We learn from our mistakes. The DuFours and their associates remind us that when schools begin venturing into the PLC model, just do it is a necessary mantra! As they share in Learning by Doing (2010),
“…organizations that take the plunge and actually begin doing the work of a PLC develop their capacity to help all students learn at high levels far more effectively than schools that spend years preparing to become PLCs through reading or even training” (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many, p. 10, italics in original)
When we first started envisioning the processes and structures which would later become the foundational elements of the Collaborative Response Model, we followed this PLC advice. We started our Collaborative Team Meetings to begin discussing student learning and supports and we began establishing assessments to aid in these discussions (we have discussed the power of assessments to flag students for discussion in a previous posting). We didn’t have it all perfect and our work was, as Hully and Dier (2009) point out, “messy and nonlinear” (p. 30). As we engaged in the work, it evolved into the powerful structures that we share with schools and their staff teams today. Although some of that road needs to be traveled by schools within their own context and at their own pace, one piece of advice that clearly falls into the “if we could do it all over again” category is establishing an annual calendar.
In our first implementation year, we would go from meeting to meeting and assessment to assessment. It was the common scenario illustrated below:
“Great meeting everyone! When should we meet again?” (Insert checking of individual calendars here). “Okay, November 12 it is during our regular meeting time”.
Inevitably, someone would miss putting it into their calendar or in the case of our busy school lives, the email the day before would arrive stating “are we still meeting tomorrow?”. The frantic email would be sent out, making the meetings seem a little disjointed and rushed. The same was the case for the progress monitoring and benchmarking assessments. They would be forgotten in the busy mill of “our regular school stuff” until a few days before, raising the ire of teachers and always feeling rushed and last minute.
In our second year, we learned from our previous work and established an annual staff planning calendar. Previously, we distributed one to staff for the year, with some confirmed and prospective dates already established (Christmas concert, staff meeting dates, professional development days, etc.) but we added the prospective dates of collaborative team meetings and our school-wide assessments (progress monitoring and benchmarking). Essentially, it would show something like the sample month below:
Benefits of the annual planning calendar included:
- More succinct planning: It became much easier for staff and administration to plan ahead for the meetings and assessments. Often, it helped in long term planning when considering classroom events, field trips, etc.
- Coordination: When establishing the calendar, it became much easier to plan for assessment data to be available for collaborative team meetings – it ensured a tighter alignment that enriched the conversation in these collaborative team meetings.
- Professional learning: Whether orienting a new staff member or sharing our structures and processes with other schools, it became easier to plan ahead, knowing of possible dates for other educators to join a collaborative team meeting or for a new staff member to see an assessment being administered.
- Flexibility: It was very easy to be flexible to make adjustments to the collaborative meeting schedule, if needed, or to coordinate the assessments to coincide with classroom learning (we were tight on the assessments being administered, loose on when they happened within that week for progress monitoring and benchmarking). However, having the long-term planning in place made this much easier and pointed towards our final point…
- Signals what is important: Most importantly, including these meetings and assessments in our master schedule signified their importance. Administration would block them into their schedule and set them as sacred. Teachers would plan around them, as discussed above. They clearly signaled that these were an important part of “how we do business” and as our culture changed, the collaborative team meetings and assessments became engrained.
As classrooms are being prepared and the school year looms closer for those with a fall start, this focus on an annual staff planning calendar may assist administrators, learning coaches and teachers envisioning not only structures and processes that are part of a Collaborative Response Model, but any PLC structures and/or school-wide assessment practices within the school. All the best as you put the pieces together!
DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Many, T. (2010). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work (2nd ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Hulley, W. & Dier L. (2009). Getting by or getting better: Applying effective schools research to today’s issues. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Adapted from a previous posting – originally published August 15, 2012