Not long ago some colleagues were sharing with me their experiences from a training class related to Professional Learning Communities (PLC). The conversation was not negative, but focused on the way that some concerns by teachers were being reframed by the facilitator. Having been a part of a Professional Learning Community for seven years I was concerned about the impact this has on the trust levels of PLC participants. It also reminded me of the fragile nature of PLC’s, and that ongoing efforts have to be made to keep the spirit of PLC’s alive and on-course. With so much change in schools in terms of teacher evaluation, the Common Core State Standards and focus on data driven discussions; we have to remember the overarching precepts of PLC’s. In other words, we have to ensure that we don’t get distracted and turn something that is supposed to be collaborative into something coercive. The following can be considered some topics that bring “tender loving care” to our PLC’s.
It always starts with great leadership. Administrators need to ensure that PLC’s have a consistent direction. Established goals need to be based on school needs that foster vertical and horizontal discussions – empowering team-based solutions. Leaders need to value their teachers and teams. It is not about the quantity of time spent meeting, but the quality. Lately, I often hear teachers comment on the “mandatory” meeting time and a significant focus on assessment. As educators we have to remind ourselves that significant factors (i.e. poverty and student wellness) associated with student achievement need consideration in classrooms and our PLC’s.
Separate collaborative versus private discussions. Don’t let issues that come up as a part of teacher evaluations enter into PLC discussions. These issues are personal for so many and need to be kept confidential between teacher and evaluator. This does not mean that efforts cannot extend to PLC’s for professional development, but keep it at a high level – not allowing issues to focus on one person or an individual team. Administrators should set a guiding question for PLC discussion and then let teacher teams bring the details.
Remember that PLC’s value rich information — not a single metric test score. Data driven decision making is a reality in our schools. However, how this translates into our PLC’s is important. Using data to “shame” performance of individuals and teams simply reduces trust and creates a competitive, individual environment. Data should be aggregated at a level that encourages discussion of big ideas and practice. Look for data at “concept” levels across grade levels so that discussions can support school goals. In the end, we all want our PLC’s to generate ideas that lead to classroom best practices for students.
Everyone has a place at the table – encourage group problem solving. A significant benefit of a PLC is that it offers the opportunity for all teachers to demonstrate some form of teacher leadership. Administrators should see this as a way to build capacity in their staff. For new teachers, giving them an opportunity to lead is important. It can be something simple such as leading a group discussion on something meaningful and impactful that was observed in their classroom. For experienced teachers, it involves opportunities to lead group discussions and build facilitation and mediation skills. Each of us should find a way for our PLC to build some aspect of our leadership potential.
It is summertime which means that we should all evaluate our past roles and experiences within PLC’s. Be honest and reflective. Ask yourself what is your ideal role within your PLC? Communicate with your administrator and establish yourself as a teacher leader. You too can be part of the TLC within your PLC.