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School Board Spotlight

Good Evening, In February I mentioned during the TVEA Spotlight that in collecting pockets of feedback across elementary site visits that questions had been raised about the nature and execution of Professional Learning Communities, or PLC’s.

In March I followed up with Superintendent Ritter and Assistant Superintendent Mc Clay and we discussed some of these issues. I also shared with them TVEA’s intent to conduct a survey of our elementary members which we executed from March 9th to March 16th. Over 360 elementary teachers across all seventeen elementary sites took part. Tonight, I appreciate the opportunity to utilize our Spotlight time to share some of the findings.

First the good news……

A supermajority of members, 64% Strongly Agree or Agree that PLC’s are valuable to themselves and grade level teams while only 17% Strongly Disagree or Disagree. It is clear that the vast majority of TVUSD elementary teachers value collaboration.

This was reinforced by a later question: “Do you spend time planning and collaborating outside of designated team time?” Over 90% answered that YES they do. It appears collaboration is both a natural and necessary ongoing process beyond the PLC structure for our elementary teachers. Teachers report they collaborate at various times outside of structured PLC, often several times a week.

The survey then examined the two major concerns that had been collected from the aforementioned site visits: 1) The required number of weekly minutes at sites for PLC, and 2) How the structure and agenda for PLC is set. 85% of respondents are concerned about at least one or the other with more than half of those expressing concern being equally concerned about both the minutes and the structure.

Less than 10% of respondents believe that seventy-five (75) minutes are a weekly necessity for their team with the most common preferred allotment being forty-five (45) minutes and then sixty (60) minutes.

Under 40% report being content with how the structure and agenda of PLC is set at their site. The remaining 60% are split between being neutral and being dissatisfied about the structure and agenda. The common underlying concern I gleaned from the many comments is that many teachers feel hindered by lengthy prescribed agendas that do not allow for the flexibility of daily lesson planning and grade level team business best addressed collectively in person.

As professionals, teachers would clearly like a more flexible approach to PLC. Another question examined the need for PLC team members to meet face to face for 100% of designated PLC time. Less than one quarter of respondents believe this is important for PLC teams to be successful, while a majority do not. One teacher commented: “The requirement to sit together during our PLC time limits our resources. We could be much more effective if allowed to gather materials individually and then come together to share. We could also use more time for grading (creating consistency among the team) rather than being forced to meet for extended meetings at PLC time” Another teacher offered this idea: Require that every team check in each week for fifteen (15) minutes weekly during formal PLC time to discuss concerns, questions, needs, etc. If the need is to go and pursue individual goals (creating, copying, etc.) allow that to happen. If the need is to help each other with progress reports or unit planning then do that. If the need is to discuss interventions or rotations then do so. Allow teams to use the time they NEED to meet team goals”

As far as the district’s tentative 2016-17 proposal to increase Wednesday instructional minutes by fifteen (15) minutes in conjunction with a permanent reduction to weekly PLC minutes, only 10% of respondents believe this will be beneficial while a supermajority of 64% disagree. Many teachers appeared troubled about linking the reduction of weekly PLC minutes to adding Wednesday instructional time. One called it “A slap in the face to elementary teachers”.

In sum, our teachers clearly value collaboration and the concept of PLC. The issue seems to lie in the norms and execution. When one reads the survey comments it is clear our teachers seek more flexibility and less rigidity. They need more empathy and less micromanaging. One teacher commented as part of a prevailing theme, “Admin needs to trust us more. It is embarrassing how we are treated sometimes”.

Teachers also desire to be more of a participating stakeholder in the execution of weekly PLC. One teacher commented: “…. Some weeks we need more time and other weeks we don’t need the full time. I would like us to be professional in being able to go over one week and end early on a different week as long as we are using the total time overall in a given month.”

My own response to this is perhaps a monthly verification log signed by team members would be a middle ground here as it would allow for weekly team flexibility.

My conclusion at this juncture is that the dialogue between TVUSD and TVEA should continue with the intent of improving the practice of PLC. Of course TVEA can introduce changes or additions to contract language in negotiations. Yet I agree with one teacher who wrote, “Collaboration and genuine sharing come from the heart. It cannot be forced or negotiated into a contract. Forcing people to sit in a room together for so many minutes is not the same as collaborating”.

TVEA looks forward to the opportunity to working with TVUSD in making adjustments to PLC that will benefit not only our teachers, but ultimately their planning and delivery of curriculum to our TVUSD students. Thank you.

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