Creating and Supporting High-Performing PLCs: One District’s Journey
The state of Florida has 21 national model schools of PLCs at Work™ listed under the “PLC Locator” tab on the allthingsplc.info website. 20 of these 21 schools are located in one school district – Brevard Public Schools.
Recently, we had the opportunity to look at what these national model schools were doing to create successful cultures of collaboration focused on increased student achievement. Although there are vast differences among these 20 schools – number of students, free and reduced lunch rates, demographics, levels (elementary, middle), etc., we identified commonalities that they shared.
Provide Strong, Visionary Leadership – Principals of PLC schools tend to be strong, visionary leaders who are dissatisfied with the status quo. Creating a school culture of collaboration and a community of learners is not for the timid. PLC leaders build the capacity for developing and sustaining leadership. They surround themselves with a guiding coalition of like-minded professionals who share the work and help carry the leadership load of the school.
Create Collaborative Learning Teams – The engine that drives PLCs is the collaborative team. All teachers must be put into these learning teams. This component of creating a PLC is not optional, nor is it invitational. It is expected.
Don’t Wait for 100% Buy-In – When teachers are put into teams, leaders do not delay the hard work that lies ahead while waiting for everyone to gather around the school’s flagpole to sing “Kumbaya”. One principal of a national model school described building support this way, “Go with those who are on board with the concept. Start somewhere and build your foundation with the people you have. Momentum, excitement, interest, and improved results will follow.” To quote the Nike Corporation – “Just Do It!”
Remove Barriers to Collaboration – Principals and guiding coalitions have an obligation to remove barriers to teachers collaborating in teams. Removing barriers, providing resources, and giving support lead to higher levels of teacher empowerment and significant progress toward becoming a high–performing PLC. Barriers to collaboration may include not providing teachers with protected time during the work day for teams to meet, administrators filling team meeting times with their own agendas and to-do lists, or holding unrealistic expectations of teams during the initial stages of implementation.
Make Informed Decisions Based on Data – One of the three Big Ideas of PLCs is a focus on results. Making decisions based on data is paramount to moving schools from their current reality to becoming schools their stakeholders envision. This data becomes the central focus of teams as they address the four fundamental learning questions.
Celebrate Individual and Team Efforts – The most high-leverage component to becoming a PLC, and perhaps the most ignored, is consistent and frequent recognition and celebration of the hard work spent to create a high-performing learning culture. A principal of one of our schools working toward becoming a national model school said, “I am a data person. I do not celebrate. I do not have a celebratory bone in my body.” My response to her was, “Data is extremely important, and your school is fortunate to have a leader who understands it and can use the information it provides to lead your school to higher levels of achievement. Celebration is equally critical. There are teachers on your staff whose talents and gifts lie in recognizing others and celebrating their efforts. You may want to consider giving them the opportunity to shine in their area of expertise. Let them help you.” As Stephen Covey once asked, “Have you ever been so busy driving that you forgot to stop and get gas?” Hard working teacher teams need to have their emotional tanks filled – frequently.
Provide District-Level Support – Finally, our schools take advantage of the district resources and support made available to them. This school year, Brevard Public Schools has offered over 40 district-level and school-based PLC support sessions to principals, assistant principals, teacher leaders, and school teams. These sessions have included many outstanding resources available through Solution Tree – e.g., Leadership in PLCs at Work™, Collaborative Teams in PLCs at Work™, and The Journey to Becoming a Professional Learning Community™. The impact of these resources has been significant in helping move teachers from isolation to collaboration. District support is provided to school leadership teams and whole-school faculty teams. This year, our mantra is, “We will meet anytime, anywhere, with anyone (regardless of the number) on the subject of PLCs.”
Our goal is to continue to support and sustain our current national model schools. At the same time, we are providing substantial support and resources to help move our remaining schools along the way to becoming professional learning communities where everyone, students and staff alike, benefits from working together in the name of higher levels of learning.