Collective Inquiry and Building Shared Knowledge
One of the factors that makes the PLC at Work model unique is the emphasis on building shared knowledge and building the professional capacity of practitioners. The traditional school model featured individual development, and the PLC model supports collective development. In fact, one of the key principles of the model is that learning for educators is the key to improving student learning (DuFour, DuFour et al. 2016). One of the most important responsibilities of a school leader is to invest in the capacity of those who influence student learning. In the PLC process, we call this activity Collective Inquiry.
A central theme in my literature has been that “if people don’t know better, they can’t do better.” In the book, The Will to Lead, The Skill to Teach, I emphasize that the essence of leadership is the ability to use leadership influence to improve professional practice and productivity (Hollie and Muhammad 2011). Leadership is a balance of support and accountability. Effective leaders recognize that accountability is only ethical and useful if a leader first provides his/her subordinates with all that they need to have a reasonable chance to be successful. One critical need of a professional is access to powerful and relevant learning opportunities.
In my experience as both a school leader and consultant, I have observed several different effective methods to address this critical need without adding an additional time-consuming obligation for teachers.
1) Integrate a short article for a team to review and discuss during collaborative time after reviewing data on a learning standard for which all of the team members struggled to generate desirable outcomes.
2) Use aggregate student achievement data to design a professional development plan based upon evidence of student gaps in learning essential standards.
3) Arrange for a group of teachers to observe another teacher who has been highly successful at moving large numbers of students to mastery on a particular standard or topic.
4) Use technology to allow a teacher access to a video or live stream of another teacher teaching an essential standard for which he/she is trying to improve pedagogy and student results.
5) Gather a team and visit a school that has created a system or strategy that your staff has been trying to address, but has been unsuccessful in doing so.
In a world that is growing more interconnected and competitive every day, it is more critical than ever that we ensure that our children have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to have a fighting chance to thrive in this environment. This reality means that consistent, job-embedded professional development for educators is not a luxury, it is a necessity. School leaders must have the courage to break down the walls of isolation, not just in professional practice, but also in professional learning. If we learn together, we grow together. A school can’t be a Professional Learning Community (PLC) without professional learning.
DuFour, R., R. DuFour, et al. (2016). Learning By Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work 3rd Edition. Bloomington, IN, Solution Tree Press.
Hollie, S. and A. Muhammad (2011). The Will to Lead, The Skill to Teach: Transforming Schools at Every Level. Bloomington, IN, Solution Tree Press.