Expanding PLCs Beyond The School: A Pilot Project

Louisville’s Jefferson County Public Schools is leading the charge to train and empower teachers to lead Virtual Learning Communities across the school system.

Professional Learning Communities are all the rage. After all, the work educators do is daunting, seemingly endless, and full of challenges.

But how many large school districts have embraced systemic efforts to encourage teachers to engage with teachers not just down the hall, but in other schools, potentially across grade and content levels? How many teachers are required to be part of PLC teams that may or may not function effectively? How many teachers are pining to learn from other teachers, over time, in cohort-driven projects?

More and more school districts are realizing that teachers are experts and taking action. It’s also true that many educators are finding encouragement, expertise, and energy through engaging in often informal Professional Learning Networks (PLNs).

As a connected educator, I go to Twitter to engage in chats and connect with folks from around the globe. As a connected educator, I enjoy reading blogs, learning from folks I’ve never met in person. As a connected educator, I can seek out instructional resources created by teachers with learning targets and essential questions. As a result, my own professional life in enriched by collaboration with who aren’t in the same building, who may not teach

It’s time to continue building systems to link teachers in the same locales, who may feel isolated within the confines of their schools, or–gasp!–their own required PLC groups. I’m hopeful that a pilot program in Louisville’s Jefferson County Public Schools will increase opportunities for varied collegial engagement.

Louisville’s system, roughly 100,000 students and over 6,000 teachers, is attempting to break down silos this year by piloting the JCPS VOICE project, an effort to increase teacher efficacy and engagement in professional learning by letting teachers lead. The Jefferson County Teacher Association, the local branch of NEA, is also supporting the effort.

Center for Teaching Quality will be training 10 teachers as Virtual Community Organizers late this fall, with a launch of Virtual Learning Communities (VLCS) planned for early 2016. The VLC facilitators will be tasked with recruiting, leading, and engaging their colleagues from around our vast school district in activities ranging from synchronous webinars, online discussion forums, Twitter chats, and other activity.

As a teacherpreneur for the school district, I’m tasked with lead design and oversight for the project. It’s a heckuva challenge. There will be wins and there will be setbacks. I’m encouraged, however, by initial excitement and feedback. Early response has been overwhelmingly positive; principals, teachers, and and other district leaders have expressed that they envision this project as filling a void. I hope so.

I’m in my 12th consecutive year as at least a part-time classroom teacher. While it’s cliche to say that we all teach because of the students, for me and many others it’s collegial collaboration, energy, and encouragement that keep us up late at night solving issues, lesson planning, and coming back to kids year after year.

If we acknowledge that teachers are the true pedagogical experts, and we also acknowledge that technology tools should increase our capacity for flexible and varied professional learning communities, then we must meld these two ideas together in order to continue giving teachers a “menu” of opportunity for professional learning.

I’ll check back in a few months, hopefully with some good news about the progress of the JCPS VOICE initiative.