Dr. Anthony Muhammad was storming norming.

"There are four parts to good professional learning communities (PLC) operating well," said Muhammad, addressing an audience of six schools' staff members at Kingsland High School Monday, Oct. 21, "and they are 'forming,' 'norming,' 'storming' and 'performing,' and there are two conditions necessary for a group of people to be considered a team. They have to have an interdependence - they have to be people who need each other and have something to work toward that's measurable, because if they don't have anything to work toward, then they're just a group or a committee."

Muhammad spoke to the teachers and staff members of Kingsland, Chatfield, Dover-Eyota, Plainview-Elgin-Millville, Mabel-Canton and Lanesboro schools as part of a convention of the Southeast Minnesota Learner Achievement Collaborative (SEMLAC) hosted by Kingsland, sharing with them team-working wisdom he'd accrued over years of working in the education field, particularly that pertaining to teams formed of members of like disciplines.

As a practitioner of nearly 20 years, Muhammad has served as a middle school teacher, assistant principal, middle school principal and high school principal. Muhammad's tenure as a practitioner has earned him several awards both as a teacher and a principal. His most notable accomplishment came as principal at Levey Middle School in Southfield, Mich., a National School of Excellence, where student proficiency on state assessments was more than doubled in five years and he was named the Michigan Middle School Principal of the Year in 2005. Muhummad and the staff at Levey used the professional learning communities at work (PLC) model of school improvement, and they have been recognized in several videos and articles as a model, high-performing PLC.

As a researcher, Muhammad has published articles in several publications in both the United States and Canada. He is also a best-selling author, with titles including "The Will to Lead and the Skill to Teach," "Transforming Schools at Every Level," "Transforming School Culture: How to Overcome Staff Division" and is a contributing author to the book "The Collaborative Administrator: Working Together as a Professional Learning Community."

Those credentials were evident as he told how "Over the years, I've seen some really strange professional learning teams formed...an English teacher, a science teacher, the physical education teacher, all thrown into a team just because they have the same prep hour. They don't get anything done because they don't have anything in common," he stated, adding that "First, you create the work, then you form the team that will get it done...you first figure out what you want to try to accomplish, then you put people together."

The "forming" part of PLCs might seem difficult to "singleton teachers," or teachers who are the only high school history teacher in their small district, Muhammad said, pointing out that "some vertical collaboration" is possible between high school and lower level history teachers, but the information they must present is still so very different that they're "better off doing electronic collaboration or nontraditional collaboration."

The consultant gave the example of the Jackpot, Nev., school district, in which there were 150 students whose teachers wished to collaborate with other educators, doing so through electronic means. "If you can't collaborate, you can't be introduced to new ideas, and you almost become stale because you're isolated. We're much more powerful together than we are by ourselves."

The "storming" portion of his discussion focused on coming up with ideas to stimulate students' thinking processes and advance their learning skills while instructors also learn to agreeably disagree on various tenets of how to go about it, and the "norming" portion centered on making the ideas that have been put into action part of an everyday routine for both students and teachers.

"You like comedy? I told my teachers at the school when I was principal that I expected them to have an agenda and an hour-long meeting," he said. "You want comedy? Try watching six adults fake having an agenda for an hour every week. I'd sit in on the meeting, doing some paperwork, just listening, and if they didn't get anything done, I'd tell them that I'd expect an agenda on my desk tomorrow."

The "performing" portion of the process meant that "people on teams become so collaborative that they can't imagine tackling a job without the support or input of their colleagues. Most teams fall apart at the norming stage, but the best teams ask themselves, 'What do we want kids to learn? How do we want them to learn it? How do we respond if they don't learn? And how do we respond if they do?'"

Staff participating in the SEMLAC conference spent the day meeting in their respective disciplines, then as small groups, and also as home district professional learning communities, being allowed to align their professional learning skill sets with teachers who teach the same subjects as they teach and collaborating with teachers who belong to their own respective districts in order to explore the tenets of being a part of a storming, norming and performing professional learning committee.