Several years ago, I was introduced to the concept of Professional Learning Communities (PLC) when I attended a PLC at Work conference in Syracuse in July, hosted by OCM BOCES. My colleagues and I saw how PLC would address so many of the issues in our district. We were pumped with this new information and could not wait to get started. In fact, we were so anxious to get started we worked a week in August with the intent to roll out a PLC in September. I realize now that we were rather naïve in our thinking of PLC—treating it like a thing, a quick-fix strategy—and that we were ready to implement without planning for implementation and how to sustain growth in our organization. If I were to go back in time and work with my former colleagues, I would recommend that we collaboratively plan using the following questions proposed by Solution Tree around foundational PLC themes:
- What does your faculty really believe about students?
- What can you commit to as a school team?
- What kinds of responsibilities do your department chairs have?
- What strategies have you used to build your teacher leaders?
- What does a typical leadership team meeting agenda/minutes look like?
Focus on Learning
- What practices support student learning?
- What practices hinder student learning?
- What plan can you create to resolve the hindrances?
- What processes have been set up at your school for PLCs?
- What templates are used?
- When and how often are PLC meetings held?
- How are norms created and held accountable?
- What does the course syllabus look like?
Curriculum (what do we want students to know?)
- What are your lesson plan expectations?
- How do PLCs plan and record their plans for the day/week?
- How are power standards defined and used?
- How are pre-tests or checkpoints used?
Assessment/Data (how do we know they learned it?)
- How are common assessments defined?
- How do PLCs create common assessments?
- How do PLCs collect and share the data?
- What data is collected?
- How do PLCs write their smart goals?
- How are admins involved in the data talk process?
- What are your grading practices and are they set up for student learning?
RTI (what do we do when students don’t learn it?)
- What does your RTI pyramid look like?
- What programs do you have in place to help struggling students?
- What does re-teaching and recovery look like at your school?
Enrichment (what do we do when students do learn it?)
- What does your advanced programs look like?
- How do you enrich the curriculum?
- How are students identified and placed in advanced classes?
- Where is your school on the PLC continuum?
- How are you celebrating your successes?
- What aspects/layers will be the focus going into the following year?
In hindsight, even if it took us the year to plan, it would have been worth the time and effort because we would have practiced the concept of PLC while creating a culture where teachers have a shared understanding of “why” and “how” we collaborate to improve student learning and instructional practices.
Even though you may have started your PLC journey, it is not too late to assess where you are in answering one or more of the questions listed above and do some work to improve understanding and develop a plan of action.