“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb
As educators, we know that there are multiple benefits that come from teacher collaboration; one of the biggest is improved teacher practice. In past blogs, we’ve established the basics of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) in regards to purpose and initiation. Today, let’s get a little more specific and discuss how PLCs can be used as a method for improving pedagogy.
PLCs provide a forum for educators to engage in open and honest discussion about relevant topics, such as dealing with educational issues. For example, if a teacher has recurring discipline issues with a particular student, he could refer to his PLC for ideas. This discussion of “what works” or best practices provides the struggling teacher with strategies that he can apply in his own classroom. In turn, this provides the teacher with a larger repertoire of strategies to use that could even prevent further issues! An added bonus is that these types of open discussions increase levels of interpersonal trust among group members (Tschannen-Moran, 2009). In turn, this increases the likelihood of teachers going to their peers for help even outside of PLC time.
Another way teacher collaboration can improve teaching is through the use of a group inquiry cycle. The majority of us have engaged in some kind of data analysis process; typically, this is done individually. However, in a PLC, members can work together to not just analyze data but to further understand educational issues and then assist their peers in creating more effective practices for the classroom based on the results.
One example of a recommended inquiry process is the Stamford PLC Cycle. In its simplest form, this cycle uses five steps:
- The PLC chooses an area of focus and then analyzes data
- The PLC reviews and discusses student work samples
- The PLC members take turns observing the member requesting assistance
- The PLC will create an assessment to identify strengths and weaknesses.
- The PLC will come up with a plan for “next steps” that the requesting teacher can apply. (Thessin and Starr, 2011)
Even if you work in a school that does not require collaborative or aligned lesson planning, a PLC is a natural conduit for it to occur. If groups are created based on subject matter (i.e.: all English teachers are in one PLC), then teachers can be encouraged to share their favorite lessons and activities. Many can be adapted to fit varied subjects. If PLC groups are arranged by grade level (i.e.: all fourth-grade teachers are in one PLC), then teachers should be encouraged to engage in cross-curricular planning. An easy way to initiate this is to ask each teacher to pair up with another who teaches a different subject and create a combined lesson. In either case, the result is a larger “toolbox” of effective pedagogical strategies from which your teachers can pull.
As the proverb implies, educators must work together in order to achieve success. Each teacher comes to a school with different ideas, activities, and strategies; encourage them to share the wealth via PLCs!
Keep an eye out for our next PLC blog where we will get into the nitty gritty of data analysis in PLCs and how it can improve student learning.
Thessin, R. A., & Starr, J. P. (2011). Supporting the growth of effective professional learning communities districtwide. The Phi Delta Kappan, 92(6), 48-54. doi:10.1177/003172171109200611
Tschannen-Moran, M. (2009). Fostering teacher professionalism in schools: The role of leadership orientation and trust. Educational Administration Quarterly, 45(2), 217-247. doi: 10.1177/0013161X08330501