Charlie Coleman

Charlie Coleman is principal of Cowichan Secondary School in Duncan, British Columbia. He has been a principal at the elementary, middle, and secondary levels in ethnically and socioeconomically diverse communities.

Are You Married to Your PLC?

Are you married to your professional learning community? Are you just flirting or dating? Maybe engaged? What is your level of commitment to the PLC process? These were the questions and conversations that surfaced repeatedly as I crisscrossed North America this summer working with schools and districts on their PLCs.

Almost all of the staffs had already been introduced to PLC concepts. Some districts had sent administrators to a PLC institute, while others had sent teacher teams to one-day or two-day PD events. A few more had already had whole-staff introductions of some sort. Several had already made some of the structural changes, such as providing collaborative PLC time built right into the timetable or creating formal PLC teams with guidelines and team norms. Everyone I spoke with liked the concept of PLCs. However, the level of commitment was hit and miss.

In his recent book, In Praise of American Educators, Richard DuFour reminds us that the “primary challenge in the PLC process is changing, and not merely tweaking, the existing culture” (p. 100). Dr. DuFour insists it is not so much about what PLCs do, but rather how the individuals and the organization think and act together. PLC is not a checklist; it is a way of being. Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck go even further in their new book Starting a Movement when they push our thinking about the “patterns, habits, and actions” that demonstrate “the commitment required for PLCs to be embedded into the culture” of the school (p. 96).

According to Williams and Hierck, we are flirting when we have just a surface level of exploration or implementation. We are dating when we demonstrate some of the characteristics of a PLC, but we don’t have any personal commitment to it. When we are engaged in the process, we demonstrate a deep commitment to the purposes, process, and our collaborative teams. Williams and Hierck ask: What will it look like if you are engaged to the PLC process? In Starting a Movement, they elaborate by saying that if you and your team are engaged to the PLC process, there will be a deep commitment to the process. Communication will be clear; everyone will know the mission, vision, values, and goals of the school. They will have a collective understanding of why we are all here together. Collaboration will be meaningful. Teams of teachers will work interdependently to clarify the most essential learning in each grade or subject and will share best practices for both instruction and assessment. PLC members will celebrate each other’s strengths and support each other to work on areas of improvement.

A marriage is a long-term commitment. People married to their PLC will know they can lean on each other. They will help each other get better and sustain each other through the inevitable tough times.

Many excellent resources are available that outline the big ideas, key concepts, critical questions, and desirable attributes of a PLC. These books are very helpful, but they risk becoming more checklists if folks don’t dig a little deeper. Members of a PLC must be willing to work on the commitment and relationships required of being married to their PLC.

Comments

Olga De La Rosa

My school district/campus first implemented PLCs at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school district so this is my third year experiencing a PLC. At first I was simply “flirting” as I was not sure how PLC would play a role in my daily work life or in my students’ lives. Last year I can say I “married” my PLC as my content level team and I worked closely together and met even when we were not required to since we worked well together and had a strong bond. However, due to shifts in administration, one of our team level teachers transferred to another campus so we now have a new teacher that has joined our team. Although we all work well together, and the original members along with the new teacher do meet together even when not required to do so, the working relationship is not the same. This year I feel as if we are merely “engaged” and not “married.” I look forward to making enough progress to consider being “married” again. Thank you for the insightful metaphor. I plan on discussing your article with my content level team.

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Sharida Combs

Admittedly, I was in the flirting stage as I interacted with my school's PLC--mainly because it seemed as another thing on our to do list. I had been out of college for 7 years and was very unknowledgeable. However, as I entered my master's program, I learned how valuable this learning community was and how it can transform student achievement when we commit. As you have stated, educators must be willing to commit and refrain from seeing the PLC as a "checklist". When educators collaborate and seek to change culture, climate, and explore innovative ways of instruction it powerfully impacts student success. A goal oriented PLC can help foster this! I am realizing my own need to personally commit--even if others are resistant.

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SHIRLEY STUBBS

I am currently a high school substitute and often have to go to meetings at the end of the day. I would have to say that I am just flirting with the Plc. I have not joined a permanent PLC but would love the opportunity. I think these meeting are a good way to throw around ideas with your peers. Teaching is a one of a kind profession and only other educators would be able provide you with the best assistance.

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Cristina Garza

I heard the term PLC's a few years ago whenever they talked about the collaboration of different schools within the district. In my current district, we started having more PLC meetings. I guess what was difficult was the ignorance of what they really meant, and that we were expected to know what they are. I guess I am not dating, but not married to the whole process yet because it is a new concept to us.

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Jacqueline Jones

I love the idea of being committed to our PLC, I must admit I was not very committed for a long time. Now I see that it is necessary however, I don't feel like our PLC has the feel good feeling that it should have.. Meaning it is not fun it all work and no play. Frankly at this point I don't feel in my opinion our PLC is very productive.

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Ashley Moore

Great metaphor! I am a part of 3 PLC's. At this point, I am flirting with my grade level PLC, engaged to the faculty and staff PLC, and married to the Special Education PLC.My grade level cPLC and I never really see one another. We meet once a week for about 30 minutes, in and out, just enough time to say hello, smile, and bye. With my faculty PLC, not everyone get to express themselves or what they're doing or not doing because the faculty is so big. I know a lot about everyone and the way that they educate, yet I'm still learning them. We meet every month, at the beginning of the month . The PLC that I am married to is my Special Education PLC. We are all on the same page. Our main goal is to set students up for success. At the beginning of each meeting, we all get the opportunity to tell what is working well in our classrooms, what is not not working well and why. I look forward to these meetings every time. We meet twice a month. We bring authentic problems to the table for support, and everyone gets smarter about these problems. We benefit from one another, similar to a marriage.

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Yara Palomarez

As a member of my PLC, I believe I am engaged to my PLC, but the big day is coming fast! It feels like we are ready to move on as a PLC. This is our second year together, and it doesn't seem like anyone is going anywhere soon. Consistency is crucial to the commitment stage of any relationship. We are moving on from lesson planning to analyzing data. We hope to then have the data drive the instruction to see great gains overall as a grade band. I will be sharing this post in our next PLC meeting.

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Iris Im

I love the comparison of relationship stages to levels of commitment within a PLC. It allowed me to reflect upon the level of commitment with my current PLC and am pleased to see we are engaged. I would love to have a discussion with them on what a married PLC could look like and create a plan to work towards that.

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Anita Cisneros

I am currently in therapy from my PLC. I am not teaching at the moment, and attaining a Masters in education is my therapy. Once again I am active in the community, attending training for parents that are offered at my daughters school and plan to be very active in PTA (this time as a parent). Experiencing both sided of our profession -as a teacher and now as a parent- will give me much wisdom.
I am still married and committed to PLC.

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Zena Whitworth

I am in an arranged marriage with my PLC. I have only met once due to my hectic schedule. I showed up for the initial ceremony and that was the last time I saw my spouse. I have class during the time my PLC meets so I all get (if I do) are reports from a passerby in the hallway. I don't know how long or functional this marriage will be but there is no turning back. When we got married, I was still looking for a home on the floor of my team. My real estate agent found me a nice lecture hall on the first floor; but my spouses family is on the second so the only time I see my family are school wide meetings. This marriage is a failure from the start. But I have to stick with it until the end. For better or worst.

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Karina Milligan

In terms of commitment with my PLCs, I would say that I am in a dysfunctional relationship. When my grade level first became engaged everything was working well. We reviewed student data after assessments and shared ideas and strategies that worked with fidelity. Now that new leaders and staff came into our group's lives, the PLCs have become stressful. The lack of communication has decreased. The PLCs are not taken seriously anymore and the conversations are rushed. I am going to have to step up and communicate the seriousness of staying committed to the PLCs.

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Katie Cunningham

I love this analogy. At my last school site I used to be engaged to PLC. Our first grade team was very devoted to it, we would bring data to our weekly PLC meeting, and really would focus a lot of time and energy into it. I felt like we really made a difference and we had the data to show it. Last year, I moved school sites and grade levels, and we are not even flirting with PLC. I teach kindergarten now at a new school but in the same district. First, we have a logistical problem of actually finding the time for PLC. We have morning and afternoon classes. So there is no time during the week that we can meet. Secondly, we also have the problem of team members actually wanting to talk about data and instructional strategies. I want to have my whole team be engaged to PLC. I have already experienced that kind of relationship, and I want to have it again.

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Alisa Dynes

I really enjoyed the idea of a relationship metaphor with PLC. We have been participating in PLCs for four years. Our first year we were flirting and getting a little bit more serious, some could say we starting dating. We had to wait a while before everyone was on board before we could officially say we were dating. This took about two years. Some took off and you could say they eloped and committed to PLC. Some teachers are getting engaged. The one thing I have learned is when teachers see the importance of PLC and how student driven it is, they do commit and put their "all" into it. We break into our PLC teams every Wednesday and strive to have everyone in our teams get committed so we can lean on each other and learn from each other. Hopefully we can all get to the marriage state!

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Idalia Sterling

Married to your PLC? Unfortunately, I am like a few others in an 'arranged marriage'. I have been in PLCs before where I was totally committed and we engaged in serious conversations that were beneficial to our students growth. I brought ideas to the table and I listened to ideas. I am now at a new school and we are put into PLCs on the administrator's choice and we are required to turn in our documentation monthly.
My partner is not committed and when he does show up for the meeting he doesn't give anything to the meeting.
PLCs when conducted correctly are productive. But they have to be wanted and exercised by all parties in the community.

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diana bhadgal

"You must have long-term goals to keep you from being frustrated by short-term failures." —Charles C. Noble

The quote above is also very similar to being married, dating or flirting to sustain it! You also need to keep the main objective in mind, in this case, a focus on improving student learning through PLC`s and keep at it for a given period of time for it to be successful.
Working at an International school for several years now I have been fortunate that we have always had quite a strong professional development community and meet regularly (grade level, cross curricular and research based). Majority of the staff ¨are married¨ to PLC´s and view it as a natural part of their own professional teaching goals. We are also evaluated at the end of every year on how much PD we have undertaken during the year and asked to show how it was implemented in the classroom. Recently, we have had to extend our teaching day by an hour to incorporate an additional hour of PLC time to our schedules which has not gone down well among staff for obvious reasons.PLC´s need to be engaging, worthwhile and bring together the school community. It needs to incorporate all our needs and this is sometimes what administrators find it hard to implement. Married yes...but for how long is the question.

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Angela Quin

When I married my husband, my whole lifestyle changed. Instead of things just being about me, I now had his interests to consider as well. I feel the analogy of a PLC and marriage is a powerful one that brings to light the way a PLC should truly function. When my school adopted the PLC model, all of the positives that a PLC has to offer for students intrigued me. The lifestyle and culture of my school changed. I was not only focused on how the students in my class were doing, but also with how the students in other classes were doing as well because we are a school community. Although sometimes my actions and even attitudes reflect that I am engaged to a PLC, I am working hard to reflect that I am married to a PLC.

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Peaches Hash

Currently, I am a member of two PLCs, one of which I feel happily dating (since we are about to hire a new teacher to replace on that moved jobs), whereas the other I am stuck in an arranged marriage. In my current job, I do not often feel that conflicts are mediated well by colleagues and administration, thus creating tension within PLCS. Yes, it is a delicate balance creating these groups, but team leaders and administrators are given leadership roles in order to facilitate these processes.
The term "arranged marriage" comes from the fact that last year, one of our administrators told my department that even if we do not agree with something that our PLC decides, we must "commit" to it. I do not get individual choice, yet I must model myself after these practices that I, at times, do not agree with. I am hopeful that I can change, but I find myself shutting down and dreading that certain group's meetings.

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Amal Wootton

3/4 four teachers are just about "marriage material" and one is resisting change of all types!! Subtle pressure placed on these types people MAY be the most underrated aspect of the PLC process. But being able to disagree and complain constantly during PLC meetings, when the professionals are discussing solutions and agreeing on formative assessments, is tedious. I guess it's strains a "marriage" when a special needs "child" constantly creates stress and chaos!! Hahaha!!! But, you plow forward...

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Kimberly Avila

I felt that my third-grade PLC was 'engaged' to our PLC, about two years ago. Some admin changes happened last year and our PLCs consisted of pretty much lesson planning, not as data driven and results oriented as the year before. This year we have had even more changes (we went from a tk-2 and 3-5 school to two tk-5 schools). We were promised at the beginning of the school year (beginning of Aug) that we would return to "true PLCs", unfortunately that is yet to happen. I really cannot wait to return to our traditional PLCs so we can focus on our data and student learning, so we can reach out to all students. I would really like us to get to the question "how will we respond when a student experiences difficulty in learning?" We started out very strong with PLCs, and I really want to return to that.

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NATOSHIA TYQUIENGCO

I love the metaphor of "being married to PLCs." I have never thought about it in that way. We have PLC every Wednesday in the school district I teach in. The first year I will admit I was not committed in any way to our PLC meetings. This year, with new administration, I see the purpose of PLCs and how relevant it is to our school. Having PLC meetings at our school, so far this year, has greatly helped improve our students learning. We have put in place two new curriculums and this is where we have been trained, given resources, and learned how to include the technology we have to enhance our students learning even more. I will have to say that from reading this blog, I was engaged to PLCs before but from this point on I will be married.

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