Tuesday, 19 June 2018

21st Century PLC

There is a great deal of talk in education these days about 21st Century learning. A quick Google search of this topic produces thousands of hits. Much of it focuses on 21st Century skills.  These are often referred to as the ‘soft skills’ in education. According to much of the research and online discussion, these so-called ‘soft skills’ are really the skills students will be required to have in order to be successful both in school and in life beyond school. The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) makes a compelling case for this ( http://www.oecd.org/general/thecasefor21st-centurylearning.htm ). While there is general agreement that these soft skills are important, there is less clarity about how we incorporate those skills into our teaching and learning, and into our assessment and reporting. In my work with schools and districts on building and improving their Professional Learning Communities, a new question has been bubbling up: “How can we incorporate the 21st Century soft skills into our work as a PLC?”

There are three big ideas that drive the PLC process: a focus on learning, building a collaborative culture, and a results-orientation. Collaborative teams of professionals with PLC schools and districts focus their collective inquiry on four essential questions:
1.  What is it we want our students to learn?
2.  How will we know each student has learned it?
3.  How will we respond when some students don’t know it?
4.  How do we extend and enrich the learning for those students who have learned it?

Most collaborative teams initially focus on the ‘hard skills’ of academic learning outcomes. This is important work. Schools and districts that have used these guiding questions and collaborative PLC structures and processes, have successfully created a professional culture focused on student learning with measurable results. Now, as we must pay more attention to the new soft skills of 21st Century learning, it seems to me that we can use the same framework to focus our new efforts.

Each organization and jurisdiction has slightly different terms for these soft skills, but most of them are similar to the work of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21). According to P21 ( http://www.p21.org/our-work/4cs-research-series ), these skills are the “Four Cs” – Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Creativity. Regardless of where you work in education, some form of the Four Cs will be coming your way. The challenge and opportunity for us as educators is to find a way to incorporate these new skills within the work we already do, not have it as an add-on or after-thought. Fortunately, the structures and strategies we already use in a PLC have prepared us well to move into the realm of 21st Century skills.

This is a global movement, with many countries and jurisdictions exploring the same themes. In the Province of British Columbia, Canada (where I live and work) we are engaged in a similar journey. We are now working to embed the soft skills of 21st Century learning into an already existing successful educational program. We refer to these skills as the Core Competencies ( https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/competencies ). Slightly different words and names, but essentially the Four Cs of P21. We will be using the same approach with the new Core Competencies as we have already been doing with academic content.  What does that look like? We have to go back to the four essential questions.

1.  What is it we want our students to learn? Within our PLC school, we need to get clarity on what these new skills are, why they are important, and then come to consensus on what it is we expect to see in our students at different age and grade levels.
2.  How will we know each student has learned it? In collaborative teams, we need to work on ways to define, observe and assess students’ progress on these new ‘soft skills’. In many jurisdictions, including British Columbia, work is underway to create rubrics and other authentic performance-based assessment tools that will help us with this. The power of these rubrics is not the words in each box, it is in the professional conversations and collaborative inquiry of the educators as we co-develop and co-refine our understanding of these skills and our ability to teach and assess them.
3.  How will we respond when some students don’t know it? As with all things in education, not every student will be at the same place at the same time. Students learn in different ways and at different rates and we need to find responsive ways to both honor and support that. Similar to the academic support model of Response to Intervention (RTI), we will need to find ways to help kids develop these soft skills alongside the essential academic skills. The rubrics are a great starting point. Using student exemplars (in print, video and other forms) will enhance this work. Being overt about these skills, with both adults and students, and talking about why they are important and what they look like in the ‘real world’ will make it more meaningful.
4.  How do we extend and enrich the learning for those students who have learned it? If kids learn in different ways and at different rates, it should be expected that some of our students will already have many of these skills and aptitudes. The challenge for educators will be to find ways to tap into those existing student strengths and help them find ways to extend their learning. In terms of the soft skills of 21st Century learning, enrichment should be easy. These are the real-life skills that business and industry are looking for. They are also the skills that set people apart from the crowd in just about any workplace or endeavor. There are many opportunities both within the school and the outside community, where students can use their talents in these areas to shine.

Interestingly, these so-called soft skills, are also required of the adults within a successful PLC. Educators in a Professional Learning Community will be much more successful if they are able to articulate and demonstrate the Four Cs themselves. Powerful collaborative teams require all four: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Creativity. So, as we work to develop these 21st Century skills within our students, we can be co-developing them within ourselves and our colleagues at the same time. We can all be learning together.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Are you married to your PLC?

Are you married to your PLC? Are you just flirting or dating? Or maybe engaged? What is your level of commitment to the PLC process?  These were the questions and conversations that surfaced repeatedly as I crisscrossed North America this summer, working with schools and districts in their Professional Learning Communities.

Almost all of the staffs had already had some form of introduction to the PLC concepts. Some districts had sent administrators to a big PLC Institute, others had sent teacher teams to a one-day or two-day Pro-D Event. A few more had already had a whole-staff introduction of some sort.  Several had already made some of the structural changes such as proving collaborative PLC time which was built right into the timetable, or creating formal PLC teams with guidelines and team norms. Everyone I spoke with liked the concept of PLC. However, the level of commitment was hit and miss.

In his recent book, In Praise of American Educators, Rick DuFour reminds us that the “primary challenge in the PLC process is changing, and not merely tweaking, the existing culture” (p. 100). DuFour insists, it is not so much about what PLC’s do, but rather how the individuals and the organization think and act together. PLC is not a checklist, it is a way of being. Ken Williams and Tom Hierck go even further in their new book, Starting a Movement, when they push our thinking about the “patterns, habits and actions” that demonstrate “the commitment required for PLCs to be embedded into the culture” of the school (p.96).

According to Williams and Hierck, we are flirting when we have just a surface level of exploration or implementation. We are dating when we demonstrate some of the characteristics of a PLC, but we don’t have any personal commitment to it. When we are engaged in the process, we demonstrate a deep commitment to the purpose, process and our collaborative team.

In my conversations with several school staffs recently, we took it one step further.  What will it look like if you are married to the PLC process?  If you and your team are married to the PLC process, there will be a deep commitment to the process.  Communication will be clear; everyone will know the mission, vision, values and goals of the school. They will have a collective understanding of WHY we are all here together. Collaboration will be meaningful; teams of teachers will work interdependently to clarify the most essential learning in each grade or subject, and will share best practice for both instruction and assessment.  PLC members will celebrate each other’s strengths and support each other to work on areas of improvement. People married to their Professional Learning Community will know they can lean on each other. They will help each other get better, and sustain each other through the inevitable tough times.

Many excellent resources are available that outline the big ideas, key concepts, critical questions and desirable attributes of a PLC. These books are very helpful, but they risk becoming more checklists. Members of a PLC must be willing to work on the commitment and relationships required of being married to their Professional Learning Community.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Creating the Conditions for Success

At a recent 2-day workshop on Pyramid of Behaviour Interventions, the conversation turned to the question: “What do you do with the kids who just refuse to do the work?” We had already discussed the foundation of working collaboratively in a PLC (Professional Learning Community), being clear and consistent on priority learning outcomes, having a pyramid response to intervention (PRTI) and being willing to differentiate for the needs of different learners. “Ya, but…” asked one participant, “what about the kid who outright, defiantly refuses to do the work and disrupts others in the process?”

Great question. My first response to that question is always “Is it a CAN’T or a WON’T?” As Buffum, Mattos and Weber so succinctly put it, “Behaviour and academics are inextricably linked”. Is it that the child CAN’T do it, WON’T do it, or BOTH? It is often difficult to separate the behaviour problem from the academic problem.  As you move higher up the pyramid in terms of intensity and frequency of defiant behaviour, it is almost impossible to separate the two.  To help answer that question, I asked all of the participants to think of a very challenging student they had worked with recently.  On their own, I asked them to describe in as much detail as possible all of the details surrounding that defiant behaviour. What behaviour did you observe?  Can you recall the setting and situation just before the defiant behaviour? What task was being asked of the student? What was the intended learning outcome of the task? What was the student getting or avoiding by exhibiting the undesirable behaviour?  Participants then shared these observations with a colleague.

Together, we walked through the process of “ABC Analysis”. This is a very simple version of a Functional Behaviour Assessment that can be done by almost any educator. It does not replace the work of a trained Functional Assessment specialist, but it is a very helpful tool for most teachers and education assistants.  By breaking down the observations of the interaction, most educators are able to begin to identify “triggers” to the behaviour, as well as “consequences” that result from the behaviour. Consequences, in this context, are the things the student either gets or avoids. Working as a team, educators can usually differentiate the CAN’T from the WON’T. They are also usually able to identify some of the underlying causes to the symptoms displayed and, in most cases can usually prescribe some form of prevention, intervention, adaptation or assistance.

Just as a PLC creates the conditions for academic success for an entire school team, the process briefly described here can help create the conditions for success for individuals with both behaviour and academic challenges.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Holiday Homework

I hate homework over the holidays. There is only one other thing that bugs me as much as holiday homework, and that is chain-letters. So, you can imagine my initial reaction when I got a Twitter invitation from Peter Jory (@PeterJory) to join an online-blog-chain-letter campaign over the Winter Break. My first reaction was "Homework for the holidays? Don't believe in it". I had no intention of participating in, or supporting two things I don't believe in. Then, I read Peter's blog and a couple of others and thought: "Pretty good idea. If I have some spare time I might throw something together". But there was no commitment. It's the holidays! I'm more of a "lurker" than a true "tweeter", but I did follow a few chain-blog posts to see how this idea was evolving. After another peer pressure prod from Peter and after reading a few more posts in this blog-chain, I decided "OK, I will do it, if I have time". You have to know that I value vacation days tremendously and, this year in particular, I needed to turn my work-brain off and turn my attention more to my family. It was quite a 2013, but I won't bore folks with all that.

So, here I sit on New Year's Day. Happy to have put 2013 on the shelf and start fresh with a positive and productive 2014. Family is still asleep. Strong coffee is on. Keyboard is warm. I hope I can add a little bit of wit and wisdom to this little project.  I believe it was started by Cale Birk (@birklearns). For those who have not been following this chain, the idea is to share:

  • 11 random facts about yourself
  • 11 questions answered from another
  • 11 questions of your own to others
My 11 random facts:
  1. Born in an ambulance at the corner of Broadway and Burrard, Vancouver, BC
  2. Quickly moved to the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island and, except for university and travel, have stayed there ever since
  3. Happy to live the lyrics of John Cougar Mellencamp's "Small Town"
  4. Travelled to 35 countries on 5 continents. First with my childhood family (Thanks, Dad) and then with my own family (Thanks, Deanie)
  5. Bounced around several departments at UVIC before deciding on Education. Second best decision I ever made
  6. Best decision I ever made was to settle down and marry Deanie (Byron) Coleman
  7. Have two fantastic boys, almost 17 and 14, who are so much more responsible than their dad was at the same age. Must be their mother's influence!
  8. I'm a runner. Right now it's just recreational to burn off a little stress and a few pounds. I will never be able to compete with Tom Hierck's marathons completed (45+), but it's a pretty safe bet that Tom will never beat my PR (3:07-ish)
  9. Owned and operated my own restaurant, Just Jake's Downtown (while I was a new teacher)
  10. Have been a principal at high school, middle school and elementary
  11. As a sideline, I've been an educational consultant & presenter in 8 provinces and 20 states
The original 11 questions from Cale Birk:
  1. Ketchup, salsa or hot sauce? Salsa (say it like they did on Seinfeld: Sal-sa)
  2. What is one thing that you are part of (or believe in) that is bigger than you? Family
  3. What do you do that is great? Not 'good', GREAT. Hopefully folks would agree that I'm pretty great at making others feel great about what they do. Motivation and morale
  4. If you could live anywhere, where would it be and why? Cowichan Valley, British Columbia. I stay here by choice. No matter where I travel or work, I am always happy to come HOME
  5. If you were a breakfast cereal, which one would it be? How come? VECTOR, it tastes good, and it sounds cool
  6. What is the one thing (outside of your family) that you absolutely make time for - no matter what? I should say friends, or exercise, but in 2013 the honest answer would be red wine. I told you, it was a rough year!
  7. If ________ could be eliminated from your life, you would be stress-free. Online, chain-mail blogging over the holidays
  8. What is a talent that you have that would surprise those that think they know you well? I used to be able to cook just about any item off the menu at Hy's Steak House and the Keg. Chicken Cordon Bleu was a favourite 
  9. If you were to give yourself a pen name, what would it be? George Blyth. I could finally have a use for two useless middle names. When you read that racey novel by George Blyth you'll now know that the characters are based on folks I know
  10. Your favourite movie is? So many... I guess, John Grisham's THE FIRM
  11. If schools closed tomorrow, I would go be a ______________. Travel Journalist. It kills me that Anthony Bordain (Parts Unknown on CNN) stole my dream job. Eat, drink, travel, talk politics!
The 11 questions that Peter pestered me with:
  1. Where did you grow up, and what place still feels like home when you go there? See above
  2. When did you decide to do what you do? Still deciding! I love the current job that I do, and all the things I do on  the side, but I never know that I have "arrived"
  3. Describe something that you struggle with and what you've designed as a coping skill or compensation? I know that my confident, outgoing personality can come across to some folks as cocky arrogance. I have to always remind myself to "tone it down"
  4. What makes you the proudest when you think of your work? The book that I co-authored with Tom Hierck (@thierck) and Chris Weber (@Chi_educate). "Pyramid of Behavior Interventions" is more than a book about behaviour. It tells real life stories about positive learning experiences with teachers and kids. I'm proud of that.
  5. Who got you started on Twitter?  The first two I followed were Tom Hierck (@theirck) and Tom Schimmer (@TomSchimmer). Two BC boys who've gone on to share their expertise as full-time consultants and presenters. I knew them before they were famous!
  6. Name your all-time favourite fictional character, and describe how that "person" has influenced you. I have to go back to my childhood and choose Robin Hood. I'm not sure which I like more. The fact that he lived the life of "eat, drink and be merry", or that he stuck it to the King and Taxman by robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. Romantic notion, either way
  7. In what way are you quirky? My quirk is that I can't admit my quirks
  8. Describe a very public moment that didn't work out for you. One time, while co-presenting with Tom Hierck in Nova Scotia, I was in the middle of telling a very animated story and joke to a crowd of a few hundred.  This story-joke had always worked with every crowd, getting great laughs and lots of knowing nods. Not on this day. I was giving it everything I had and the crowd just did not get it. They sat and stared, in stunned silence. While I made a fool of myself, Tom stood in the background killing himself laughing (1) for the fact that this tried-and-true schtick was dying and (2) that Tom got to watch me sweat it out. Ask Tom about the "Poo-Poo on the Potty Dance" the next time you see him!
  9. What is the best fruit? Bananas. I'm a runner. All runners should answer bananas
  10. Describe an event where you had a surprisingly brilliant time. The first BCSSA conference I attended. I was not sure that I wanted to spend two days in a room with the "suits" at the superintendent level. To my surprise, I was engaged and met many folks with whom I have enjoyed interacting with ever since. I've been to a few now, and always enjoy the learning and networking.
  11. What would you like people to say about you after you are gone? He had it figured out. He knew how to work hard and play hard, and always had the balance between family and friends, work and fun.
My questions to you (should you choose to accept this mission):
  1. How do you strike that balance between work and play?
  2. If you could hop on a plane today, regardless of time or cost, where would you go first? Why?
  3. If you could sit down at a dinner party with 3 historical figures (dead), who would you invite and why would you choose those 3?
  4. If you could also invite 3 living guests, who would you add to that table and why?
  5. What is your most significant career-related achievement?
  6. The Lotto Max is about $45 million this week. How would you spend the first $20 million?
  7. What are the first 3 words your "significant other" would use to describe you?
  8. Who was your best friend growing up? Describe one great childhood memory with that person.
  9. What recent non-fiction book do you recommend?
  10. What recent fictional novel do you recommend?
  11. Do you have any regrets? Care to share?
The 11 new victims of this Twitter Chain (hopefully you have not been hit by someone else):
  1. Pat Duncan @PatrickHDuncan
  2. Gillian Braun @Gbraun41
  3. Tom Schimmer @TomSchimmer
  4. Sherri Bell @SherriDBell61
  5. Venessa MacDowell @VMacDowell
  6. Lori Hryniuk @lhryniuk
  7. Nicole Boucher @NicoleBoucher
  8. Sheryl Koers @Skoers1
  9. Larry Mattin @larry_mattin
  10. Glen Posey @gposey79
  11. Anthony Muhammad @newfrontier21
P.S. There is no pressure or expectation that you do this homework. It is NOT for marks!