Today’s teachers are lifelong learners who carefully curate their professional development, and teacher PLCs have made that possible. PLC stands for Professional Learning Communities, and these groups play crucial roles in great schools. It’s like having a genius hour for teachers, and principal support of PLCs is an essential ingredient.
What is a teacher PLC?
PLCs are self-selected cohorts of 6-10 people who opt into a small community of inquiry. They choose a topic and learn about it together. Teachers value the freedom of connecting professionally without administrative oversight. For principals, supporting and encouraging teacher-led PLCs can lead to better student outcomes and improved faculty morale. Typically, teacher members agree on a course of study or inquiry, and they collaborate to guide the group. The PLC approach is teacher-centered, not top-down.
Cover more distance in a small group
PLCs are a meaningful way for teachers to do a deep dive into professional topics. This collaboration can change the way they think about teaching and learning. Instead of following a one-size-fits-all approach to faculty learning, A teacher PLC allows small groups to tailor conversations to their specific needs. PLCs explore topics ranging from technology integration to reading and reflecting on equity issues in schools. These small groups are particularly powerful when delving into issues that can provoke vulnerability in large groups. For example, a PLC doing work into issues around gender identity and inclusion can provide an intimate setting where teachers can be more open about what they know and what they still have to learn. In other words, people can go a far distance in a short time with the support of PLCs.
Read up before introducing the idea
There are many great books written by teachers and administrators about PLCS. Leverage: Using PLCs to Promote Lasting Improvements in Schools by Thomas Many and Susan Sparks-Many is a great primer on this topic. The authors offer great, relatable tips that can quickly translate into practice. This text is awesome for principals who are interested learning how to use PLCs to create large structural changes in their schools. Collaborative Teams That Transform Schools is another excellent text that can help principals build and maintain productive teams that learn from one another. Of course, there are also lots of online resources: All Things PLC and Twitter chats are great sources of information.
1| Ask What Faculty Care About
At your next faculty meeting, start by running this activity. Give each person a post-it. Pose this question: if you had one hour a week where you could learn anything that enhanced your work in the classroom, what would you want to learn? Ask them to write their names on one side and their answer on the other. After the meeting, sort the post-its and see what kind of groups form when you organize them by interest, then by grade, then by discipline. Remember, PLCs are principal-supported but faculty-led. This exercise will give you great information about what faculty cares about, but it’s up to them to make the magic happen. Err on the side of faculty interests, and not on the side of your immediate goals. When you’re done, display the post-its in your faculty lounge. Give teachers a chance to see how the community responded to the prompt.
2| Make Time
If you want to grow a culture friendly for teacher PLCs, the second step is to make time. It is key to use time during the school day for this work. When you use school time, you send the message that PLC work is important and necessary. Consider how you delegate non-classroom duties so you can free up teachers. If you are not amenable to using school time, chances are that there will be little buy-in.
After you have gauged interest and found time for PLC work in your schedule, it’s time to sweeten the deal. Look at your post-its and determine where you can test the waters. Consider interest level, audience, and engagement, and then choose to one group to pilot a book discussion. After you have chosen the group, offer to fund copies of any text of their choosing that relates to the group’s interest. Make your sole request that they read the book over one month and that they use the in-school time to read, discuss and meet. On the day that the cohort meets, don’t attend. Instead, send them a treat and thank them for their time. Commit to making this offer to the faculty groups twice a semester. When teachers see that you value their growth, you empower them to take the lead in their learning.
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