Module 3: Building Effective PLC Teams - Effective Teams
Here are nine key ingredients to building successful teams. Most effective PLC teams could certainly add more to this recipe from their own experiences! What would this look like in your school or district? Click on the links to skip directly to the characteristic of your choice:
1. Discourse; 2. Purpose; 3. Norms; 4. Focus; 5. Agendas; 6. Collaboration; 7. Communications; 8. Progress; 9. Trust;
Effective Teams have a culture of discourse at their center.
Purpose & Accountability
Effective teams have a clearly defined purpose that guides their work and specific, measurable goals that they hold one another and the team accountable for attaining.
Effective teams are committed to norms that guide how the team operates.
Effective teams are disciplined in maintaining their focus.
Effective teams communicate effectively within the team and with those outside the team.
Effective teams improve the ability of their members to function as a team in the future.
Effective teams use systems of consensus to arrive at group decisions. They collaborate to ask the “hard” questions about teaching and learning too often bypassed in a passive, collegial setting.
Effective teams develop a culture of trust which allows members to look at their practice openly rather than defensively.
Effective teams use specific records that drive the group’s daily and ongoing work, structure the discourse and allow time to be used equitably and efficiently.
Effective Teams have a culture of discourse at their center – In a culture of discourse, team members discuss and think about significant issues related to improving teaching, learning, and assessment. Team members demonstrate respect for each other by valuing differences of opinion and being open-minded in regard to others’ ideas. Disagreements and challenges are welcomed in team discussions, as they often push collective thinking to a deeper level. Ultimately, many of these conversations result in improved student learning and growth.
It takes time and discipline to raise the quality of teacher discourse – focusing on ideas and application rather than on the housekeeping details that often take up so much of teachers’ time. Teams may use text-based discussions, case studies, and protocols for looking at student work to deepen their conversations and get them focused on the substantial issues surrounding teaching and learning. At times, meetings can become uncomfortable when a group is hashing out important and difficult issues. Using protocols are all about having difficult conversations about hard questions.
“Educators who believe that a ‘primer’ – containing the philosophical underpinnings of professional learning communities and the practical steps needed to create them – and the introduction of modest changes such as study groups and team times are a sufficient set of tools to ‘re-culture’ their school don’t really grasp the sea change required to deepen trust and to create the intellectual ferment that characterizes a learning organization.” – Louis, 2006
Effective teams have a clearly defined purpose that guides their work and specific, measurable goals that they achieve – The most productive teams have a purpose or mission that they are deeply committed to that drives them forward. A clearly defined purpose energizes a team because all members understand exactly why they are together. Similar to an overarching goal, the purpose or mission defines the general intent of the team. The common purpose serves to
keep the team focused at all times. All actions and decisions must make sense relative to this purpose. Effective teams define and create clear action-plan based goals formed by assessing multiple forms of data.
Specific, measurable goals are the steps that will lead a team toward accomplishing its purpose and making an impact on the school or students. Too often in schools, committees continue to meet and plan, but fail to achieve measurable results. Often, at the end of the school year, or when the team loses its momentum, little or no action has taken place. Clear, measurable goals prevent this wheel-spinning by focusing discussion on action and how to achieve the desired outcomes.
Teams, no matter how big or small, only function well when they share a common goal. The work of PLCs is fundamentally about raising student achievement. How they do so is determined by the data that informs them more specifically about challenges to be addressed. Once the challenges are identified their action plan follows a cycle of inquiry that drives the team’s
work. Their action plans have clear timelines and who is responsible for specific activities, and progress is regularly checked at subsequent team meetings.
Effective teams are committed to norms that guide how the team operates – Norms are ways of working together that can help groups be more thoughtful and productive. Norms exist in every learning community whether or not they are named or agreed upon. The process of formally establishing productive norms is to name the ways a group wants to work together for the purpose of achieving and being held accountable to their goals. In such an environment, people voice,
question, support, disagree, and take risks while working together respectfully and purposefully toward shared goals.
While some team members might feel that they do not have a “need” for norms as a professional group, we find they are a critical part of the structure for using time well. Created through consensus by the members of each unique group, these
positive, brief agreements (“Watch air time”, “Focus on agenda”, “Be present”, “All voices heard”, “Consensus”) are posted on a visible wall or on agendas, reviewed at the start of each meeting, and reflected on at the close. The group asks themselves, “How did we do? Did we observe our norms? What do we need to be more aware of? Do we need to add or alter them?” Each member of the group is responsible for accountability to the agreed norms. “In looking at our norm around start on time/end on time, I am wondering if we are struggling to observe that and what we might need to differently.”
“Professional learning communities demand that teachers develop grown-up norms in a grown-up profession – where difference, debate and disagreement are viewed as the foundation stones of improvement.” - Hargreaves (2003, p.163)
Effective teams are disciplined in maintaining their focus – Teams in PLCs have numerous responsibilities. How team members manage these differing roles and relationships affects how successful they are. The successful team uses the purpose, goals, and norms to maintain its focus. With each new idea, discussion, or possibility, all team members should ask whether the issues fits the purpose, moves them toward achieving the goals, and can be addressed within the team’s
For example, a PLC investigating the school’s ability to teach low-level readers might find it difficult to meet and remain focused when mid-term reports are due or a field trip is planned for the next week. Yet, despite the many immediate
pressures that members face, this team will meet because they understand that the long-term results of their work are vital to their growth and student progress.
To maintain focus, team members should continuously assess the team’s work. Keeping records of lessons learned, ideas discussed, decisions made, action taken, and communication with people outside the team can help evaluate a team’s
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