Are you ready for some learning? In this blog post I am going to try to share my research into Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). I began formally researching PLCs in 2011 as part of my Masters of Education and ended up writing my thesis on them. For much more detailed information on the research you can purchase this paper I published or read this short version free of charge.
So, what are PLCs? Somebody else always says it best and in my reading, it was Karen Seashore Louis and Louise Stoll when they said:
In sum, the term ‘professional learning community’ suggests that focus is not just on individual teachers’ learning but on:
(1) professional learning;
(2) within the context of a cohesive group;
(3) that focuses on collective knowledge;
(4) occurs within an ethic of interpersonal caring that permeates the life of teachers, students and school leaders. (Stoll & Seashore Louis, 2007)
There is so much in that alone that I could unpack in a series of blog posts, but all I will say here is – the words that I have put in italics are what will determine the success or failure of your PLCs. Take the time to reflect on each word and think of positive and negative examples of these in your PLCs. For example, a cohesive group, are the right people together? What needs to be changed?
|P1 PLC including the lead teacher, assistant teacher, EAL teacher and PYP coordinator.|
In 2011, I set up 3 PLCs in a school in Viet Nam. I used Interpretative Phenomological Analysis, a qualitative research method to learn what teachers’ lived experiences were of the PLCs, over a six-week period. A thorough literature review was conducted before the process of anonymous questionnaires, semi-structured interviews and a research diary was used to document findings. The results were transcribed and text analysis used to identify emerging themes. The results may be found in the table below, with the most emergent theme on the top.
|Results of the formal research.|
To summarise my findings, teachers felt the most valuable outcome of the PLCs was the sharing of resources. PLCs developed teacher leadership and school culture as well as helping to orientate new teachers. A clear agenda was required for the PLC to stay focused and the timing of the PLCs was very important. The PLCs worked best when they were prioritised by being timetabled. At the end of the day or during lunch time did not work well as teachers wanted to leave as soon as possible. Below is a sample timetable showing how the time when students are with single subject teachers can provide an opportunity for year level horizontal PLCs to be timetabled.
|PLCs can be timetabled by administration to allow time to collaborate.|
So how do PLCs work best?
There are two key theories that I believe support successful PLCs. They are action research and appreciative inquiry. Action research is a spiral process of ongoing improvement. The IB authorisation cycles as well as WASC/CIS accreditation are all examples of large action research cycles. The school researches and acts, researches and acts, researches and acts and keeps refining its practices. Another example of this is the action cycle in the PYP shown below. Here students choose, act, reflect, choose, act, reflect and so on. In your PLC you might be working on formative assessment, research, act, reflect, research, act and so on until you are happy with your practice.
|The Action Cycle taken from Making the PYP Happen p. 26.|
Appreciative inquiry on the other hand is an organisational change theory. It has a strong, “no blame” policy. Having this kind of culture in PLCs is very important so people feel safe to make mistakes and share their opinions. There is a big focus on the positive, when was the organisation at its best, how can we improve? It looks to harness the unlimited imagination and dreams of the groups in the organisation, as this is the best change agent.
|Early childhood teachers collaborating with PSPE teacher on a transdisciplinary unit.|
PLCs in the PYP
Standard C1 of the IB standards and practices is all about collaboration. If you prioritise time for PLCs by timetabling them and develop the capacity in your team to utilise this time it will help you with C1. Some of the requirements are that collaborative planning:
- - takes place regularly and systematically
- - addresses vertical and horizontal articulation
- - is based on agreed expectations, differentiation, informed by assessment, language development.
- - addresses the learner profile attributes.
If PLCs are prioritised, the PYP coordinator has enough release time to attend the meetings, a clear agenda is in place and capacity is built in staff to utilise the time, then Standard C1 is one of the most beautiful standards in any curriculum.
Whole School PLCs
The PLCs mentioned above are grade level groups that meet for planning. In the secondary school these kinds of PLCs are usually created around a subject like the arts or the science department. For accreditation with WASC, schools are required to have what they call focus groups. These are whole school PLCs that take information from the grade level PLCs which they call home groups and analyse that data to determine how it will impact student learning. Thanks for reading PLN!
Cooperrider & Whitney (2005), Appreciative Inquiry - A Positive Revolution in Change.
Kruse, Seashore Louis & Bryk (1994), Building Professional Community in Schools.
Mertler (2009) Action Research - Teachers as Researchers in the
Lalor & Abwai (2014), Professional learning communities enhancing teacher experiences in international schools, International Journal of Pedagogies and Learning.
Lalor & Geoghegan (2013), PLCs as a change agent for improving teacher and student outcomes in an international school in Vietnam.
Andrews & Lewis (2002), The experience of a professional community: teachers developing a new image of themselves and their workplace.
Stoll & Seashore Louis (2007), Professional Learning Communities - Divergence, Depth and Dilemmas.