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October 09, 2012

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@ Janette: "I would also suggest that perhaps it isn’t a matter of throwing off things that are valuable to replace them with other things that are valuable, but instead (or maybe “also”) looking at restructuring our profession to allow for increased quality and a better division of labor/organization of our efforts." EXACTLY. I didn't mean to suggest that we drop what is valuable. Rather, we need to look at what we are doing figure out how to mesh the "doing" and the "to do."

Mark- And that's why I started my comment with "I think I'm missing something". Thank you for your elaboration. That makes more sense now. Maybe I shouldn't respond at the end of a long day of after school meetings ;-)

How a PLC should be used, and what makes that time useful or worth keeping, is as varied as everything else we do. I've worked in a lot of different schools and seen everything from highly to absolutely horrible. But I think the worth of a PLC is really a different conversation.

So going back to the bigger question of taking off something in order to add on something new: Travis makes a good point in his comment. Sometimes we have the power to make those decisions. Often we do not. So what needs to change so that we have a voice in those decisions? And how do we move forward when ten different teachers have ten different answers to this question?

I would also suggest that perhaps it isn’t a matter of throwing off things that are valuable to replace them with other things that are valuable, but instead (or maybe “also”) looking at restructuring our profession to allow for increased quality and a better division of labor/organization of our efforts.

My response below is loaded with conventions errors... you're for your? Look past it, please :)

I think you're missing my point, Janette. I am not proposing WHAT we should give up, I'm also asking the question what we should give up (see the last line chunk of the post). We need to figure it out for ourselves, when we demand that others give us the answer--well, you've seen how well teachers take to mandates. To think that we can only add to our job description without subtracting is insane...we have to stop doing something. You say you're stumped as to what to take off our list and how that would work... I am stumped as to how just adding more to our list will actually help us do our jobs well. We might at some point be able to finish everything on our list, but finishing it all is different from doing it well.

I think part of the reason we end up getting piled with more and more and more is that we take one look at our job, say "it's all important, there is nothing we can give up," and then cram more into our time. To me, it is an argument analogous to class size. We know that in practice for most real situations, a larger class means less quality teaching time per pupil. Similarly, a longer to do list means less quality time per task. Because it is hard to figure out what to not do, we end up just doing all of it. Eventually we hit that point where we are doing it all, but certain pieces are clearly not given the effort and attention they should get.

If you read my comment, I also suggest that PLC replace some of our planning and assessment. What I'm quickly learning this year in my strange role half in the classroom and half as a TOSA is that teachers (myself included) waste a lot of time doing things we think are more efficient, when in reality it is all just an effort to check things off the to-do list. For example: you mention that you can grade a class set of writing assignments in the time it takes to have a PLC meeting. I'm not saying you stop grading and save it all for PLC, there are certainly things we have to do independently. (And also, if all that gets done in PLC is discuss four samples and if that's not satisfactory, I think that the PLC is not doing its job yet...perhaps because it has been crammed onto the list). Maybe something that needs to be "stopped" is the WAY we are doing writing assignments. Maybe they get finished, but is finished all we're after? These are tough questions that demand hard core and honest self assessment, but I bet if someone challenges most teachers as to whether finishing a class set of writing tasks in that time is really doing it "right," the initial reaction will be to be offended, defensive, and want to justify and defend our reasoning rather than actually examine the practice. PLCs, when built and functioning properly, can be the place for that examination that will make the WAY we build our assessments and do our assessing better, and likely more efficient.

All that said, I'm not here to beat the PLC drum--it is very possible that PLC as we know it (in most places) is something that ought to be crossed off the list. But there the cliche "something's got to give," and I bet that close and honest reflection will reveal that "something's already given" ...there are already things we're not doing well just because we are forcing ourselves to do them too.

This question is also bigger than individual teachers: it is a systems level question. I look at my admin team: in my high school, we have five administrators. All of them do a little of everything. A little discipline, a little evaluation, a little curriculum work, a little PR work, and on and on. Why not one admin in charge of all discipline, one in charge of all evaluation, one in charge of all curriculum work. We all know how focus leads to depth of mastery... imagine the potential for positive change if focus is permitted to happen? (This model does exist, I know.)

The big idea is that we need to revise our job description, to re-prioritize, from our daily routine to our building and district level expectations of teachers. Janette, I'm sure you've seen as you teach students writing that revision is not about adding, and sometimes the cuts are the most difficult to make--it's always "easier" just to keep it all, but it's always better to revise by cutting and replacing, whether with something new and better or with more room to better develop what's already there.

It's a cop out to say we can't do it just because we can't immediately see how it can be done.

I think I'm missing something here. What, exactly, would you propose we stop doing? The concept rings true enough, but I'm stumped as to how that would actually work. And no, PLC's do not replace planning time or looking at assessments. I can score an entire class of writing assessments in the time it takes a PLC to discuss four samples. I can plan a week's worth of reading lessons in the time it takes a PLC to plan one day's reading lesson. Is there value in those deeper conversations? Absolutely. Can planning and assessment be done in those meetings? Not at the volume required by our current daily responsibilities.

I think, perhaps, PLC can replace something... if we are willing. I think it can replace (some) of our planning and assessment. We so often plan and assess in isolation, and I think this is something that PLC can grow to replace. It cannot replace ALL of our planning and assessment, but that is work that PLC is supposed to do. In my opinion, a high functioning PLC will not only be meeting at the "prescribed time" that is wedged into the schedule. I have small groups of colleagues who are doing the work a PLC is supposed to do--collaborating, examining student work together, etc.,--but they are not in the same "official" PLC. They have chosen to collaborate even though it isn't mandated. Unfortunately, their "official" PLC is a different group of colleagues and that meeting time is wedged in as additive.

Can I subtract the things in my job, my daily routine, that I would like to replace with the additives that are worth while?

Sometimes I do. Sometimes I cannot. I agree, for example, that PLCs should not be considered additive. They should be considered the evolved way to do what was done before. But, at least in the schools in which I taught, there was not a something before so PLCs are an additive. They are not taking the place of something else and doing a better job. They are added, and we are still doing the other things which are not necessary (did I hear someone say a meeting on ladder safety?).

Thanks for posting this. I am going to read it again in the morning. Good thoughts here.

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