Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are commonly found in schools. I have encountered them in the various schools I’ve worked at or visited, but how many of these PLCs are truly effective? Reading Baccellieri (2010) brought to mind many ineffective practices I’ve seen and am currently experiencing in my own school.
“Concentrating on what matters most creates a professional learning community, not just a learning community” (Baccellieri, 2010, p. 18).
What I’ve experienced in my school is isolation. Baccellieri (2010) routinely mentions this isolation, this tendency to shut our door and do our own thing, as a detriment to the learning outcomes of students. Yet, this is what I work in. It may not be across all grade levels, but I wouldn’t know that because even at the grade level, we go to our hallway and teach our own way. The desire exists to become more collaborative, to have an effective progression of outcomes and expectations, and effort has been put forth to obtain this ideal, but it continuously ends in failure or lack of acceptance.
Fisher and Frey (2010) shared that teachers need to look at their core instruction if they want to see improvements in student data. Baccellieri (2010) states the same concept, but adds that we must also look at the school’s instructional practices as a whole, not just in our own classroom. The framework for improvement begins with investing time in data and teaching methods. Going back to Boudett, City, and Murname’s (2013) model, a cyclical approach to improving data must be taken, beginning with identifying areas for improvement and focus areas. Starting from the bottom up is a common thread with the researchers. Baccellieri (2010) lays out the process for establishing effective practices in using data and PLCs, including cross-grade level collaboration to identify benchmarks and creating “I Can” statements. Then, formative assessments can be created, assessed, and monitored in grade level meetings to identify areas of need and effective teaching practices. However, all of these practices involve opening our doors, coming out of our classrooms, and trusting each other.
Trust is a component that repeats itself throughout Baccellieri’s (2010) writing. Admittedly, I lack trust in my colleagues and even in myself. I don’t trust my colleagues to have the best practices because I’ve heard their approach to education (“I’ll do what I want, I have continuing contract!” or “I’m so ready to retire!”), and I don’t trust myself because I know I don’t have the perfect solution or answer. Our grade level meetings routinely turn into complaint sessions where I’m left sitting there feeling like I have better things to do that would actually benefit my students. If I could trust my colleagues, and if they could trust me, PLCs would be a beneficial component. But without trust, the meetings become complaint sessions, the data focus is negative, and teachers are left feeling defeated and even more isolated.
How can this change? Personally, I feel strong administrative leadership is key. Include with this: time, patience, and establishing trust. An understanding that change takes time, that nothing will be perfect immediately, and that mistakes will be made. What really resonated with me in Baccellieri’s (2010) writing was a constant understanding and acceptance of the pitfalls, setbacks, and struggles that came with creating a climate of change and data focused instruction. Can this happen in every school? Being the optimist, I think so. But big change takes time, patience, and trust. We need to trust ourselves to be the agents of change, to make the mistakes, and to have the answers.
Baccellieri, P. (2010). Professional learning communities: Using data in decision making to improve student learning. Huntington Beach, CA: Shell Education
Boudett, K. P., City, E. A., & Murname, R. J. (2013). Data Wise: A step–by–step guide to using assessment results to improve teaching and learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2010). Enhancing RTI: How to ensure success with effective classroom instruction and intervention. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.