Building a PLC at Work: A Guide to the First Year

Parry Graham and Bill Ferriter said,

"Lacking any kind of organizational decision-making power, teacher leaders can only change the behavior and commitments of colleagues when they are committed to actively building positive relationships with peers" (39). 
Over spring break I anxiously started and finished Building a Professional Learning Community at Work: A Guide to the First Year by Graham and Ferriter.  I was really excited to read this book, not because I am a self-proclaimed expert in PLCs or even have any experience at all with teacher collaboration, but the idea of creating common assessments, building consensus about what it is all students should learn and be transparent with colleagues about successes and failures in the classroom has intrigued me ever since reading a few of the (in my opinion) more theoretical PLC books written by DuFour, DuFour and Eaker.  This book claimed to be written BY practitioners (Ferriter is a teacher and Graham is a principal) FOR practitioners and it lived up to the claim.

In my nearly six years teaching, I have slowly realized as Ferriter and Graham suggest,
"The truth is, most teacher just don't talk about practice with one another" (50).
In my admittedly rare visits to the staff lounge, the talk is typically centered on weekend plans or recent sporting event successes and failures - adults being social and there's nothing wrong with that, I guess.  When the phrase "teacher collaboration" comes to mind, I think of informal hallway conversations about weather-related dismissals or the timing of the upcoming pep rally.  Other times, I think all staff in-services or departmental meetings.  Teachers "collaborate" from time to time, right?
"It's not whether teachers are collaborating - it's what they're collaborating about" (51, emphasis mine)
This book proposes specific tasks for teams to complete, "such as identifying essential curriculum objectives for the next quarter or creating common assessments..." (73) - just the kind of practical suggestions I'm imagining a true professional learning community needs as it begins the journey of trust, collaboration and transparency.

Yet another part of the book that stood out to me was describing collaboration as seen in many schools today and how it differs from that of a professional learning community.
"Unfortunately, many teams get complacent and fail to move beyond the simple sharing of instructional practices, while such conversations are a good beginning, the real work of PLCs is reflective and inquiry oriented, resulting in teacher learning and improved instruction" (73).
Ferriter and Graham describe the journey of a fictitious school, both the ups and the downs, as they begin to form grade-level, discipline-friendly professional learning communities.  Coupling realistic scenarios with the theories such as proximal development and positive deviants make for a fresh mix of academic, yet practitioner-friendly commentary.

Most of all, I appreciated the pragmatic outlook expressed by the authors.  Bill and Parry clearly articulate the work of a PLC functioning at a high level, scaffold the necessary steps to overcome the
inevitable obstacles, leaving the reader hungry to jump in and start the journey for him/herself.

Ready-made surveys, templates and PLC handouts are provided at the end of each chapter with digital copies are also available online.  If you've read any of the DuFour, et. al books and are ready to put theory into practice and begin collaborating with your colleagues in a meaningful way, this book is for you. 

(Note: I was not compensated in any way by the publisher and/or authors to review this book)

I took off points for THAT on the quiz, you'd think they learned!

I've been a part of a handful of conversations lately that go something like this:

"On the quiz last week, students were asked to label their graphs.  Half the class didn't, so I took off two points."

"Oh, really?  That's pretty frustrating."

"On the test today, guess what?  The same kids forgot to label their graphs.  I tell you, Matt, it was right there in the'd think they learned...."

We (math teachers) think that taking off points for incorrect or missing labels, forgetting to answer part of a question or not turning in homework is THE solution.  Does it really work though?  In my experience, for the most part, the same students continue to make the same mistakes over and over.  They need to be taught soft skills of becoming more detailed readers and writers or following directions carefully - some of them need help...reading!  By taking off points, what message are we sending to students?

I don't know the answer.  Maybe more critical conversations with students rather than relying on points and grades to do the talking?  Thoughts?  Leave 'em in the comments.