Are You Struggling with the Community in Your Professional Learning Communities?

As school administrators, change is always complex for a myriad of reasons. Professional Learning Communities, commonly called a “PLC”, consists of a group of teachers that collaborate each week to learn about how students are learning. Have you heard comments like this: “No one likes change!” “So, why do we need PLC time and where is this time going to come from?” “I don’t know why we have so many initiatives to deal with at one time!” Could you be struggling with the community in the Professional Learning Community? Here are some strategies that may help.

Quick Definition:
Remember, PLC, or Professional Learning Communities consist of a group, or team of teachers that collaborate weekly to study how students are learning the standards and what success looks like in their CCSS units of study. Notice this is not about how the teachers are teaching but how students are learning. The PLC answers the following questions at each meeting:

• What do we expect all students to learn?
• How will we know they are learning?
• How will we respond when they are not learning?
• What will we do for those who have learned this already?

I found the following strategies helpful:

1. Make sure your daily schedule provides collaboration time.
2. Educate and encourage your School Board of Education to understand the importance of PLC time, and to prioritize collaboration as one of their primary three goals.
3. Teach your faculty how to listen to one another, and emotionally understand one another’s perspectives, paraphrasing the speaker’s words back to the speaker.
2. Find time for team-building so that the team sees one another from multiple perspectives.
3. Have them find places where a growth-mindset is working well in your school. Connect to how this requires a growth-mindset for our professional growth, in addition to our student’s growth. The whole is greater than the sum of its’ parts.
4. Give them a problem-solving tool, like a third alternative solution; not your way, not my way, but a more powerful way agreed upon together (Covey, 1997).
5. Attend their PLC meetings and listen to them to understand their fears and their mindsets. Provide positive feedback, and if necessary, play the devil’s advocate to face the elephant that is in the middle of the room.
6. Celebrate students’ growth! Celebrate your teachers! Let them know you believe in them.
6. At the meeting’s end, teams should review the norms and prioritize what norm needs some additional focus for their next meeting! After a few weeks, the norms are ingrained in their meetings, and the tone begins to change.

Have faith! Change takes time. The power of your teacher’s voice and ownership of the PLC work shifts the culture, and the learning for all students accelerates! Ownership shows that they are leaders of learning, and we are distributing leadership to them. They are directing the learning. Once teachers experience the power of the PLC, they never want to work in a 19th-century silo, again. All learning is socially constructed (Vygotsky, 1978). Your work as their administrator is to help your staff through the change process and maintain a positive culture with a heart that focuses on growth, celebrating with them each step of the way. This is where trust begins. The greatest gift we can give one another is trust. I love what Peter Senge said about community:

“When you ask people about what it is like being part of a great team, what is most striking is the meaningfulness of the experience. People talk about being part of something larger than themselves, of being connected, of being generative. It becomes quite clear that, for many, their experiences as part of truly great teams stand out as singular periods of life lived to the fullest. Some spend the rest of their lives looking for ways to recapture that spirit.” (Senge 1990: 13) I believe this is what a successful PLC provides for our faculty.

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