Professional Learning Communities That Work in the Classroom
While reading Professional Learning Communities at Work™, I considerably marked up the margins with check marks and the letter U; the check marks meant “this is so important” and the Us symbolized that the ideas, as I saw them, were important because they were actually universal truths. Concepts like curiosity, practice, cooperation, support, reflection, and growth that first appeared in the introduction said to me that this book provided elements that are ageless and timeless. I knew that what was being explored could be meaningful for anyone, in any circumstance, and in any environment.
For me, this meant my role as a sixth- and eighth-grade special education teacher working with adult peers at a middle school. And yet, I also immediately saw the implications for students as well. It seemed to me that if at the heart of PLCs was collaborative learning to move toward a collective dream that was student-centered, then it was imperative to bring the children into that dream from the beginning. Therefore, in designing the foundation for learning at a middle school that was just starting to embrace the PLC framework, I decided to take action that would start from the heart. That is, my students and I would co-create our PLC as the foundation for learning within the classroom environment as I was concurrently building a PLC with my colleagues.
I was determined to engage in this endeavor based on the common understanding in teaching that learning environments require key components to help ensure a willingness to participate fully. Practices need to be established immediately that are purposeful and transparent so that students feel safe to participate with new material and with one another. This is true not only for students making a developmental leap from elementary to middle school, but also for students familiar with a culture that would be changing due to decisions made within the larger PLC and PLC teams.
In order to move more gracefully with the fundamental shifts as they approached, I believed that working collectively on PLC elements like missions, visions, values, and goals would give the students an ability to see where they fit in as members of the larger PLC and the confidence to face unforeseen experiences that would come their way throughout the year as their teachers experimented. As the ebb and flow of new approaches would enter their world, students would be able to see how the larger design of their school was accepting of their ideas. Since their strengths, desires, and needs were being validated and captured, they could trust in contributing to other PLC aspects that could intensify their growth and their school’s growth.
In the short two-and-a-half months that the classroom PLCs have been active, we have weaved in other components conducive to inquiry, efficacy, accomplishment, motivation, and joy including the establishment of team agreements and collective commitments, and addressing the four PLC questions (slightly modified for student purposes). On a daily basis, we explore our formative and summative assessment results together to determine some student-generated next steps, take on self-created PLC duties to allow for further self-expression, and learn and utilize coaching skills. Two online resources keep parents informed on the weekly happenings within the classroom PLCs using PLC language. An even larger extension of the PLC work is the involvement of the students in community service “Greater Good” projects. Their authentic connection to all that is inherent within collaborating has students wanting to attach themselves to new interactions and opportunities to share. As they would say, “We want to put the C in the PLC!”
And now, in their own words…
“Being in a PLC has served me by being professional. I used to not be professional, but it changed how I think. I felt like I was warming up to the group. And so I tried to be the best PLC ambassador I could be. And look at me now. I’m about to be famous. We’re all about to be famous.”—Brandon, sixth grade
“Being in a PLC has served my needs by the Greater Good project. My friends and I have learned that 100 days of good can even mean passion, and I love helping people and pets. And last thing, I just hope someday everybody will help their professional learning community or PLC. Go, PLC!”—Travis, sixth grade
“Being in a PLC makes me feel happy, and my brain always starts working. It also makes me feel confident and helps me with my learning skills as I do my work. I feel calm.”—Christina, sixth grade
“Being in a PLC has served my needs by teaching me how to work together as a community, and it taught me coaching lessons. I am proud to be in Room 9. It has taught me to listen to others, even to pay attention.”—Jaden, sixth grade
“Being in a PLC has served my needs by helping me to learn how to help/coach others in their learning. It has also helped me to look at things differently than I had before. I think that a PLC is a good thing because you learn, help, coach, and do something good that will help you later on in life.”—Cassey, eighth grade
“Being in a PLC has served me by teaching me how to talk and work with people more. It has also taught me how to love, be nice, and not say shut up so much (LOL), but most of all, it is getting me ready for life.”—Stefani, eighth grade
“The PLC helps me in my other classes. It helps me get good grades in all of my classes.”—Haden, eighth grade