One Step at a Time

I suppose it would be an appropriate intro tag for my first blog post, but in this case it’s the title of an article that the Dobbs cohort is reading that deals with the steps that are taken in introducing PLCs into a faculty body (“One Step at a Time,” Graham and Ferriter, 2008).  As language lab director at my school, I often work with teachers to develop technology-based instruction for use in the lab, as well as other venues on campus.  But the reality is that I usually only meet with three or four teachers.  These teachers are usually the ones openly discussing ideas and welcoming the ideas of others.

There are many others that are more hesitant to share ideas or let other teachers into their cloistered classroom protocol.  These teachers usually ask my advice on how to use the lab, but rarely do the ask me how to use the lab.  They consider the lab a glorified tape recorder and have not yet grasped the possibilities for this very powerful tool–to say nothing of utilization of 2.0 tools.

The most effective way to address these “hold-outs” might be a PLC.  And the article “One Step at a Time” spells out in step-by-step fashion how to go about easing these teachers into a collaborative atmosphere.  I suspect that if I initiated this on my own, I would presume that since we’re all capable adults, that conversation would generate itself with few prompts.  Or on the other hand, it’s better to cram lots of “conversation building” activities.  Either way, Graham and Ferriter head me off at the pass

As teachers initially explore collaboration, meetings can swing from one extreme to the other: either struggling to fill time or tackling too many tasks in hour-long meetings.  Frustration is inevitable…

If I were to take our first two PLC meetings as an example, I think that Bob, Laura and Brandi did a wonderful job defining expectations.  My previous experience in a PLC left me twisting in the wind, waiting for guidance.  I hope that we continue with the same “open-ended but regimented” mode.

Graham and Ferriter eventually arrive at the point where a PLC engages in assessment and data analysis.  The term “data analysis” sends chills down my spine since, while I have a tendency for self-reflection, I can’t say that analysis is my forte.  That said, if reading, interpreting, and making conclusions and taking action based on student evaluations is considered analysis, then I’m fine.  But if we’re talking about crunching numbers, someone please pass the oxygen.


Graham and Ferriter also talk about the importance of creating “safe environments in which teachers can discuss common assessments and to model nonjudgmental approaches to data.  If I can offer up this tidbit, the Junior High in which I teach has done a fantastic job creating a self-assessment regimen that elicits self-reflection in a non-threatening way.  The process encourages reflection on the teacher as a learner, a teacher, and a member of the community.  Then, after reviewing the spring student evaluations, the teacher establishes strengths, weaknesses, reflects on last year’s goal (I gave myself a C- on my goal last year, and feel comfortable saying so), and finally prompts the teacher to set a goal for this year that is informed by all the foundational work aforementioned.

It’s absurd that teachers don’t reflect on their teaching practice more than they already do.  Personally, I have only started to truly do so in the last two years.  Previously my evals focused more on my contributions to the school, and not on my growth as a teacher.  I suspect we all don’t dive into self-reflection because we all take this job very seriously, and to acknowledge defeat is to be defeated.  When in fact, to acknowledge defeat equips you with a will to improve, and just might illuminate the road to get you there.

5 thoughts on “One Step at a Time

  1. Ted,

    I understand your frustration over not reaching everyone or the fact that there are some that seem reluctant to dive into the water. I think it might be helpful to see them as wanting, needing, and afraid to ask for advice. I wonder if you offered to do a demonstration lesson on how to use the language lab as a 21st Century classroom. What would it look like, how would it be organized, what would be the lesson, what would students be doing? Then invite them to the demonstration. Have some food and let them play. I wonder if you would get converts, especially those that are on the fence. What do you think?

    Bob Ryshke

    1. Bob,
      Thanks for the feedback. Just such a session is in the works, although I hadn’t thought of it as a “window into the lab.” I usually approach teacher training from the perspective of “this is what’s out there, here’s something that you could do with it.” I’ve never conducted a sample lesson demonstrating objectives and deliverables.

  2. Ted,

    I love your transparency here, and I hope your tendency towards self-reflection will be displayed here frequently. You are good, honest writer, and hearing your “voice” inbetween our PLC meetings in important. I think you will find as we get going that valuable learning will occur as we all share these voices and build conversation and push our thinking.

    I agree with Bob about your approach. It’s one thing to show teachers tools, but there is so much fear associated with technology in particular, and if we can’t invite them into the story so to speak, then resources will lay idle, perhaps be ill-used, and the ones who get short-changed are our students.

    I just wrote a blog post about technology and school-choice to adopt (or ban) technology, but it stems from a linked post that has some great commentary by either doctoral ed students or professors about their observations re:technology adoption by teachers (not specifically the school approach I took). GO take a look, and please feel free to chime in anywhere. The post is by a really good friend of mine who is a doctoral student at UVA.

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