might we be more intentional in PD sessions to foster continued learning? What if we explore effective use of tools to develop and maintain connectedness and build learning communities? Will we learn and share?

Jeff McCalla, @jmccalla1 and Confessions of a Wannabe Super Teacher, and I facilitated a session for T3 instructors on building and maintaining learning communites to learn, share, and support learning.  Our lesson design, strategies, and resources are shared on the Developing a Virtual Learning Community Google doc.  We were charged with the responsibility to lead a session for T³ instructors to  brainstorm and share useful strategies to connect and learn from and with others. At the end of this session, our community should be able to say:

    • I can contribute to learning communities both face-to-face and virtually.
    • I can use social media to connect with fellow T3 instructors before , during, and after PD.
    • I can use social media to connect with participants before, during, and after our PD.

We ran 4 sessions today – all very different.  Jeff is a master of the art of questioning. He guided the discussion and connected to the learning plan while accommodating the learners in the room.  At each session we answered questions concerning the how and why of Twitter and blogging. His blog post What Super-power do you want? offered a grounding story for our discussion.  (Read comments by Bo and Jill to learn more.)

Here are snippets of our conversations, learning, and questions.

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The Most Important 21st Century Skill #MCHunter

Who are you?
Why are you here?
What do you hope to leave with?

I wonder how my learners would answer these questions on the first day of school.  How would I process this information and engage with my learners so that they feel heard and valued?

Here are my answers when challenged to “dig deeper” than name, school, family, and education:

I am a collaborative learner, confused – in a good way – by my experiences and my questions.  Labeled a “math” teacher, I feel that I am a teacher of children (and adults) and need to know, lead, and learn so much more.  As a mother, I see how much my child can and wants to do.  Have I been limiting my learners because of history and assumptions? … and fears?? Why do I stay in the safety of what I know?  How do I model learning and risk taking?

I am here to learn.  I believe that we underestimate our learners, their ability, interests, and motivation.  It is easy to teach what I deem essential, but how many times have I missed opportunities because I did not ask questions and listen – really listen – to their answers?

I hope to leave with more than I have right now: more relationships, more curiosity, more willingness to experiment and do, and more courage to “do different”.

The Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence and Trinity School contributed to my personal learning growth by providing me an opportunity to participate in a Master Class with John Hunter (follow the conversations on Twitter: #MCHunter).  John Hunter (@worldpeacemovie), and Jamie Baker (@JamieReverb) facilitated the two days of professional development renewal experiences.

How often do I rush to “teach” content – the stuff they need to know?  How many times have I said “I just don’t have time to…” because I’m so focused on trying to cram in one more thing?

John and Jamie spoke of and modeled creating space, empty space…hmm….

What if my learners simply need space and time to process, question, think, share, and learn? Shouldn’t the human-ness of learners be the first focus? If the foundation is a solid relationship between and among learners, how much can be built? How sturdy? How beautiful? How long-lasting?

Spend time to gain time…Think how much more can be accomplished if learners know that it is safe to reveal their needs, concerns, strengths and weaknesses because they are in a supportive learning community focused on growth.

Today’s big take-a-way is the power of building relationships – the MOST IMPORTANT 21st Century skill.

Who are you?
Why are you here?
What do you hope to leave with?

PLCs, Westminster JH, Randolph, and Learning Together

On Friday, February 17, Jill Gough and Bo Adams worked with The Randolph School faculty to share the story of PLC (Professional Learning Community) development at The Westminster Schools’ Junior High, as well as to facilitate a small piece of Randolph’s continuing, multi-year efforts to transform their school with the PLC ethos. Below, Bo and Jill have embedded the slide deck that they used during the Friday morning keynote. As usual, though, a slide deck cannot capture the rich conversations and invaluable discussions that surround and permeate professional work based on shared experience.

Randolph has been piloting PLCs for two years, and they are making formidable steps to enhance their teacher teaming and learner strategizing. Westminster and Randolph are imagining different ways to stretch time and embed regular teaming. There is no one-size-fits-all structural approach to PLCs, but there are universal ideas and questions that must guide our work:

3 Big Ideas:

  1. Learning is the focus.
  2. Collaboration is the culture.
  3. Results guide our decisions.

4 Key Questions:

  1. What should be learned?
  2. How will we know if “they” have learned?
  3. What will we do if “they” already know it?
  4. What will we do if “they” aren’t learning?

What a privilege and bright spot it is to collaborate among schools and learn with and from each other. Could our institutions and organizations actually stretch the PLC ethos to include more such collaboration among our schools? Could we model being PLCs among schools, like we model forming PLCs among our adult learners?

PLC Randolph Slidedeck 2-2012.

[Cross-posted at It’s About Learning]