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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation


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My district has begun to make a big push for the implementation of Professional Learning Communities (PLC's). Now I am fully aware of what PLC's are and how they are supposed to function within a school. Can anyone share with me their experience with them? How have you set time aside for them? How do you monitor them? Do your teachers think they effective in terms of professional growth? What are the positives and negatives? Can you tell me how you got your teachers to "buy into" the concept?

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Taylor Stocks's picture

So maybe these are a few useless questions, but I feel compelled to ask them- firstly, what needs to change within the administration for things like PLCs to be useful? What needs to change within the government aspects of it? How do we ensure that the changes we want to make are not only grounded in our value system and ideology but last within the system and grow themselves?

It seems like writing off the capacity to change via collaboration within schools is not only disheartening but in opposition with what we've seen in the last hundred years in education. Granted, my bias lies within the idealist's realm, but I have seen legitimate and long lasting changes within my high school that came out of the drive and participation of everyone involved- including the students. I'm from Canada so perhaps my comments are not as useful, but if you can't believe in the capacity for change then what can you really believe in?

Eric Sheninger's picture
Eric Sheninger
Principal at New Milford High School


These are all excellent questions. We are still investigating the process and receiving training in my district, but from what I am reading success lies in setting aside the proper amount of time, allowing teachers to pursue any topic that is pedagogically relevant, and implement ideas that the groups come to a consensus on (at the administrative level). Teachers will only find value in the PLC process if they actually see that their work/research is actually acted upon by the administration.

Kenny Mason's picture
Kenny Mason
Assistant Superintendant at Guymon ISD

Last year I began researching PLC's as a way to expand the current professional development in my district. My district is a large 4A with around 2700 students, 210 teachers and 9 building administrators. Since one of my primary roles is providing PD for all district personnel; I needed a format that would meet the needs of a vast group of educators from Pre-K to AP Physics, elementary principals to HS athletic directors.

I started the district PLC initiative by creating a PLC among the nine district administrators. I guided this PLC using some Todd Whitaker materials and the administrators loved it. We met bi-weekly for about three months; I asked for that commitment from all participants. It was understood that I was modeling the process so the team could evaluate the effectiveness of a PLC. During our last meeting the administrative team wanted to know if we had to quit, or could we continue on with a new PLC topic for training. I heard things like "This is what I love about education", "I love talking about teachers and student learning" "I feel energized and fresh".

Having a personal experience in a PLC brought a sense of understanding to what it can be. The administrative team experienced something they found true value in and are now very willing to support PLC's on their campuses. Currently I have several administrators working on ways to provide and support PLC's for their teachers. I'm excited to see this concept take hold, but would say it has been a slow cautious process. In the past 19 years I've seen many great ideas flop because of speedy implementation and lack of support from key players. So we will continue with a thoughtful, purposeful and systemic approach to using PLC's for professional development.

Jayme Linton's picture

In my small school district, our teachers meet in grade level teams once a week for PLC meetings during their common planning time. Each meeting is facilitated by the school's Instructional Coach. All Instructional Coaches meet weekly to plan for PLC meetings, share district data, problem solve, etc. Topics for PLC meetings include: sharing best practices, analyzing data, goal-setting, exploring resources, etc. We use PLC for job-embedded staff development for our teachers. For the first year, the attitude toward PLCs wasn't great, but in the past two years we have seen a huge turnaround in how teachers view PLC meetings. They've come to value their time together. If the district announced that we would no longer have mandated PLC meetings, most teachers would meet anyway to continue the conversations they've been having. We have seen tremendous growth in student achievement since implementing PLCs. Teachers are no longer isolated....they each take responsibility for the learning of all students in our schools.

Debbie McFalone's picture
Debbie McFalone
Educational consultant, McFalone Consulting

Solution Tree is a wonderful resource, and was founded based on the work of the DuFours and Eaker. I recommend "Whatever It Takes" and "Revisiting PLCs" as two great books for a staff book study. I also think starting a study together lays the groundwork for beginning the PLC work.

Debbie McFalone's picture
Debbie McFalone
Educational consultant, McFalone Consulting

Your questions are thoughtful and very important. DuFour would say that "Leadership must be loose, and it must be tight" as you begin the PLC journey. Tight, in terms of specific goals for which groups are accountable ( developing group norms, completing collaborative analysis assessments of students by a date, etc). However, loose in terms of the "how" people get to the goals. I recommend starting with brief articles for staff discussion with a skilled facilitator, and definitely developing norms for how people will be together in their groups, and how they will maintain accountability for each other. You're on a great journey, and there are lots of resources!

Mr. N's picture
Mr. N
Teacher in Michigan

I also enjoyed looking at this site-
it is refreshing to have things clearly stated

under history of PLC link this quote strikes me as right on-

'very essence of a learning community is a focus on and a commitment to the learning of each student. When a school or district functions as a PLC, educators within the organization embrace high levels of learning for all students as both the reason the organization exists and the fundamental responsibility of those who work within it.'

the problem I have seen in implementing Acronym based ideas is that in a year (in our school) everyone forgets the meaning of it and we are just "meeting" about insert "ACRONYM" -

While some teacher/admin get really great training in things like PLC's the rest of us have to research on our own and figure it out.

I have common planning in my current school, but it is the first time in 4 years - it does help carve out time- overall though I feel teachers in elementary settings are very isolated, (I taught H.S.) grade levels might work together but cross grade level collaboration is hard to come by. It is a work in progress though, and I think of the quote above from now on when I hear PLC

Mike Archer's picture
Mike Archer
AP English teacher from Florida

Steve: You've been to my school and I enjoyed meeting you. I'm an exec and a writer who retired to teach. I think the key is not to force collaboration, but to inspire it, as effective managers would do in other professional settings. If we assume teachers are flawed and need to be fixed, we proceed under a false premise and generate resistance. I think we must begin with the understanding that many teachers already find quiet, beautiful ways to collaborate, and it happens in a more effective, more precisely targeted manner. One on one. Small groups. Informal mentoring. In this sense, a big-production PLC may end up being self-defeating.

Edward Dever's picture

Obviously a hot but critically important topic; one that is somewhat difficult to make the transfer from name only to focused pedagogy. I am finally beginning to see the push pay off. Our elementary schools now have periodic grade level (time is a major obstacle; no news) meetings with an actual focus; our middle school has had CPT and a good percentage of the time (not all) is focused on a particular area of need.

Justin's picture

When I started teaching, I was part of a large dept. We had PLC over lunch every day. We eliminated dept. meetings, and discussed our ongoing struggles and achievements in a low key fashion. The support was amazing. It was the best mentoring environment I could have asked for.

When I changed jobs, I was in a rural district, and was one of only a few teachers in my content. As a necessity, I developed a summer PLC time for area teachers to come and share and build projects together. The buy-in was easy. We all could see a need for and benefit from connection.

My district has scheduled a PLC on Wednesday during an early release period. It is not possible for me to meet with my summer PLC during this time as some travel several hours. Instead, I use twitter #edchat to connect with educators and to challenge my thinking. It is easy for my admin. to check on my involvement, because my tweets are public. The information I gain from these online conversations start new face 2 face conversations with my lunch crowd (non-content)and my admin.

I am a better teacher because of PLC. It challenges my thinking, strategies, and assessments. I also have the chance to brainstorm with other teachers about new ideas and find meaningful ways to implement change.

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