Many schools claim to have productive and comprehensive Professional Learning Communities. However, most of these schools are only scratching the surface when it comes to true collaboration and creating a student-centered approach. There are several elements that must be in place for any PLC to be successful and purposeful. If these elements are not in place, we cannot call them PLCs, but instead call them groups that hold glorified meetings.
- Get comfortable with Norms
Educators are usually comfortable creating rules and expectations for their classrooms. However, they get a bit reluctant to create norms for themselves and their colleagues. Every PLC must start with norms to ensure that all members are working towards common goals and to keep student learning at the forefront of every conversation. PLC members also should not be afraid to stop discussions and call out when a norm has been broken. This is the shift beyond collegiality that we will discuss later in this article.
- PLC Time Is Sacred
Teacher time is often gobbled up by miscellaneous staff meetings, parent conferences, and putting out fires. For PLCs to be successful and meaningful, PLC time must be protected by all costs. Teachers should never be pulled from PLCs unless it is an emergency. If teachers are constantly pulled from their PLC time, the work that is put in will be in jeopardy and there is a risk of the ongoing work of a PLC to be seen as frivolous. Additionally, all educators must be held accountable for participating in collaboration.
- The PLC Process Must Be Defined
Educators should never be thrown into the PLC world without a clearly defined process. While educator teams need parameters to work within, they also need to be free to customize the process to meet their needs. A sample process for instruction and data analysis is as follows:
- Unpack Standards
- Identify POWER Standards for the Unit
- Create Scales and Rubrics to Define Progress
- Design Common Formative Assessments
- Design Instruction
- Gather Data / Analyze Results
- Remediate or Enrich Learning
- Teacher Reflection on Instructional Practices and Results
- Team Roles
Team roles must be clearly defined to keep discussions focused on student learning as well as to ensure accountability at every level of the team. Having roles also will keep team members engaged. Sample teams roles could be Facilitator, Recorder, Time Keeper, and Reporter.
- Facilitator: Develops agenda, facilitates the meeting, keeps team focused, and ensures equity of voice throughout the team.
- Recorder: Recorder meeting minutes, posts minutes in PLC binder or in shared online drive, maintains data binder or online database.
- Time Keeper: Monitors agenda items and keep meeting flowing, keeps track of start and end times, monitors the need to table an item or to make a decision based on time
- Reporter: Reviews norms at the beginning of the meeting, ensures that norms are followed, reviews previous minutes before the meeting begins, acts as a liaison between the PLC and school leadership.
Team roles can change monthly, quarterly, or yearly, depending on the desires of the school as a whole.
- Move Beyond Collegiality
In order for PLCs to be highly functional teams, educators must move beyond collegiality and not be afraid to engage in discourse. It is advisable that team members disagree with ideas, not people. This helps to be clinical, not critical of situations. This is important when looking at data. If students are not performing well, PLC teams must address the real issues and not sugar coat potential instructional concerns. We are not doing students any favors by looking the other way when we know something needs to be addressed. Always being “nice” can prevent true change needed to move a school forward.
The Principal’s Desk was founded by Dr. David Franklin Dr. Franklin is Strategy Consultant for Nearpod, an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, published author and presenter and has presented at national and international education conferences.