Leadership and the PLC
Anyone who has ever worked to implement the professional learning community process knows just how challenging the work can be. Finding time for teachers to collaborate is challenging. The work associated with creating common pacing guides, common formative assessments, and opportunities for interventions plus tracking student mastery of skills requires an incredible amount of commitment and effort from everyone in your school. Finding ways to organize your data and make it meaningful for teachers, students, and parents creates additional time and technical challenges. Many who begin the journey into the PLC process do so because they are committed to the potential for positive foundational change, but later find they are falling short of their intended destination. So what is the biggest difference between those schools that fall short and those schools that excel? The answer is simple—leadership!
The PLC process depends on leaders that understand the importance of building a collaborative culture in their schools. In order for this to occur, teachers and staff must feel empowered to participate in the process and trust that their voices will be heard. Dr. Rick DuFour states:
“The professional learning community process is based on the premise that no single educator will have all the energy and expertise necessary to lead a district, improve a school, or meet the needs of 30 students in their classroom each and every day. It requires a collective effort, combined resources, and shared expertise to meet the challenges that educators are facing in the United States.”
When schools embrace this premise, when teachers and staff work collectively to combine resources and share their expertise, the true work of a PLC can begin. But before we get ahead of ourselves, I think it is worth noting one important fact I have heard Dr. DuFour reiterate on several occasions: getting your teachers and staff to fully embrace the premise isn’t easy. If we are not thoughtful about our implementation strategies, we may underestimate or contribute to making the implementation process very hard for our schools to achieve.
I would like to offer a few suggestions to principals and district leaders.
Listen: When teachers say they are overwhelmed with district and school mandates, take the time to evaluate these concerns. Teaching under the very best of conditions is complicated. It requires time for planning, professional development, and collaboration. The emotional wear and tear of the job can be exhausting. It is not enough to acknowledge these challenges; leaders must take action to find ways to minimize or eliminate the distractions and unnecessary mandates that don’t align to the PLC process.
Be supportive: The PLC process requires that principals work to support their teachers every step of the way. Be supportive of your teachers as they work to develop common pacing guides, common formative assessments, and plans for instruction. Be supportive of your teachers’ efforts to meet for data discussions, and plan for interventions. Work to support your teachers and remain available to offer suggestions, answer questions, or listen to feedback. Most importantly, support your teachers with encouragement, and make the extra effort to celebrate the big and small successes.
Start slow and easy: Allow your teachers to start with a single subject and a single standard. Teachers will be far less overwhelmed with the process when they focus on a single standard. By doing this, teachers can collectively develop a common assessment around that standard and gather common data, which will ultimately provide the content for their first data chat and plans for interventions. By allowing teachers to focus on a single standard, you will actually accelerate the learning and implementation process.
Stay focused: Throughout the year, you and your teachers will face many distractions that will challenge your resolve and commitment to the PLC process. Remember to stay focused on the process of building a collaborative culture that is focused on learning and emphasizes results. Becoming a functioning PLC doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a sustained collective effort from everyone in your school, and it is incumbent upon you, as the leader in your school, to keep everyone focused on your school’s goals and priorities.
Seek out resources: The fact that you are reading this post is a good sign as you have already found the All Things PLC website. There are many resources available to help you along the way, including books, webinars, professional development, and technology solutions that will help you lead and support your school. Become active in the community; seek out resources that will simplify the process and engage others who share your commitment.
It’s about the students: I have never met a teacher or administrator who didn’t embrace the idea that teaching should be about providing a quality education for all of our students. The PLC process is the best way I know to accomplish this task. It is why I believe every school should embark on the PLC journey, and most importantly, it is why I believe schools should work each day to move closer to the ultimate destination of ensuring that all students learn and grow.
Schools implementing the PLC process require leaders who can help teachers navigate the challenges and pitfalls they will most certainly encounter along the way. There will be times when your teachers will need you to listen to their needs and provide encouragement and support. Your presence will make all the difference as your teachers work to implement and stay focused on the PLC process. As you embark on your PLC journey, it is important to remember that the difference between schools that fall short and those that excel will come down to one important factor—leadership!