Improving PLTs

If you’ve been around education, you have probably heard of DuFour and PLCs, or Professional Learning Communities. We have been working on growing the success of PLCs (we call them PLTs, for Teams) on my campus for a few years now. We started the improvement process by focusing on the Team Leaders and equipping them with the tools they need to lead an effective team by modeling growth and learning.

“Highly effective teams know what we’re working on, why we’re working together and how we’ll work together.” – Elena Aguilar

In planning the team leader training we (the ICs on my campus) found there is a plethora of research out there on the importance of teams for student achievement. It was difficult to curate through all of it to narrow down a focus for success for the needs of our campus. We used a lot of Elena Aguilar’s The Art of Coaching Teams. If you are working on teaming on your campus, that is a GREAT book to use! We also used Marzano’s: Collaborative Teams that Transform Schools.

We are still, of course, working on this as a campus. Growing the team leaders and improving how teams work together, learn together, analyze student work together, and takes risks together is crucial to the culture of the campus and to improving student learning outcomes!

A resource that we did not dig too deeply into (as we had so many others already), was to look at Learning Forward. Recently, Stephanie Hirsh from Learning Forward wrote an article that was very helpful in reminding me of the work we still need to do on campus and was a great way to refocus our efforts as we start the spring semester! Check it out here: Edweek–PLC by Hirsh

So, as you begin (or maybe you have already begun) 2019, how will you improve your PLC time? If you focus on these three things from Hirsh, you are on your way to success!

The data is out there! PLCs (or PLTs as we call them) are crucial to improving teaching and learning. They help teachers and students succeed!

  1. A cycle of learning–everyone on the team commits to learning! Plan the lessons, do the lessons, talk about the lessons/student work, and then make changes!
  2. Curriculum–do you know your standards (or TEKS as they are called in Texas). What is the district expectation for your curriculum? Have you really dug into it? Have you unpacked the TEKS (here is one I’ve used for teams on my campus as a guide, and it goes along with backwards planning guide I created with another IC on my campus), taken time to develop the lessons, apply your understanding of the standards and of the needs of your students?
  3. Assessments–Do you have common assessments with your team? What about formative checks? Sometimes we focus too much on the summative assessments and forget to check for understanding along the way. Formative checks (DAILY) are crucial to be able to adjust your lessons immediately and keep a pulse on the success of a particular strategy or lesson.

What are PLCs/Collaborative Learning Structures like on your campus? What successes have you seen? What struggles do you have?

“An ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve”

– DuFour, DuFour, Eaker & Many



Do you know what your strengths are? What about your weaknesses? Is that something you think about or talk about often? And speaking of weaknesses–I dislike that in an interview question. Do you like it? It is a tough one to answer when attempting to persuade someone to hire you based on your skill set, but then have to explain to them where you have deficiencies.

My husband is currently working on his masters (to gain administrator certification). One of his first assignments was to complete a Kiersey Temperament Survey. It was interesting to read his results as they fit how I view him already, but it made me look at his personality through a different lens when he and I discussed it. That conversation led me to start wondering about personalities and strengths.  In life, in teaching, in your day-to-day, do you know the strengths of those around you? Do you know their weaknesses? Do you use that knowledge to your advantage? How? With my husband, because I’ve known him for 15 years, I have a solid grasp (I think) on his strengths and his weaknesses. And I try to mindful of those when we disagree on things in our lives, with work or with our kiddos.  But for the teachers I coach, do I use that to my advantage? Definitely not enough. I’ve known them for only two years, but that should not be an excuse. The teachers here have completed the Strengths Finders training/survey and I have access to that actual data showing their strengths. That is something I need to start leveraging and using to become a better Instructional Coach.

So then, that makes me think and wonder further.  For teachers and for their students…how does knowing student strengths and weaknesses enable teachers to maximize student learning outcomes? If you know what your students are good at, how can you use that to further their learning? To inspire their creativity? To encourage more problem solving and critical thinking? How can you highlight the areas where your students excel so that you can build their motivation and self-esteem? I think you use it when planning lessons, when picking group arrangements for activities, when organizing reading and writing strategies, when planning interactive, hands-on vocabulary lessons, and etc. You should be purposeful when thinking about how the students as individuals are going to achieve their learning objectives for the day.  Which can be so HARD! When you teach 180 students and have to work hard to plan lessons to engage students, to cover the curriculum, to fit the vision of the campus, to follow the state standards, and etc, it makes it seem impossible to then break down those lessons even further to cater to the needs of individual classes or students.  How do you manage? How do you fit in innovation and use strengths to maximize the learning in classrooms?

It’s in pockets, right? In small pieces? You fit in some creativity here, some new strategies over there. You try new things, take risks, find out what works for you and for your students and what doesn’t. Then you go share! You blog, tweet, go to PLCs. You lean on your colleagues to give you inspiration and you lean on them to push you to keep thinking for new ways to teach, to inspire, to learn!

A message of kindness

I posted about Mrs. Eva Mozes Kor last October:


One of the amazing things that Eva does is spreading her message at conferences, in schools, and around the world.  A program that she hosts through the museum allows you to spend $500 and you will receive 30 copies of her book plus an hour long virtual session with her.  Of course, I jumped at this opportunity for the students at my campus.  I put in the PO, ordered the books, and got started!

We started our meetings in January and these students read the book on their own time and came to advisory once a week.  They are an impressive group of students and they came every week with new questions, ideas, and thoughts about her book and how it relates to history, to their own lives, and to the world we live in today. We did all kinds of activities from quote swapping, to the wagon wheel protocol, to creating slogans and hashtags to represent the chapters.  It was a great experience with the students and really fun for me to get back for a bit into the world of teaching. 🙂

But the most AMAZING part of the entire thing happened yesterday.  Yesterday was the hour long session with Eva herself virtually.   The students were mesmerized by her every word.  She tells pieces of her story in Auschwitz and then gives the students her own message.  A message that is full of kindness, forgiveness, and love.  The students asked her their own questions as well and she was very gracious in her answers.  Ranging from inspiring students to be the best they can be, to be kind to others, to silly stories of how she learned English when she moved to Indiana by watching soap operas and how she was confused when her fiancé (at the time) kept telling her all the females in his family were going to have a wedding shower for her and she just said, um, that’s okay, I can bathe by myself.  She has an incredible strength that surrounds her and what she does every day. A few words of wisdom:

If you don’t give up, you can accomplish anything.

We can improve the world, one person at a time.

Become the best You that you can. You cannot become anyone else.

Be kind.

Forgive others. You have the power to forgive. No one can give it to you and no one can take it away. Forgiveness is a feeling of wholeness.

So today, more than ever, I will work to forgive. I will work to be kind. I will not give up on my dreams. I will work to improve the world.  Thank you Eva–for your amazing ability to survive and how you have used your life to empower others to be better.

Thank you to the students who embarked upon this amazing journey. Thank you for being willing to take part in the meetings each week, to read the book on your own time, to add your slogans and hashtags, share your quotes, discuss the meaning of Eva’s words with your classmates, your friends, and with me. I know you are all so empowered after hearing her message.  I hope that you are a little kinder and a little better each day now from reading Eva’s words and from hearing her message.