The issue of “time” in terms of my professional learning community (PLC) has become very important to me lately. As I deal with the implementation of the Common Core and ongoing teacher evaluation efforts I have become more aware of situations that try to “nip away” at this precious commodity. There are weeks where I feel that much of my planning time has slipped away in support of emergency IEP, intervention or parent meetings. Some of these are inevitable, but I notice my colleagues bristle when I ask the question, “Why are we having another meeting?” I worry that we have forgotten one of the key tenants of the PLC: norms.
I am part of an amazing PLC and one thing I appreciate is that the process is built on establishing and maintaining professional norms. As a National Board teacher I consider any norms related to time critical. Without this time my ability to prepare engaging lessons and reflect on my practice is at risk – which in turn places my students at risk academically. Over the years my teammates have adjusted our norms. However, as you can see from the list of my current norms time always gets primary attention.
Time: We will meet weekly for an hour on Tuesday - 1st Period.
Listening: We will have a single team where everyone has an opportunity to speak
Decision Making: We acknowledge that the best decision making is through consensus; therefore we will achieve 90% of our decisions in this manner
Participation: We have an expectation that 90% of our meeting will be inclusive of all team members
Expectations: We will have a focus question for each meeting. Active participation is expected from all team members. Meetings will focus on three areas: 1) student data (assessment), 2) curriculum alignment with student learning goals, and 3) administration issues
Student Achievement: a time will be dedicated to discuss student accomplishments and those needing our support
As teacher leaders I see it as our primary function to remind colleagues (and guide new teachers) in negotiating the time we are given. This negotiation can sometimes create conflict when another person does not get what they want. However, taking people back to PLC norms is the way to solve this. Here are some tips that I use when confronted with an unexpected time intrusion:
- Always have agendas for meetings (this is something that our district has mandated in our PLCs and it has made an amazing impact on time (keeping on schedule and on-task).
- Acknowledge the importance associated with the request (i.e. IEP meeting) and ask that it be given preference in your next team meeting. Remember – once a week team or content area planning is meant for any student achievement issue. This includes IEP, intervention and parent meetings. The key is ensuring that all staff members (psychologists, social workers, etc.) understand where their requests fit into team norms.
- Ask if the issue could be addressed through an EMAIL exchange.
- It is easy to lose track of upcoming events (i.e. parent-teacher conferences) which can turn into an emergency meeting. Try to get team members to allow 5 minutes in an agenda item to consider events that are coming up within the next four weeks.
- If none of the above work, then you may have to use professional discretion and simply state that your planning time is not available. In other words, say “no” to a meeting. I often times seek the support of an administrator to assist in negotiating these situations – using a review of our PLC norms and if necessary asking for time to be given from some other time slot (staff meeting, etc.).
Allowing for continuous intrusion into our planning time (or worse, our personal time) not only diminishes the effectiveness of PLC’s but also risks our personal wellness. If we hope to be mindful in the work that we do then we need to respect our time and the time of our colleagues. PLC norms are one way to accomplish this.