Thursday, February 9, 2017

Bright Colored Packages/PLC

Photo Credit: torbakhopper Flickr via Compfight cc

I loved receiving packages from my grandma as a kid. She’d spend hours wrapping a gift in shiny paper, tying big bows, sprinkling on glitter, and adding other doodads to the outside of the package to make it more attractive. In many ways, I hated opening the packages because they were so beautiful! I would always take my time to open the boxes being careful not to rip the paper too much or ruin the ribbons and bows. It was as much fun opening the packages as it was to see what was inside! The anticipation built up, and it made discovering the contents much more enjoyable. Even my younger brothers, who typically ripped into everything, slowed down to admire the package before tearing it open.
I often think about those packages whenever we hear of another directive from the district office. About six years ago, our district started to implement PLCs. Maybe the initial message was inspiring and motivational, but by the time it came to us as teachers, it was all about compliance. There was no explanation of what a PLC was, no explanation of why we were being asked to “have another meeting” and no vision shared about the benefits to our students. RTI was the same way. To us, it was yet another acronym in the world of education. We had no training, no modeling, and I can’t even recall a faculty meeting devoted to explaining what we were supposed to do besides “look at test scores.” I’m not blaming anyone. I’m just telling about my experience. I understand that in such a large district that communicating any message is similar to the old game of “telephone” where the original message gets distorted as it filters down the line to the next person.

At the time, I was on a remarkable team of other sixth grade teachers. We collaborated and talked about kids and their learning all of the time. In many respects, we were an active PLC before being told that we were “required to have another meeting about test scores.” We did what we were supposed to do, but it felt like we were functioning in the fog and had no direction of what being a real PLC meant.

Six years after being directed to “do a PLC,” and still seeing people struggle with the concept, I can’t help but wonder if the “packaging” could have made the difference. I know that in my classroom I can get my kids excited about doing a very mundane task depending on my presentation and how I frame it. I think it’s the same way with anything that teachers are asked to do.
Administrators often get to go to conferences and hear inspiring speakers. But teachers often get the watered down 10-minute version of a two-day conference. The time to process information, to ask clarifying questions, to reflect on how to implement a practice or shift a mindset is often missing. I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt inspired at school to try something new to improve my practice. If it weren’t for being a connected educator and my drive to improve, I don’t know that I’d be where I am today. I see many of my colleagues without vision, passion, and drive and I know at least part of the reason why.
We all need to be uplifted periodically. We need to hear about the successes of others. We need to be challenged. We need to be celebrated. We all need to know the WHY we are being asked to do something. We need to feel inspired! How can teachers inspire their students if they’re never inspired themselves? First of all, I don’t think teachers should ever wait around for their school or district to “develop them.” Learning is personal. Educators should show self-initiative and seek out their own learning and understanding.
  • Become a connected educator! When you’re a connected educator, you’re inspired by your PLN every day! (webinars, podcasts, edcamps, conferences, Voxer groups, Twitter chats, blogs, etc.)
  • Read! Read! Read!
  • Tap into your teacher leadership and share your great resources with others. Encourage other staff members to do the same.
  • Try something different like a lunch and learn, share via a Padlet or Smore
I wish that I had known years ago what I know about PLCs/RTI now. I wish that my introduction to the idea had been more inspiring. I would have completely embraced the concept in a whole different way. But at least moving forward, I trust my PLN to keep me informed and inspired about the practices that make a difference in student learning.

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