In part 3 of this 4-part interview, author and Advanced Collaborative Solutions president Steve Ventura shares why you should stop watering down PD and stick to PLC protocols.

Watch the interview video on PLC protocols above, or read the interview transcript below.

Stick to those PLC protocols

– Welcome to another PL together Lounge Talk. I’m Adam Geller, Founder and CEO of Edthena, the video observation platform that streamlines feedback to teachers today. We’re talking with Steve Ventura, he’s the author of multiple books, including a book coming out in March 2022 about collaboration and collective efficacy, which we’re about to talk with him about. And he draws on experience as an educator having been in the classroom and a school leader and a superintendent. Steve, thanks so much for joining us.

– Thanks. Happy to be here.

– Well, you’ve got a new book coming out about collective efficacy. I feel like this is a term that we kind of probably feel like we know what it means, but if it was that simple, it probably wouldn’t need a whole book, right. So, let’s start with what is collective efficacy. Let’s, you know, like lay a shared groundwork for kind of thinking about what that means for a school leader, thinking about collective efficacy within a school community.

– Yeah. Perfect. Well, you know, I’ve always heard the word efficacy and efficacious. Wasn’t quite sure what any of those terms meant. And then as I was working with visible learning and Professor Hattie, he deemed collective teacher efficacy as the number one influence in student achievement. So, I started reading more about it. And it’s not an easy concept sometimes to grasp. I mean, I say I do collective efficacy through achievement teams, but we’re just trying to promote people who understand that teacher quality is the greatest influence on student motivation and achievement, especially when all the teachers believe that together collectively. And, so, you know, some of them are, I think more sensible definitions of collective efficacy is when groups of people or teams of people believe that they could likely positively affect the lives of the students they serve. One of the things that I learned from the collective efficacy research, which Professor Hattie didn’t come up with that. It was more like Goddard and Hoy and at these other pioneers about collective efficacy. But what I discovered was is that based on the effect that John Hattie calculated, I mean, it has up to three times the impact of being poor. So, even though we worry about students’ home life and what they don’t get at home, and maybe they have low socioeconomic and other struggles, what we do in school could actually have more impact than what they can get from home in terms of learning. Not everything from home. I mean, we can’t do everything, But I think, I mean, collective efficacy is a huge influence on student achievement. And I think we can do this, not by just saying we have a PLC, but by following protocols consistently that actually elevate that. So I think that, you know, there’s master experiences and vicarious experiences. You know, Adam, if I watched you just crush a lesson and I asked you, you know, how did that feel? And you said, well, I wish everyday could be like this. My kids loved it. I learned, and I went home feeling much better. I mean, that’s efficacy. And then I would probably be motivated to want to have the same accomplishments. So there’s, you know, your master experience, but that could be my vicarious experience. So, the more we collaborate with each other, people should be sharing their master experiences and teaching like what really works. And other people usually like to see people who are persistent, continue to get better. And then that motivates them. I’ve always surrounded myself with people who are extremely successful. I wasn’t. But I mean, I watched people who are very successful motivate me to be that type of success. So, that’s my vicarious and that’s a part of, you know, collective efficacy. So even in PLCs, just by teachers sharing their master and vicarious experiences together, could literally accelerate a great PLC. I mean, make it so much more formidable and satisfying.

– What I’m realizing and hearing you talk about this, what this definition is, you know, I’m thinking about this phrase that I’ve heard so often, and I’ve even said, you know, that the quality of the teacher in the classroom is the single biggest determinant of student outcomes. And it’s kind of like you’re building upon that idea and helping us see as a community of educators, it is not just going to get the students quote there. If it’s one classroom, it needs to be, you know, every classroom and every team of teachers all believing and knowing that they can help kids get to the desired end goal, you know, to achieve their full potential. You mentioned PLCs. And so I, you know, I’m glad, cause I want to confirm, you know, short answer here just to confirm or deny, this isn’t a throw out our old PLC and do as something else. This is just a way to improve PLC’s, right?

– Yes.

– Thank you for the short yes, there. Okay. So we don’t have to get rid of PLCs. You’re not telling us PLCs are wrong. But what exactly does that mean needs to change? I mean, you mentioned the idea of having protocols for a PLC, but are, you know, are there some building blocks that a leader should put in place for PLCs to be, I guess, exhibiting the behaviors that are more in line with collective efficacy?

– Yeah, well, first of all, I think the term PLC has been watered down so much last 10 or 15 years. I mean, literally it means anytime two people have a conversation, they’ve had a professional learning community and that’s just not true, really good PLCs, followed protocols consistently. I think for me, Adam, if I’m going to be on a team, a PLC team at the end of that meeting that team should have an appropriated new knowledge about teaching and learning, not maintaining existing knowledge. I mean, why are we meeting if we don’t leave with new knowledge about our craft, we should also be sensitively challenging, current thinking and practice. You know, if we can have a PLC that does that, why it would be a winner all the way around PLC should be based on evidence like short cycle assessment and inference making from teachers. But I think that, you know, when we created achievement teams, we just wanted a four-step protocol people could follow and actually feel good at the end of the meeting. Like we can finish this meeting and we can also leave with research-based instructional strategies that have the probability of making a difference. So I think PLCs, I think what schools have done really well as given teachers the time to PLC, but then they, then they agendize it for them before they can ever have those meaningful conversations. And so now a PLC is just what I would call like a forced compliance. So there’s a lot of things that we can do with PLCs to make them better, for sure. And that will increase our collective ability.

– What do you say to the educator out there that hears this description of a better PLC using a protocol and pushes back and says, well, you know, great that you’re telling me, I don’t have to do that standard agenda, but aren’t you just giving me another kind of, you know, robotic way that I have to proceed through this? Like, why are help us change our perspective on what a protocol is and why it could be powerful?

– Yeah, so not every PLC has to have data and evidence. I mean, sometimes people just need time to have an unstructured conversation, but other times it’s really necessary. And especially, I mean, to me, if I’m going to do like a pre and post assessment, that’s the best way teacher can actually assess their instructional impact, right. I mean, it really, I mean, that’s really good evidence to determine, am I making a difference? And because I think PLCs and instructional strategies and some sort of data help people to evaluate their impact. The other thing is that if we don’t PLC, we become limited to our own perspectives. And now we’re working in these individual silos where we can’t learn from each other. So I think there’s a little bit of both, I think a PLC can be extremely creative and still follow a protocol, but it doesn’t have to be like, like you said, cause that’s what we were trying to avoid too. Like, oh, I have to follow this, this, this and this. I still think it has to be attractive to teachers and motivating to them, but there’s gotta be an ultimate end result that we’re going to do it invest that time. That’s what we kind of focused on, anyway.

– It’s making me think a little bit, you know, coming out of the summer with all the Olympics and all the team sports and only imagining what their practices look like. But I would have to imagine that, you know, sometimes they practice the drills and sometimes they practice, you know, actual scrimmage style game among their teammates and some, there’s different ways that team builds its skills. And so, it’s almost what I hear you saying as well this protocol can be used as one of the ways that this team gets better.

– And that’s an important distinction, it’s not the end of all It’s not a hundred percent guarantee it’s gonna get better, but I think sometimes the biggest threat to innovation in our business and the biggest threat to innovation is not the fact that we’re talking with people who are overqualified teachers have invested thousands and thousands of dollars in their craft. A lot of times PLCs don’t work simply because of internal politics and an organizational culture that doesn’t really value them. These are all things that can really crush really good collaborative protocols.

– Well, Steve, we need to take a break if you’re interested in learning more from him on this topic, be on the lookout for his new book coming out in March, 2022 that is about collaboration and collective efficacy. If you’re joining us and wondering what we talked about before or what we’re going to talk about next, head to PLtogether.org for the rest of this conversation, as well as many more. Steve, thanks so much for joining us.

– My pleasure.

For more interviews with education leaders about PLC protocols and other insights, check out all of our PLtogether Lounge Talks

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