How PLCs can put the P-L back in P-L-C.
This blog was co-written by Dr. Mike Stacy, Chief Academic Officer of Woodford County Public Schools in Versailles, KY and Brad Clark. As my prinicipal (many moons ago), Dr. Stacy created professional learning structures that supported collegial, data-based discussions around student growth and effective teacher practice.
The idea of improving schools through the structure of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) was en vogue in 2004. A decade later, the structure of the PLC remains, but the P-L of the P-L-C is often missing.
Professional Learning Communities that focus on professional learning have the potential to combat barriers to student learning and radically change the learning culture of schools. Teachers and administrators must be diligent in creating a learning culture that values growth for all: students, teachers, and administrators.
So how do we go about building a growth culture within our PLCs?
Tinker. A master teacher adapts their practice. They experiment. They fail small so that they can understand causes of student success and diagnose how to optimize meaningful learning experiences in classrooms.
Collegial. Foster a professional learning environment within the PLC that uses student work and data as a launching point for self-reflective collegial conversations about effective instructional practice.
Blameless. Abandon the “Got Ya” culture that passes blame onto teachers, parents, administrators, students, and circumstances. Every engineer has constraints. Educators, despite variables often outside of our control, are still able to assess problems and implement solutions. As teachers and principals alike shift from problem-based discussions to solutions-based discussions, the accusatorial tone of conversations will give way to a more mindful approach to professional learning.
Quality. Agree upon the highest expectations and standards for students. As a community of professionals, develop consistent means for evaluating and measuring the quality of student work.
Vulnerability. Be willing to be vulnerable among your peers. Vulnerability is a strength. When teachers and administrators are transparent in self-reflection and practice, they can meet on equal ground without fear of failure hanging over every conversation. If we do not create conditions where growth is a possibility, our learning cultures will never be freed from traditional notions of learning. In turn, neither students or teachers will meet their potential. Administrators at the school and district level will fall short of their potential. Worse still, over the long term the community will suffer.
If administrators and teachers support Professional Learning Communities that place the highest value on a growth mindset, PLCs can be the agent of change for schools. If teacher leaders drive the transformation of PLCs and effective administrators facilitate and support teachers under their supervision, the learning culture that forms will inherently mold and train all learners in the system–both adults and children–to be innovative problem solvers.