Having been a member of several wonderful PLCs, I have never understood why some educators are so against professional learning communities. I do understand that all PLCs are not created equal. Understanding why PLCs are important and how they can work for you is essential.
The why is very simple. If you believe that two brains are better than one, then you believe in the power of PLCs. I know this is an over simplified generalization, but PLCs are every educators opportunity to learn from other great minds who are also engaged in work, to problem solve, and to grow as professionals. What about that even remotely sounds bad? It’s how I would love to spend the bulk of my day. Add a little data to the mix, some conversation and critical reflection and we have a masterpiece.
The how to conduct an effective PLC is a little more complicated. There are lots of philosophies on how PLCs should be constructed, who should be involved, and what should be discussed. I personally feel that the DuFour model is one of the best. This PLC model keeps student learning at its core and focuses on collaboration and results. The three crucial PLC questions according to DuFour are:
- What do we want each student to learn?
- How will we know when each student has learned it?
- How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty in learning?
Keeping these questions in mind allows PLC members to (1) address the standards and set learning targets (2) decide what mastery looks like and what assessment, benchmark, or product will signify that students have met the target and (3) what will we do as educators (the adults responsible for ensuring that all student are learning) if they experience difficulty with the concept or idea.
If you’re on board with the basic why and how of PLCs, but are not seeing the results then there is a possibility that your PLC might be broken. Here are three things to consider.
1. FOCUS: If student behavior, paperwork, or any non-instructional school issue is the focal point of your PLC, (and not student learning) then there is a chance that your PLC may need some fine tuning. Having an agenda that focuses on student learning is a helpful tool for ensuring that conversations stay on target. Also appointing a “Compass” or “Point” person to help redirect conversations that have detoured is also a great strategy for keeping the focus on student learning in PLCs.
2. COLLABORATION: If your PLC is a “sit and get” and one or two people dominate the conversation, (instead having shared conversation) your PLC may need to be tweaked. In order for the PLC to work, all members have to contribute and feel like their ideas and opinions are valued. A great PLC allows for input from all members and depends on everyone bringing information and ideas to the table.
3. RESULTS: If your PLC consistently meets and doesn’t look at data or student work, then you may want to make some adjustments. A PLC that doesn’t consider student work or data is like taking trip across country without a map or GPS. How will you know whether you are on the right track with your instruction? Having a focus on results means that, as a group, we are committed to owning our instruction. We do this by measuring the effectiveness of our lessons and whether students have mastered a concept. We don’t leave student mastery to chance or rely on how we feel a lesson went. We seek out proof that our students are growing by examining their work and looking at their data.