At Renaissance Charter, we use a collection
of protocols available from the School Reform
Initiative (SRI). Different educators in the field
created each protocol to respond to particular situations, and members of the SRI community have
practiced and refined these tools. Most teacher
leaders at my school have been to an SRI conference, where attendees participate in short but
intense PLC groups and gain experience facilitating group sessions using a variety of protocols.
Although each one is different, all effective
discussion protocols do the following:
n Ensure that everyone has a voice. All are
designed to ensure that everyone speaks and is
heard at certain intervals in the session. This is
very important in developing an engaged faculty.
n Slow us down. The pace in most schools is
1 Good protocols ensure that we have time
to think throughout the collaborative process.
This supports everyone having a voice, because
many people need time to think or write before
they’re comfortable speaking. I’ll admit that at
first, I found this aspect frustrating. I was used to
moving faster in generating solutions to problems.
However, I’ve found that my thinking has
deepened, and I’m less reactionary as a result of
consistently participating in protocol-based PLCs.
n Require reflection. Protocols often build in time
to reflect personally before sharing—sometimes
at the beginning of the meeting, sometimes at a
later point. Again, this helps me think more deeply
about the question at hand and process more fully
what my colleagues are saying. As a final step, all
protocols include time to reflect as a group on how
the process went.
n Provide structure. The right protocol ensures
that we manage our time well and arrive at mean-
ingful next steps. It’s important to select a protocol
that’s geared to the purpose of the collaboration.
n Flatten hierarchies. Because the protocols
provide the structure and we rotate the role of
facilitator throughout the year, using protocols
limits the amount of authority the leader of the
PLC has—which is a good thing. I say that having
spent time as both a member and a leader. Pro-
tocols help show that the strength of the group
depends on each member, rather than on one
leader. This helps empower everyone and main-
tains the continuity of the group, even if its
My school has used the protocols and other
SRI tools as a resource for PLCs for more than 20
years. The longevity of this relationship speaks to
the power of these practices to adapt to the times.
Tending the Flame
Working in an environment that’s both structured
and flexible, one where teachers’ voices and minds
are at the center of most thinking and decision
making, I feel energized and supported—ready to
respond to whatever changes surface. Setting up
conditions like this for more teachers is crucial if
our profession is to be prepared for the future.
In 2010, I was part of a team of teachers who,
with Center for Teaching Quality founder Barnett
Berry, co-wrote the book Teaching 2030: What
We Can and Must Do for Our Public Schools—Now
and In the Future (Teachers College Press, 2013).
In our writing sessions, we talked about the
changes we imagined would happen to schools
and teaching in the coming decades and voiced
our concerns about some of the ways we saw the
tides moving. One of my fellow authors, Shannon
C’de Baca, said, “With all this change, who will
be the keeper of the flame? Who will make sure
that public education serves all of our nation’s students?” This powerful image gave us all pause. Of
course, we determined that teachers would be the
keepers of the flame.
Staring down the next three years to 2020, wondering how public schools and all our students
will fare, I know that because my colleagues and I
have created solid structures through which we
communicate, explore challenges, and think our
way toward solutions, we’re poised to weather the
storm. We will not only survive, but we’ll also
engage thoughtfully with students and one another
every day. We’re ready to adapt, fight when necessary, and stay focused on what matters most. ;L
1Wright, S. (2014, August 26). “Are you ready to join
the slow education movement?” [blog post]. Retrieved
from Powerful Learning Practice.
Ariel Sacks ( ArielSacks.com) teaches 8th grade
English at Renaissance Charter School in New York
and is the author of, most recently, Whole Novels
for the Whole Class: A Student-Centered Approach
(Jossey-Bass, 2014). Follow her on Twitter.