Saturday, July 27, 2019

Planning collaboratively with teachers: the instructional coaching series

One type of professional learning community is a planning PLC. During a planning PLC, teachers plan collaboratively for an upcoming lesson, unit, or time frame. This post includes steps for instructional coaches to take to facilitate planning before, during, and after the planning session! Learn tips and ideas about why agendas matter, how to get started right away with preplanning, and why you start with the standards. Stop spinning your wheels during planning time and get something accomplished! It was my first full week on the job as an instructional coach.

My space was ready for my first
collaborative planning PLC. I'd made sweet little welcome gifts for the teachers I was working with. I had snacks on the tables. I'd set up a sample classroom library full of the books I had used in my own minilessons.

I was ready.

The first grade level arrived. I shared a general notetaking format with them that I'd created for our work together. It included space for us to write the focus for our unit, the TEKS (state standards) we'd be working with, and a spot for brainstorming possible experiences we wanted students to have.

I kept it broad and general, because I was afraid that too much structure would seem limiting and stifling to teachers.

"What does this mean?" one teacher asked, pointing to the "Learning Experiences" column. "That's where we can record the kinds of things we want students to do," I said. "Maybe it's a specific read aloud title, or a foldable, or a hands-on activity you'd like to share."

"And what's this?" another teacher asked, pointing to "Word Study". "Is that spelling?"

"Well, in our district," I said, confused at her confusion, "word study is a component of our reading framework, so it involves working with the standards that are about developing vocabulary strategies, context clues, and word parts like prefixes..." I trailed off. I realized that we were not speaking the same language.

Another teacher said, "I don't even know what I'm supposed to do on Monday." "Well," I said, "We're here to figure that out together. Let's take a look at -"

"Can you show me how to access the online curriculum system?" another teacher asked. "I can never log in."

The meeting quickly devolved into what some like to call "venting" and literally not one thing was accomplished - except that I felt like I had made a HUGE mistake in choosing to be an instructional coach.

Flash forward to a couple of years later. Teachers arrived with their materials for planning. Everyone knew what the upcoming unit was, and where to find the resources the district had provided. We reviewed the state test questions and decided what question stems we'd include in our daily lessons. 
One teacher shared her thinking about the nonfiction unit and led the conversation about the ideas she had put together for our PLC. Other teachers reminded her, "Remember this idea from last year? I really think that worked." I facilitated the meeting, moving us from one focus to the next and interjecting when needed, providing a different perspective on the standard and its intricacies. In short, we were collaborating.

Was it perfect? Nope. Was it purposeful? Yes! How did this happen? Well, it definitely didn't happen overnight, or even from one nine weeks to the next. It took time, it took patience, and it took structure. Here are some of the structures I recommend to have in place when you plan collaboratively with teachers.

Before the planning session

One type of professional learning community is a planning PLC. During a planning PLC, teachers plan collaboratively for an upcoming lesson, unit, or time frame. This post includes steps for instructional coaches to take to facilitate planning before, during, and after the planning session! Learn tips and ideas about why agendas matter, how to get started right away with preplanning, and why you start with the standards. Stop spinning your wheels during planning time and get something accomplished!  
1. Everyone needs to know what is going on. Teachers need to have access to the curriculum provided by the district or state, whether that's an online source, a textbook, or any other type of curriculum. They need to know what's coming up by looking at the curriculum calendar. Everyone also needs to know what the purpose of the session is. Are you planning for every content area for one week? For reading only, for two weeks? For an entire unit? Make sure this goal is clear to everyone involved by providing an agenda.

2. Have teachers prepare for the planning session. One way to do this is to have grade levels designate one person per team to be responsible for "preplanning" each content area. For example, in a grade level with five teachers, it might look like this:

Reading - Gonzalez
Writing - Beltran
Math - Medina
Science - Bejarano
Social Studies- Rangel

For each content area that they are "preplanning", the teacher would dig into the curriculum documents, think about possible learning targets for each step along the way, identify a few possible ideas for students to interact with the content, bring a few materials that might work well, and review the tested language: vocabulary and question stems that students would be expected to know and use.

Ideally, the teacher would lead the PLC planning. For my school, some grade levels made it to this point, and some still relied on me to facilitate the planning. As long as teachers have a voice and are ready to contribute, either way works. Grade levels just develop differently.

3. The facilitator (the instructional coach, in this case) needs to be very prepared to facilitate the planning session. This includes...
  • Understanding how students learn incrementally towards the standard they are expected to master
  • Knowing the curriculum inside and out
  • Being very familiar with the end of unit expectations or the end of year test and what this content looks like on that assessment
  • Having ideas for books, resources, and activities that could work
  • Reflecting on grade level dynamics and how to best support the grade in collaborating: giving teachers thinking and responding time, asking everyone to contribute as needed, clarifying understandings of the concepts that are being taught, addressing misconceptions, etc.
  • Creating an atmosphere of collaboration and ensuring that people feel like they can get the support they need 
  • Keeping in mind any upcoming dates, school expectations, etc. that need to be built into the plans. This could be holidays, district testing dates, book of the month or other school initiatives, and due dates for important artifacts.
I recommend to organize your curriculum documents, calendars, and other 
relevant planning materials by grade level.
 Get organized with the Instructional Coaching MegaPack.


4. Agree on a lesson planning document that everyone is comfortable with. This should include the parts needed: whatever components you are planning for (minilesson, read alouds, independent practice, etc.), the learning target for each lesson, and the procedure for completing the lesson. Simple is better.

During the planning session
1. Be aware that this can be a challenging role. When it comes to planning together, there are definitely pros and cons. Pros: teachers can learn and figure things out together. Everyone benefits from everyone else's knowledge and experience. Cons: teachers might feel like they have to agree with things even if they really don't. Everyone has different teaching styles. 

There's really no right answer to this challenge. But research does show that planning together improves student achievement, so we know that the pros outweigh the cons in the long run.
  
2. Designate roles for planning together. Someone should write down the thoughts of the meeting. I preferred to scribe myself, because it was easier for me to do this while facilitating than it was to leave it to another teacher. However, most teachers also prefer to record their own notes so they have their own thinking documented. Someone else may serve as a timekeeper, or the person who asks clarification questions.


3. Start with the standards. Discuss what they entail and what kinds of thinking students need to do in order to master them. Consider the unit assessment or state assessment. Use this to create learning targets: step-by-step learning objectives to help students do the requisite learning and move into mastering the standard. Then chunk these over the days you think it will take for teachers and students to work through them.



4.  Plan what will to do, what materials to use, and what to say on a day-to-day basis. Be specific and clarify. Ask questions that help teachers envision themselves teaching and make sure that everyone understands. This might include...
  • What does that look like?
  • When __ happens, what do you say? what do you do?
  • How do students complete this assignment?
  • Can you show us a sample problem? (Asking a teacher to model on the spot can be scary, but it's so valuable for each teacher to see it in action!)
  • How do you introduce that idea?
  • How would you say that in kid-friendly language? 
  • How will we know if the student is being successful? What will that look like? 
  • How will we assess this standard? How will it be scored or evaluated? When will that happen?
**If you're planning to model or coteach, read more about how to prepare for this in next week's post!

5. Get participation from different voices. If you notice one teacher leading the conversation with little participation from others (or if you catch yourself doing this - I am a verbal processor, so I have to catch myself frequently), pause to get some responses from others. You could say...
  • You have so many ideas, Mr. So and So! Thank you for sharing. What do you think, So and So?
  • Does anyone have a response to that?
  • Do you agree/disagree?
  • Ms. So and So, I'm noticing you seem to be concerned/quiet/reserving your comments/keeping your thoughts to yourself/nodding. Can you tell us a little bit about what you're thinking?
  • Would you share your thinking about this, So and So?
  • Ms. So and So, I've seen you do something like that in your classroom really well. Can you share that with us?
  • Has anyone tried this?
  • Does anyone see any possible problems with this approach?
After the planning session
1. Make sure everyone has what they need to do their job. This might mean requesting books from the library, or sharing an activity digitally or on paper. It's also important to share the final lesson plan with everyone - give everybody a digital or paper copy of the ideas they put together.
2.  Follow up. Check in and see how the plans are going. Ask teachers about what adjustments could be made to your planning process.

Did you check out my post from last week? It's all about conducting a coaching cycle! And check back next week for my next post in the series: Preparing to Model and Coteach!

Other posts in the Summer Coaching Series: 

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