Four ways to guarantee an effective PLC

It is well-demonstrated that the best professional learning for teachers is continuous and collaborative. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that professional learning communities (PLCs) are an attractive method of PD. However, as Joellen Killion discusses in 3 Principles for authentic PLCs, many PLCs are more of a label than an effective meeting focused on educator and student growth:

“The term PLC too frequently is an inappropriate label for any convening of education professionals. Grade-level team or department meetings, faculty meetings, convocations, training, data presentations, curriculum writing, assessment scoring, or lesson planning are often mistakenly called PLCs. Each of these types of meetings has value, yet each often misses most of the principles of professional learning communities.”

Developing effective PLCs that focus on learning and progressing student achievement is a deliberate practice that requires continuous reflection and improvement. Here are some strategies for PLCs that center student achievement through educator growth, and maximize the impact of professional collaboration.

Focus on the why of PLCs by providing a unifying vision

The more focused your team is on the goal, the more easily they can move toward it. Start by developing a vision for your PLC:

  • What problem is the district or school building attempting to solve by implementing PLCs?  
  • How exactly does the PLC address that problem?

This is a great opportunity to model the expectation of making data-informed decisions on a school-wide level. When presenting, you could:

  • Provide data to staff that shows areas of opportunity for student learning
  • Explain how effective PLCs connect to the audience’s professional growth, and how that growth connects to student learning
  • Review data updates on student learnings and PLC collaboration, and invite teams to reflect together on what that data might indicate

Align on team norms and expectations

Help teams hold themselves accountable by inviting them to set their own norms, expectations, and what they want collaboration to look like for their team. If they’re not clear on how to start, you might:

  • Encourage teams to develop a logic model for individual PLCs so that the expectation for each meeting is clear
  • Provide sample agendas for the PLCs so you can ensure each team is set up for success

For example, a sample agenda for a PLC meeting on creating a common summative assessment might look like:

  • Decide which learning targets the PLC will focus on for the next unit
  • Understand what student success looks like for each of these targets
  • Identify one focus learning target and decide how the summative assessment will measure it
  • Collaboratively create questions that will assess that specific learning target
  • If time, reflect on the meeting and note down any tweaks that could improve the next one

Determine what success looks like for the district

Educational researcher and consultant Richard DuFour notes several essential prerequisites for an effective PLC:

  • Educators work in collaborative teams and take collective responsibility for student learning
  • Collaborative teams implement the curriculum and take collective responsibility in refining lessons that will lead to student achievement
  • Collaborative teams monitor student learning through ongoing assessments
  • Educators use the results of common assessments to improve individual practice, team collaboration, and student achievement

To help educators reflect and grow, create a rubric that outlines the success criteria for each of these areas. Make this rubric available for all teams so they can utilize it within their PLCs to create collaborative growth goals for their PLC work. Invite PLC teams into the process of establishing this rubric to build trust and collaboration between administrators and educators.

Continue to reflect and improve your team’s collaborative practice

PLCs are most powerful when they are used to facilitate collaborative educator growth. By encouraging educators to continuously reflect on and refine processes, you are enabling your staff to grow and learn together.

  • Create a rubric defining “beyond proficient, proficient, and below proficient” for your established PLC collaboration and learning goals
  • Plan ways for coaches, principals, or other instructional leaders to observe PLC meetings and provide feedback aligned with the rubric. Focus the observations on the PLC process itself: not student growth, but how the team is successfully working to make student growth happen

Professional Learning Communities are an authentic way for educators to learn and grow together in the areas that demonstrably increase student achievement.

Learn more about how KickUp can facilitate educator growth with actionable PLC data, track team progress, and support your staff through data-informed decisions. Schedule a demo now.

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