Despite the overwhelming evidence supporting the full implementation of professional learning communities, some schools and districts are still settling for a superficial level of application. In a recent conversation with a team of teachers, one confessed that she was not really clear on what they were expected to do and only vaguely recalled why they were even setting time aside to meet instead of working with students directly. Conversely, the administrative team sited the time set aside for teachers as evidence of their commitment to fully implementing PLC principles. This obvious disconnect between the administrative team and the teachers inevitably leads to the superficial implementation of PLC principles, or “PLC lite.”
Avoiding the Detours to Success
Research from Robert Kaplan and David Norton (2005) from Harvard has found that 95% of a company’s employees are either unaware of or do not understand its strategy. In PLC lite schools and districts, that percentage of educators who don’t know or are unclear about the strategy can’t be too far off. This feeling of not being sure of the direction or expectations quickly leads to unproductive team meetings and frustrated individuals. Therefore, it is critical that the leadership team critically reflects on the road map or strategic plan by addressing the following three fundamental questions:
Detour #1: Does a document exist that succinctly explains the key benchmarks for teams and timelines?
Tip #1: Leadership teams should start with a one-page road map that defines what it means to be committed to the three big Ideas of the PLC process: focus on learning, build a collaborative culture, and focus on results. This road map simply guides each team on the sort of work that should be taking place continuously and avoids confusion.
Detour #2: Do struggling teams have a sense of the first, second, and third action steps?
Tip #2: Sometimes it is helpful to have staff members refer to a basic teaming cycle to avoid paralysis by analysis. Start by establishing a simple cycle any struggling team can follow. For example, 1) determine the learning targets, 2) develop a common formative assessment, 3) analyze the results and 4) develop timely interventions. While a true PLC is not checklist, struggling teams sometimes need extra guidance in taking the first and second steps of the journey.
Detour #3: Do teams regularly receive feedback on their progress?
Tip #3: Leadership teams need to ensure that they regularly set up opportunities for each team to receive feedback, celebrate successes, and discuss challenges. Each team should have an opportunity to present on different components of the road map or action steps that have been established. In other words, don’t just state that a “team must collaborate.” Instead, ask teams to produce a common unit guide or a grade-level assessment and give timely feedback.