A strong, collaborative school culture results in powerful ideas and solutions. When teachers and leaders come together to support student growth through Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs, they can leverage each other’s expertise and experiences.
But sometimes this is easier said than done.
How can leaders overcome the most common challenges to implementing PLCs, from finding the time to gather to identifying the most pressing concern from a neverending list of to-dos?
By setting clear goals, supporting the PLC’s work, and making room to grow together, you will set your teachers on the path to success.
Select a Goal for Your PLC
Setting a goal for your professional learning community can be a daunting task, but it’s the most important step in developing a strong PLC. Ask yourself the following questions to clarify your goals and start off on the right track.
What goals align with the district’s mission, vision, and initiatives?
A goal that connects to the overall mission will have a greater chance of creating buy-in from participants and receiving the resources needed to support the PLC.
Are there projects currently underway that could be implemented more effectively or efficiently if a group of educators took a deep dive into one component of the initiative?
Learning walks can help identify specific trends in student learning that might benefit from a closer look.
Are there particular issues that faculty and staff have identified as needing a targeted focus to improve student experience?
Faculty and staff have a frontline view of the learning environment and student growth. Sometimes these issues don’t fit neatly into established initiatives but, when addressed, can make a huge impact on student growth. Think about surveying staff or having informal conversations to identify areas of group growth.
Set Your PLC on the Right Path
When a focus is decided, make sure to clearly communicate the goal and how it fits into the school vision. There’s nothing worse than making a plan, starting to implement, and then watching the project wither away due to lack of interest or support.
Next, define the metrics you’ll use to measure the PLC’s progress. How will you ensure that a PLC’s work is fruitful? What will your role be in supporting the PLC? Here are some questions to ask yourself to help create the right conditions for a PLC to thrive.
What does the outcome of the PLC look like, and what metrics will be examined to monitor progress?
As a leader, you can guide the discussion to ensure a focus on specific student learning outcomes.
A priority such as “improving student engagement” is very broad; will the PLC measure the quality of class discussion, frequency of homework completion, or on-task behaviors during class?
Having a clear idea on what is being measured and how it is being measured will avoid confusion and strengthen the focus of the group.
What time, tools, and training does the PLC need to thrive?
Having a regular meeting time is the most important thing to keep the momentum of the group going. As a leader, it can be tempting to co-opt this time for “more important” initiatives. Resist this urge. Not only does regular meeting time allow for continuous progress on the PLC goal, it creates stronger relationships among team members so they feel comfortable asking for support from one another on a regular basis.
In addition to having dedicated time, examine what resources might help the PLC function effectively. Does your group need guidance in data analysis? Organizational support in running effective meetings? You are the most powerful ally your PLC participants have; don’t be afraid to find out what they need to feel supported and confident in their work.
What will your role be in the PLC?
Are you a member/facilitator, observer/supervisor, or supporter/expert? Read here to learn more about the different types of roles and determine which one fits your school’s needs.
Let Your Team Succeed
Leaders who micromanage PLCs or constantly challenge the PLC’s work will impact the ability of the group to establish itself and work towards their goal.
Here are the three steps you can take to help your PLC succeed:
- Give your PLC the autonomy to identify their needs, examine their progress without judgment, and periodically reflect on what’s working and what needs to adapt.
- Allow flexibility for the group to discover their best learning conditions. No two PLCs will be exactly identical in what they need to succeed.
- Check in and maintain good communication with PLCs both to encourage continued progress towards the goal and identify if any additional resources are needed.
Celebrate Your Team’s Success
When PLCs grow in a strong collaborative community, students benefit. As a leader, be sure to show appreciation for the efforts of educators to be part of a PLC and to celebrate the outcome of their work.
The problem-solving mindset and collaboration developed during PLCs can have lasting effects on schools. As the PLC process becomes more integrated into school culture, it becomes easier to identify areas of student growth and organically create the teams needed to address learning issues as they arise.
Leaders are the main PLC supporter and advocate, providing the foundation for the team to thrive. Help your PLCs flourish and create a beautiful ecosystem that ultimately benefits student learning.