Monday, January 30, 2012


I am part of several professional learning communities. My school embraced PLCs long before they were trendy and/or mandated. I flipped through my 144 posts from this blog to see if I ever mentioned our PLC journey before, but I hadn't. I have, however, written about it here with a group of my colleagues for The Partnership, an educational journal with links to the Univesity of Guelph. One of the main things about a "proper" PLC is the establishment of group norms. (I've become rather protective of the term because people misuse it constantly and people who dislike PLCs often aren't part of "real" ones - I favor Richard DuFour's definition.) Creating group norms together sounds a bit silly at first - don't we all want the same thing for a group to work? - but it can go a long way towards creating a healthy, productive team.

As the junior/intermediate chairperson, I attend the junior/intermediate PLC meetings at my school. There are usually between 6-7 of us in attendance. At our most recent January meeting, in addition to our book study discussion (Chapter 2 of Karen Hume's Start Where They Are) and planning for our next TLCP (Teaching Learning Critical Pathway, on inferring while reading), we talked about how we would handle it if someone transgressed the group norms we established.

This was a challenging conversation. Because a PLC is supposed to be a democracy, we needed to find a way to deal with "misbehaviour" together instead of relying on a "police officer" to deal with infractions. It's easy for a teacher to reprimand a student in their class - but a fellow teacher? Someone wondered aloud whether all of this was actually necessary but my experience as chair (not just in this school but in every school I've taught in as a contract teacher) has shown that it's better to have a system in place before problems occur.

We decided to take a page from the sports area and use a combination of "3 strikes" and a "black card" system. If someone was ignoring our group norms and acting in a way contrary to our agreements, we'd try to gently give them a warning or alert them to their conduct. If it continued, someone could anonymously put one of these "black cards" in their mailbox, with the norm they were defying circled. If you receive one of these cards, it would be your responsibility to reflect on your conduct and change. If you are really unaware of what you've done, you would bring the card to the group for some feedback. The group was quite nervous about even receiving their copy of the cards for them to use. I'm curious to see how this system will work. I know my fellow staff members do not like conflict or confrontations but I hope that this will help us all behave. What do you think? Could this even work for students? Or would the anonymity of it cause further problems?

The card would look something like this:

AMPS Junior/Intermediate Division
PLC Group Norms 2011-12


Be Prepared


Right to Pass / Participate

Use time effectively

Summarize / Reflect

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