Smart Supports for Professional Learning Communities: A New Series from LINC

Why Professional Learning Communities?

The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other.  Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspective.

                                Robert John Meehan

Now more than ever we have witnessed in educators a seismic shift toward a more collaborative mindset. There is an increased need to both support and learn from colleagues in new contexts, particularly as we have shifted to remote and hybrid learning models.  Covid-19 creates an urgency to boost teacher confidence, offer social-emotional support, encourage reflection, and promote honest conversations among educators about what works and what doesn't.

One essential way to meet these urgent needs is by implementing PLCs to foster collaboration and the sharing of best practices.  The main goal of these communities is to optimize teacher growth through the transformation of pedagogical practice.  As a result, educators engage in a culture of research and innovation in action, which will create an impact both in teachers and in students' learning. I’m excited to launch this new LINC Blog Series on Smart Support for PLCs to share important resources and strategies.

The research shows that when the PLC model is used consistently and effectively, schools will see the following benefits:

In Students In Teachers
● Decreased dropout rates 

● Fewer skipped classes 

● Lower rates of absenteeism 

● Increased learning among all students 

● Greater academic gains in core subjects such as math, science, history, and reading

● Smaller gaps in achievement between students from different backgrounds 

● Teachers feel less isolated, experience higher morale and are less likely to be absent. 

● Teachers better understand the content and meaning of the curriculum they are teaching and the role they play in helping all students achieve expectations. 

● Staff makes greater use of data to guide instructional decisions to help all learners. 

● Teachers mentor each other and challenge each other to use best educational practices. 

● PLC teams exhibit an increased commitment to the mission and goals of their school and are more eager to help fulfill those goals. 

When thinking of creating a PLC in your school, it is helpful to:

  1.  Identify the central elements of PLC´s Logic Model and the processes that link these elements to the intended outcomes. These elements are organized into the following sections.  
  • Inputs: the resources typically invested in PLCs. 
  • Outputs: the specific activities of PLC members.
  • Outcomes: the short, intermediate, and long-term impacts of PLCs.
  1. Develop PLC timelines for reaching desired outcomes.  Here is an example.
  2. Develop norms to shape team dynamics and achieve a common vision. Setting norms allows team members to commit to collaborate and facilitates the members’ ability to deal with critical issues. The participation of every member is required in this process to ensure the success of the community.  I’ve included a seven step approach to the development of team norms:
  • Require all team members to be present.
  • Ask members to verbalize things that they have seen, heard, or experienced in a meeting that they did not like. Examples: People interrupting each other, members showing up late, etc.  Construct a list of their responses on chart paper.
  • Ask members to verbalize elements of a good meeting. Examples: We listen to each other, all ideas are open for consideration, stakeholders treat each other with respect, etc. Construct a list of their responses on chart paper.
  • Agree on items to include in the Norms Development Template based on the above conversations.
  • Record the team Norms.
  • Ask team members to sign the completed document.
  • Distribute a copy of the finalized document to each member at your next meeting.

I discovered many of these ideas in the Maryvale High School Professional Learning Communities at Work Guide and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to put them into practice at Colegio Marymount Barranquilla where I used to work.

As you engage in starting or rebooting your PLC, I encourage you to follow this blog series.  In each piece, I will share tips and strategies to continue improving the quality of these communities to further support continued professional development, while fostering a generativity culture. Read Part 2 of my series here.

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