These two questions stump administrators, school districts, and departments of education whether they admit it or not. There are misconceptions about accountability around PLCs, implementation of the practice, and how to gauge progress in schools. The practice of using Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) in schools is just one of the many great ideas that have evolved into mandates from on high that can have a powerful impact when done right. But, their unfortunate fate is that they end up as a total mess in schools because of implementation with a lack of attention given to sustainability and desired outcomes. Here are two key misconceptions accompanied by ways to make PLCs right in your school or district; let’s get to simple so that PLCs can work:
1. PREDEFINED PURPOSE:
Many schools have policies in place for teacher participation in PLCs, minutes kept, lengthy forms, and required documentation. All wrong. As Michael Fullan writes, “you can’t mandate what matters.” This is not to say that you shouldn’t track evidence of PLCs, but accountability measures around communities of people learning together in a professional environment is simply ironic. It’s like making it mandatory to be jovial and collegial and then requiring documentation that staff are acting in such a way a certain number of minutes per week. PLCs only work if staff have a purpose. Here’s the tip: First, don’t require anymore than you need to ensure that ideas are being generated within the communities. If you absolutely need a form or minutes, keep it open-ended. I’ve seen forms that could take the entire PLC to fill out. Keep documentation simple. Second, create a real purpose. Is it common planning, use of formative data, review of standardized test scores, student progress monitoring, sharing of best practices…maybe it’s all of the above? The idea is that teachers know exactly what to do and what the outcome should be of each meeting, predefined. This way PLCs can be a natural, organic but focused teacher meeting time. Third, stay away. Administrators have no business at teacher driven PLCs unless they’re invited. This leads us to our next strategy.
2. MONITOR OUTCOMES:
Too often, we feel like we need to monitor PLC progress by being present at the PLC. If that’s your current thinking, ask yourself what the purpose of the PLC is, back to our first point. For example, if the purpose is aligned curriculum, then visit classrooms of teachers who attend the same PLCs back-to-back to see if the curriculum is aligned. If the purpose is common formative assessments, then look for common assessment during walkthroughs and observations. If the purpose is best practice sharing, then check for consistent use of certain practices within classrooms and pervasive use of those practices school wide. If you want to know if teachers are using data to drive instructional decision, well, then ask them face-to-face about how they’re making that real for planning purposes. You don’t need to attend a PLC to monitor their effectiveness. I was once given a PLC monitoring form to fill out as an observer of PLCs, like sitting in a cage at the zoo to see how the lemurs interact. That devalues teachers, it tells them that we don’t trust them, and, by the way, it won’t help your “professional learning communities.”
The bottom line is that if you want PLCs to work, keep them simple, set a clear purpose for each time teachers meet in PLCs, and monitor by looking for the intended outcomes, not by watching teachers meet. We want your feedback. Leave a comment.
If PLCs are a crazy mess in your school or district, contact us so that we can help get you to simple.