Four Key Leadership Actions in Developing and Sustaining a PLC
I was first introduced to the PLC process in 2004, and in the last 16 years as a school leader, I have been in the “arena” at all points of the journey of the PLC process.
My journey started in one of the largest school systems in the country. Now, I am the superintendent of a Model PLC district in a small suburban/rural district. Developing and sustaining a professional learning community has been categorized in many different ways over the past 22 years, since Dr. Rick DuFour and Dr. Robert Eaker introduced the PLC process to the education world.
I have experienced both failures and successes with my PLC journey. In my experiences, I learned there are four key leadership actions that must be in place in all phases of the implementation, whether it be at the developmental level or the sustaining level. Regardless of the level, the current reality of the system determines the intensity of these leadership actions. They are: Professional Learning, Consistency, Progress Monitoring, and Reflection.
The leader of the system must be the leader of all learners. The importance of professional learning may be overlooked by system leaders as they face the day-to-day challenges of leading in a district or school.
One of the key PLC mindsets is “when we know better, we do better.” This is why leaders need to ensure that professional learning on best practices is a non-negotiable of the school culture. Leaders cannot hold members accountable until they have provided and modeled professional learning.
The key to continuous improvement in the system is leadership understanding their current reality, and then identifying and implementing the professional learning necessary to move the system forward.
What I refer to as “systemness” is critical in developing a systemic PLC. In order for all members to commit to the intense work of a professional learning community, all “arrows” of the system must be going in the same direction.
This systemness is accomplished by leadership ensuring that all decisions and actions are aligned to the PLC foundations and the four guiding questions. An example of a consistency in practices is a vertical PreK-5 literacy collaborative team that meets throughout the school year to align curriculum and instruction. In the Carlisle School District, we have seen growth in student learning and in teachers’ instructional practices as a result of this vertical collaboration and professional learning.
This the linchpin that drives the progress of the professional learning community. It is imperative that leaders at all levels of the system, from the district to the department level, progress monitor the impact of all actions on the learning for all members of the learning community. Leadership must be comprehensive and deliberate in taking actions based on the data. If not, then progress monitoring is meaningless, and the system will not see the impact on student learning.
This one action that may be ignored by leadership, and yet I would argue it is vital to ensuring continuous improvement of the system. While I did not prioritize this action as a new leader, I have learned that deep and critical reflection by leadership is the driver of the other key actions.
Without reflecting and embracing the current reality of all levels of the system, growth and sustainability will not occur. The challenge of this “current reality” reflection of leadership is to not have a deficit view, but a growth mindset.
The focus and intensity of these leadership actions are shaped by the current reality of the system’s location in the PLC journey. The balance between the levels of focus and intensity is key to moving the system forward. When leadership finds this balance in their PLC journey, they will get to what I refer to as “PLC collective efficacy.” This is when all members of the system understand the “why” of the work and trust that the process will lead to high levels of learning for all members of the learning community.
DuFour, R., & Eaker, R. (1998). Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement. National Educational Services.