The Need for Professional Learning Communities



Ensuring that your Professional Learning Community (PLC) actually is professional, focused on learning, and really is a community!


It is very cool today to say that you work in a Professional Learning Community (PLC). The DuFours and their colleagues have energized the nation with their principles and stories of schools that have developed stretch cultures that ensure that all students will learn to high levels.


The DuFours have proven that it can happen. We can be successful with virtually all students. So, why aren't we? I think the answer is in the words Professional…Learning…Community.


Is your PLC actually Professional? If your school/district buys programs primarily based on which company gives you the most free stuff, then your PLC is not professional. If your school/district allows its educators to use research-based core curricula and interventions in ways that do not ensure fidelity of implementation, then your PLC is not professional. If your school/district allows its educators to continue to use instructional strategies that have a proven track record of not working, then your PLC is not professional.


But, if your school/district buys programs based on the intersection of standards to be met and student needs to be addressed, then your PLC is professional. If your school/district demands that program investments are treated with care and efficacy, then your PLC is professional.  If your school/district uses the effective schools literature as a basis of instructional strategies, staff evaluation, and professional development, then your PLC is professional.
 

Here’s the bottom line.  Numerous studies have proven that what we do in schools has 6-10 times more influence on learning than all the demographic issues students bring to schools COMBINED!  We can be professional, if we choose to be.
 

Is your PLC focused on learning?  If your school/district makes educational decisions based on tradition, then your PLC is not focused on learning.  If your school/district makes educational decisions based on the ideology of who is in power in your system, then your PLC is not focused on learning.
 

But, if your school/district makes educational decisions based on whether or not the strategy used has significantly increased achievement, then your PLC is focused on learning.
 

Here’s the bottom line.  The great Anita Archer says it best: "If there is not learning, there has not been teaching!"  Our focus can be: If it works, keep doing it, if it doesn’t, stop using it!  We can focus on learning, if we choose to do so.
 

Is your PLC really a community?  If your school/district is a hierarchical, top down organization, then your PLC is not a community.  If your school/district views collaboration as an end rather than a means, then your PLC is not a community.
 

But, if your school/district views the one purpose of collaboration to be to improve achievement, then your PLC is a community.
 

Here is the bottom bottom line.  We actually can develop PLCs that match best practice.  Ron Edmonds said it best in 1982:
 

"We can, whenever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us. We already know more than we need to do that. Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far."

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Stevan Kukic's article, RtI Leadership That Works, can be found here: http://www.rtinetwork.org/GetStarted/BuildSupport/ar/RtI-Leadership-That-Works


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Stevan, Could not find you article. Where in this site do you post? Thanks, Howard


Steven, Look forward to it. Howard


I have written an article for www.rtinetwork.org on leadership. It will be posted the week of 2/23. Take a look, Howard, and tell me (us) what you think! Thanks for the insightful response. Collaborative leadership is a key to success.


Thanks Stevan! I think we need a new concept of professionalism and leadership in education. When a team is clear about its performance standards and benchmarks students and it is ready to manage its improvements, the team needs leadership. A lack of leadership within the team will kill any progress. Administration is too thin to manage every team. We need team leaders who can help facilitate and steer their team to the next level of performance capacity (We have 9 levels of capacity.) We need to treat them with the respect that they have earned as special contributors to a profession that needs definition. (We recommend that leadership qualities be 50% of the hiring decision for teachers.) Not only, do teams solve the Tier 1 problem, but their leaders can help Early Intervention Teams design the Tier 2 & 3 interventions school-wide. Once these leaders understand how to use data, they become powerful—maybe irresistible—forces for school improvement. I think that medicine, not business, is a better analogy for education. They started like us with isolated town doctors who tried to solve every problem that came to them with limited tools and no research. In the 1950s, heart surgeons actually argued whether they were artists, working with “an experienced gut”, or scientists, who should use research to suggest their treatments. (Sound familiar?) Now, we have data-drive medical protocols and procedures, specialists, review boards, and required consultations. Expenditures follow protocoled needs and data-driven successes. Well now, we are a century behind medicine. However, if we use RTI, PLTs/PLCs and SEL with a new conception of leadership, we can have the beginnings of professional educational protocols and practices. From these, we can invent systems that explain to teachers what the research says so far about the best methods for addressing a problem and help them follow the proper steps for any problem they encountered. We can have empowered professionals, instead of frustrated teachers. No, doctors do save everybody, but how well do today’s doctors compare to a hundred years ago? How much better can we be if we merge the research-based processes, which we already have, into an organized system? We need to come together and make it happen. Thanks for reading, and thank you Stevan for letting me speak. Contact me here or at howard.mcmackin@empoweredhighschools.com or http://www.empoweredhighschools.com/


Congratulations! It is clear that the only way to have success with all our students is to build the kind of collaborative structure you have built.


Professional Learning Teams are at the heart of our transformational efforts at our Rolling Meadows High School(IL). We create course-based teams empowered with internal performance data reports that explain how students are performaing std. by std. in their course. The PLT manages the Tier One process to insure that their program insures 80% of their students reach mastery. This makes Tier Two managable. See: empoweredhighschools.com


Michael, Well said! I know the power of teacher to teacher contact. Combining that with a dedication to implementing effective practice with fidelity provides the school with a combination that will result in higher achievement.


I feel that we are our most valuable asset in education. PLCs are not only a great way to collaborate, but the best way for educators to learn. Professional development as it has been done in the past is ineffectual. It simply doesn't improve achievement by inviting some expert from out-of-state to tell us how we should teach our own kids. These experts are helpful for the motivated autodidact, but most people will say in their heart, "I'm going to continue doing what I'm doing." I believe that the PLC is so effective because teachers trust their colleagues much more than experts.


i think building and maintaining a PLC is the foundational work of the school. A coolaborative culture that is based on the premise that all children WILL learn is at the heart of success.


Well said! Successful Professional Learning Communities can truly be the glue that ties a school together and provides staff with the information and resources they need to go forward with good teaching. What I wonder, however, is where you fit in the time to create successful PLC's? In other words, how does a school invest the time needed to create a successful PLC without cutting out other important and necessary things?