Friday, November 09, 2007

PLC Convening White Paper

As I mentioned previously, I was invited to a convening surrounding Creating Transformational Professional Learning Communities put together by the KnowledgeWorks Foundation back in September.

In hosting this convening, KnowledgeWorks Foundation hoped to:

  • Learn more about strategies for developing professional learning communities
  • Begin developing a vision for professional learning communities of the future and how they can help expand current thinking around school reform
  • Examine what stakeholders, including philanthropy, can do to move toward such a future.

I haven’t really blogged about this for a few reasons. First, I’m still trying to get my head around what we talked about those two days. These were some very bright and thoughtful folks and I struggled to make a meaningful contribution to our discussions.

Second, it was also an interesting role-reversal for me. In my staff development, I’m the guy who’s always talking about what’s possible, and pushing folks to make changes, and getting frustrated at the obstacles and saying we should push through them no matter what. Meanwhile, the folks who actually have to try to do these things in the classroom are occasionally telling me I’m nuts, or to be patient, or asking exactly how they should push through a particular obstacle that I think they should push through. (In case you can’t tell from reading this blog, I’m sometimes just a little bit radical and/or unrealistic.) Well, in this convening, I played the role of the realist (as I see it, of course) to everyone else’s Don Quixote. I kept pushing back, primarily around the issue of time – suggesting that everything these folks were talking about was great, but that they were ignoring the very big issue of when were teachers actually going to have time to participate in these transformational professional learning communities. As one of only two current K-12 folks in the room, I sometimes felt like they were ignoring that one very big elephant in the room. So, it was interesting – and probably really good for me – to be the somewhat negative, “yeah, but” guy for a couple of days.

Finally, I didn’t want to blog about this until the white paper that Knowledgeworks Foundation was putting together from the convening was published. Well, they’ve now published the white paper (pdf). If you’re interested in PLC’s, you might want to take a look. Despite my “yeah, buts,” I think all of the folks in the room would be excellent resources to tap if you’d like to know more about transformational PLC’s.

I appreciated the opportunity to participate and, in fact, just returned from a second convening that KnowledgeWorks Foundation hosted surrounding Modernizing Teaching Tools. (I think they wanted to give me a chance to redeem myself.) I’ll wait until that white paper comes out to blog about that experience, but I felt like I had much more to contribute to this one.


  1. Karl, you had no need to "redeem" yourself. And your remarks about time have prompted a number of interesting internal discussions at KWF about refocusing our own blog to be more directly useful to educators instead of trying to foster Yet Another PLC. Thanks for being there.

  2. I am an instructional tech specialist in a small poor rural district and am fighting the time battle to provide training to our elementary teachers. Our schedule includes a 45-minute "prep" period before the kids arrive in the morning (in addition to the teachers' contracted prep period during the school day). Although I offer integration training at least once/week, my sessions are poorly attended.

    In the teachers' defense, they are "meetinged" to death in the morning . .. wellness committee, anniversary committee, assessment committee, IEP meetings, parent conferences, grade level meetings . .. I could go on and on. They can show up for tech training only when something else isn't going on. Tech is not a priority. Many teachers have apologized to me, saying they wish they could attend my sessions but they have too many other things they have to do! I think NCLB is taking its toll, and I know I need to do a better job demonstrating how tech is another tool to help students meet AYP.

    Grade levels are given release time for collaboration a couple of times a year, but they have such a long list of tasks to complete, there's no time for integration training or collaborating to design technology-rich instruction.

    Thanks to PA's "Classrooms for the Future" program and other grants, our high school teachers are gaining the skills they need to create 21st Century classrooms. I'm very concerned that our elementary teachers (and their students) will be left behind!

    By the way, did I mention that there is very little District money available for staff development? Our budget is stretched to the limit.

    I sent out an SOS to our elementary principal and am meeting with her on Tuesday. Any ideas I can present to get this training headed in the right direction?

  3. Karl,

    Thanks for sharing the conversation and your thoughts.

    And I agree with you that although I also can come across as a radical, time is a very critical factor in addressing these paradigm changes in schools.

    I recently blogged about some ways to build professional learning networks after hearing a session at Tech Forum by Sheryl Nussbaum Beach--just trying to get together some specific steps for someone interested in becoming part of a network. Sometimes I think the way we talk about it makes teachers think the network just arises fully developed, so to speak, so I was trying to break that down a little bit.

    Kim Cofino also has a great slideshow she's preparing for a workshop at TeachIt that is really helpful, I think.

    Barb, Have you looked at tools like the Classroom 2.0 Learning by the California Library Association. It's a self guided, nine week tour of web 2.0 tools.
    They borrowed the idea from a library tour that the Charlotte Public library did for their employees (which had prizes at the end of it). I think something like that might be a great tool for you to invite teachers to explore, or you could develop your own based on theirs.

  4. Karl, I just finished reading through the white paper and it is fascinating.

    My two cents worth, and I may blog more about this later--

    There is something very organic about a professional learning community that works. So cultivating one, like cultivating a great school, is so personal and different to each situation.

    They are very people driven and vision dependent.

    The group discussed so many fascinating elements--How do we foster communities in schools? Top down or bottom up? Organic or imposed?

    I think your work with cohorts is a good model of what it could look like, or the totally out of the box thinking at the High Tech High schools, because the teaching is built on teaming, so the whole culture rotates around collaboration, which the typical school campus does not.

    I think of models of smaller colleges too, like the way Evergreen builds courses around teams of teachers, as creating an environment where professional learning communities are embedded into the school.

    I also think what we need are more "platforms" to spring from, from a technology standpoint.

    The Ning platform has some possibilities for pulling together forums, videos, threaded discussions, blog posts, etc., for example, but is maybe a little too labyrinthine (and also is blocked in some k12 schools).

    Lots of food for thought here--thanks again for sharing the results of your discussions.

  5. @Barb - No easy solutions, but I think the place to start is having a school-wide, community-wide conversation about the need. Because the solution that I think makes the most sense is on-going, sustained, embedded in the regular day staff development, with a minimum of meeting for at least two hours every other week (that's a minimum). Which means calendar changes for your school/district and all the ramifications of that (daycare, transportation, meeting the number of contact minutes with students necessary to meet state requirements, etc.)

    If we don't do that, there's no way we'll be successful, because there is too much to do, and too many other meetings and responsibilities. It has to be embedded as part of our profession. How can we possibly show our students how to be lifelong, continual learners when the very system we work in prevents us from being lifelong, continual learners? We need to transform our schools into Schools That Learn (there's a good book with that title you might want to read).