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Music in the PLC World

Anyone in a district that has embraced the PLC (Professional Learning Communiies) model? If so, how is your's structured? My research shows PLCs are usually subject matter-centerd, yet in our school, everyone (including the arts, P.E. etc) is delegated into either a "numeracy"-centered group or a "literacy"-centered group (I am in the numeracy group at this time). The idea is to allow dialogue between subject areas to better engage our students. I work very hard to connect what I do to units that the core subjects are teaching, but these meetings have become useless for those of us who don't teach Math or Language Arts, only because most of the time, during these group sessions, those teacher are interpreting data from the latest benchmark tests (we take them every three weeks to track students progress) and when we (the exploratory teachers as we are called) ask, "What can I do to help?" we are told "nothing".  Recently, I was spoken down to by an assistant principal (I was told I had a negative attitude and they didn't care how the other schools did it) during a meeting when I voiced my frustration with our structure (other schools group the arts, PE and Health, etc as separate groups who then meet with the numeracy and literacy groups from time to time to "connect the dots" in the cirriculum).
Can anyone give me any feedback regarding their experience with this newest "invention of the education wheel"?
Replies (10): Threaded | Chronological
on November 12, 2013 5:56am
We also do PLC, and I've been to a couple of the Solution Tree Seminars, in part to answer this very question.  I have yet to find a good answer, but it sounds like what you are experiencing is certainly not it.  When I've asked, I get a variety of answers that are light on practical solutions - either to collaborate with the band & orchestra teachers as a music department on common ground (this is our route - we now have a common music literacy assessment that we have connected to our SLO), or to find a way to collaborate with other choral teachers in other districts, or to 'get creative'.  I have come to the conclusion that while no one wants to say it out loud (primarily the DuFours or our administrators), PLC wasn't designed for us - is was designed to increase math and literacy scores.  Now we have to find a way to fit in.  A wise and confident administrator will allow flexibility with this. 
For those reading who are not familiar, there are a few primary of aspects of PLCs -
1. There are 4 essential questions PLC wants to us ask: What do we want students to learn?  How will we know if they learned it?  What do we do when some don't learn it?  What do we do if they already know it?
2. The collaboration of teachers to decide the answer to the above question 1, analyze data answering question 2 and help each other when answering questions 3&4. 
3. A change in the conversation from how the teacher teaches the material to whether the student learned the material.   In my opinion, this is the most important, and applicable, facet of PLC.
How are the social studies and science teachers managing their being grouped into literacy or numeracy?  My understanding of PLC is that is should be truly data driven and content focused (What do we want students to learn?).  Does the adminitrator have a comprehensive understanding of PLC?  My guess is that they themselves are not secure in their understanding with the PLC concepts but are being told to implement them as they are data-driven, and therefore a big buzz right now.  If you have the opportunity to attend a conference, consider - they offer little practical advice for musicians, but it does help get a feel for what a PLC should be and I found the days well-spent. 
My .02 for your situation - If the conversation is truly just interpreting data, do what music, PE, and art teachers have done since the invention of district development - the best you can (which it sounds like you are doing).  If the conversation starts moving to question 3, and you can pick up some ideas, or offer some, great.  Perhaps the literacy group would be more accepting.  This may be the best you can hope for. 
Best of luck.
Jean Enyeart
Choral Music
Menomonie Middle School
on November 12, 2013 6:25am
Our district PLC consists of visual art, music, theater, and dance.  We meet seldomly, perhaps 4-5 times a year.  The first half of our meeting is generally spent discussing assessment practices - how do we track progress for each individual student; how can we track and present "ensemble growth" in an acceptable format; etc.  The second half is in a smaller, more specific group - I meet in a small group of just choral music, grades 6-12 - we discuss our curriculum framework, essential questions/enduring understandings, the scope & sequence.  We've also piloted an optional PLC encompassing neighboring districts (I think there are 5 or 6 represented in total?) with the same design - music, visual art, theater and dance - large group to discuss assessment practices, small groups to discuss what to assess, when to assess it, etc. 
Any more questions, feel free to ask!  This is a great conversation topic.  The idea of a "Professional Learning Community" (in my opinion) has the potential to be an excellent support tool for teachers.  Hopefully teachers and administrators alike will continue to be reflective practicioners and continue to adapt this development structure to continually provide quality learning environments for educators. 
on November 12, 2013 11:20am
I have been in PLCs for about eight years now . . . in high school and elementary.  In my Arizona experience, we have had a MANDATED number of hours and documentation all the way to a few meetings of student discussion.  As a "singleton" (as we were 'tagged" a few years ago), nobody else on my elementary campus knows what to do in my class.  
For two years, each of us "attached" to a grade level to support THEIR goals.  Our were not important.  I was able to assist the first grade, more specifically, with number sense, but that's already what I do.  I guess "formalizing" it in PLC language makes it look like we do more than musical chairs and Peter and the Wolf.  Heck, I have classroom teachers challenge my grades, which are based on my standards.  (I know, I know . . . time and place).
I have also been in DISTRICT PLCs with MUSIC colleagues from other schools at the same time I have been a part of my school PLC.  It's additional time I must take, but rewarding.  We don't share SPECIFIC students but rather concepts and experiences.  We have "EDMODO"ed.  I am in two Facebook groups with Music Teachers from around the country.  I Pinterest with many as well.  We have face-to-face meetings.  ANYTHING to make a connection.  , you are RIGHT ON THE MONEY:   PLCs weren't designed for us.  Just like sitting in faculty meetings discussing reading benchmarks.  I've been told, "If WE have to be there, you should be there, too!"  Same sentiment.  If THEY have to PLC, WE have to PLC.  So we've "modified" ours to work for us.
Paul Townsend
National Board Teacher Certification candidate – EMC Music
General Music K-5
Tavan Elementary School
on November 20, 2013 5:19pm
Is there a way in Arizona to get hours and/or credits toward professional development and continuing education for your time with Facebook and Pinterest groups?  What about music related independent research and projects you might do, not connected with a university or other institution?
on November 12, 2013 3:45pm
sounds horrible.....
on November 20, 2013 6:52am
Perhaps I can shed some light on the PLC process:
1. PLC wasn't designed for us - is was designed to increase math and literacy scores. 
This is not accurate. Professional Learning Communities have existed far longer than the past decade. The concept shows up in educational research going back to the 1980's and the concept of collaboration has been proven to be more effective than isolation.
2. A wise and confident administrator will allow flexibility with this
Yes. Flexibility, however, should extend only so far as to allow the PLC to determine it's goals and destination, in addition their mission, vision, values, and norms. However, the flexibility should not include the option to "do" or "not do" a PLC.
On the topic of creating PLCs:
As music teachers we are locked into the idea of creating a PLC for music teachers: we teach XYZ, therefore we, the XYZ teachers need to collaborate. This is a false assumption and the source of much conflict and aggravation for elective teachers in general. Let me ask this: isn't it a bit diminuitive of our profession as musicians to suggest we are not capable of contributing our knowledge and experience to the larger educational communtiy? I serve on committees unrelated to music because I enjoy the challenge and feel I have a voice that needs to be heard. Any committee that seeks to enact change is essentially the foundation of a PLC. I have heard of fine and performing arts teachers collaborating with special education teachers to look at a particular population of students because the FPA teachers have them in class. With the Arts Integration movement gaining momentum as the push for STEAM heats up, arts and content area teachers may decide to team up and determine both a need and a framework for implementing the arts throughout their building/district.
As music teachers, we often negate the purpose of professional learning communities: we say we should collaborate but instead look at music, art, drama, dance, theater as though they were in a vacuum. Essentially, in isolation. I would encourage everyone to reassess their concept of what a PLC is and could be, and then be creative. Reach out to your colleagues and find a small issue that a group of teachers could use as a focus to improve the school environment. That is the fundamental purpose of PLCs, and I think in that vein more elective teachers will begin to find success with the process.
Vinnie Du Beau
Director of Instrumenal & Choral Music, 
Delsea Regional High School
FPA PLC Leader
on November 20, 2013 5:08pm
   I'm sorry to hear that the contributions you make to education, children and society are being crippled by these silly, feel-good, and poorly thought out "reforms."  I was fortunate enough to begin teaching in 2000 under a principal with 30 years experience, who was not a "bean counter" and didn't need "superiors" to "educate" her about what we teachers "need" and should be forced to do.  (And isn't it so typical, that these reformers with their lofty and arrogant uber-knowledge never ASK US what we need--and apparently think we're not smart enough to know what we need, nor would bother to get it if we did know?)
   Every time we got the schedule for the monthly professional development day--I don't recall which version of the educational wheel we were on--it was like the administrators had just remembered "Oh yeah....we've got music, art and PE teachers!  Jeez....what do we do for them?....well....let's have them choose an area to sit in with and contribute to."  That would be 2nd grade math concepts, remedial reading, inspiring reluctant writers, etc etc.  Important needs and work, but not our work.  Why couldn't we--just once--have the "regular" teachers come to our rooms and learn how to help our students read music, count rhythms, learn music vocabulary, teach topics in music history and acoustical science, and--in general--learn how to integrate their daily lessons into our obectives for music education?
   But I digress......let me get back to the irrelevant, non-music "professional" "development" that was official policy at my school at the time, and the REAL p.d. that took place in its stead.  I'd stick my head into my principal's office, just wanting to follow procedures, and she'd say, "There's nothing for you; you know what to do--go observe a teacher in another district or work in your room.  You know what you need." 
   WHAT A CONCEPT !   We music teachers know what we need and are responsible and dedicated enough to be able to manage our own growth and improvement!
   Your assistant principal is ignorant, defensive and incompetent in this area, as are, most likely, many of his or her superiors.  We need to get our unions and professional organizations involved, and speak to boards, parents and community groups about how money, time and human capital (that's us!) are being squandered, resulting in less musical opportunity and education for their children.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 23, 2013 7:41am
PLCs can be a natural fit for the arts. Right now we're using the PLC meeting times to wade through accredidation issues. But we typically use the time to plan our end-of-semester VAPA festivals (Winterfest in December and May Day Festival of the Arts on May 1). We also collaborate on our recruitment presentations at the feeder schools in late January. Beyong those events, there is a lot of collaboration that we do - getting photography students to set up photo booths at choir fundraising dinners, having art students design concert posters, etc. Additionally, we have found it often necessary to break our VAPA department into smaller collaborative groups - the "VA" and the "PA" really are different beasts, aren't they?
A lot of synergies happen when you get creative faculty members in the same room. It is worthwhile for no other reason than departmental esprit de corps. PLCs are evidence-based best practices, so I don't think it's appropriate to characterize it as just another education fad. Though it's important we don't get crammed into the same box as the STEM teachers, and charged with the same kinds of tasks and expectations. I would suggest that the energy that some put into resisting and resenting PLCs might better be used towards advocating for greater flexibility for the performing arts teachers with respect to their form and purpose.
on November 23, 2013 8:53pm
We had mandated weekly PLCs at the school where I last taught, and like many others here, we were put in kind of a catch-all arts group, including choir, band, orchestra, dance, and fine art.  Our principal set it up so that each week we were supposed to complete goal sheets where we came up with common assessments for our entire department, and then discussed how best to reach these common assessments.  And it was very important for him that they be very, very common---as in, they should all be exactly the same.  You tell me how teaching good choral tone can be exactly the same as teaching someone how to use a paintbrush effectively.  Needless to say, there was absolutely nothing that the entire group of us could do the exact same way, across the board, so while all the other PLCs discussed their benchmark tests, the way they were teaching the novel of the month, the preparation for the science fair, etc. we generally used the time for prep.  Other PLCs knew this and many of them actually voiced their resentment of us aloud, saying they too would love an extra hour and a half (yes, weekly hour and a half PLCs) of prep time, but when asked what they would do in our shoes, they couldn't come up with anything.
Toward the end of the year, the administration met with each PLC separately and asked us what we thought of the process.  We were honest in telling them that we felt it was not helpful for us in any way, and they were honest in telling us that they had no idea what to do with us either, and they basically made us go through the PLC process so the other teachers wouldn't feel like we were getting special treatment.  Someone above stated the reasoning behind PLCs and listed some pretty interesting ways that they can be made to work for elective courses.  I personally have not experienced this, and in general I am not a fan of PLCs, but perhaps if they were utilized in the ways listed above I might change my tune.
(Incidentally, the main suggestion I had for the administration was that it would have been much more helpful to me--especially as I was new in that district--to be able to meet with the choir and music teachers of my feeder elementaries (which all had music teachers, amazing, right?) and the high school that I was sending students to, to come up with a more cohesive vertical teaching plan.  This suggestion was met by several seconds of silence and then a, "You could have done that every week if you wanted to."  I almost banged my head against the table at that very moment, because I had, in fact, the second or third week of PLCs, asked the administration if this was possible...)
on October 23, 2014 7:23am
We are adopting the PLC ideology in Dumas this year. So far, it has been a good thing. Our administration has treated us with respect as professionals. Our music department has met several times as our own PLC to discuss grade-level goals and expectations. We have also met with other elective teachers at our campus (junior high) to discuss how we can support the core classes. I have connected music to the main four through creative methods.
Math: Sing formulas to well-known tunes as a memory aid. Also, for fun, Tom Lehrer's song " New Math". And obviously fractions due to note values.
Science: Anatomy of singing, simple acoustics, laryngoscopy videos are all good ways to connect this subject.
Language Arts: I have a songwriting project that I do once a year. Students break into small groups and write the lyrics and melody, harmonize and accompaniment if they have the ability. I always discuss the origin of the text of our songs which helps with vocabulary.
Social Studies: I have written a curriculum of sorts calles American History through Music. This has been a hit with our history teachers. If you have Dropbox, I can create a fileshare for anyone interested. This covers Viking exploration to modern day events.
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