Professional Learning Communities

Are you a teacher? If so, are you involved in professional learning communities (PLCs)? What are some of the characteristics of PLC’s you attend? What is the feel? Do you go in with a feeling of resentment? Or, do you go with an open mind ready to learn from your peers – those that teach  at your school, those at the same grade level or from an expert trying to impart their research and have you incorporate it into your teaching day?

This was the topic of conversation during an interview I conducted this week with a local expert on curriculum and instruction. We both agreed that for PLCs to work, teachers have to make themselves vulnerable. Vulnerable to being seen and observed by your peers. If we acknowledge someone on our staff is doing something new and innovative or their students are excelling by any variety of measures, or their class is especially well-behaved, it makes sense to try to learn from that person.  But, we must risk our pride and become vulnerable to the admission of someone doing something better. We risk feeling and being perceived as “less capable” than that other person.

This mindset needs to disappear. We, as educators, need to be come comfortable with being observed not only by administration for performance reviews but also by our peers. In Stephanie Pace Marshall’s Book, The Power to Transform (2006), she tells of a wonderful activity in which teachers at one level of education visited classrooms at the other level, all the while teachers were teaching and going about their daily routines!  Thus, primary classroom teachers visited high school math, language and science teachers; then, these same teachers hosted the secondary level teachers. Pace-Marshall described that was done to increase conversations about student learning over time, and decrease a siloed approach to our educational systems.  This required all involved to be vulnerable and open to suggestion and dialog. Did it increase the understanding of what was going on at the various levels of education in that district? You bet!  The results were described as nothing less than profound! And, even more encouraging, it was a transparent activity, parents knew of it, administrators participated in it, and teachers grew from it.  This experience generated  conversation and connected teachers to the one thing they all had in common – the students.

Oh, how I wish as a group, we educators, would be more vulnerable and have some of these experiences with the resultant conversations. For years, I have advocated for better “vertical communication” in our local districts. It is getting better, but there is still finger-pointing, blaming, and resistance to change. We need a few leaders, perhaps after a PLC discussion, to show us vulnerability and  demonstrate that learning from each other can be a win-win for both students and their teachers. When we are afraid to take suggestion or to change our ways, the biggest losers are the students. If you truly care about the children and teens you see on a daily basis, you need to be vulnerable.

So, at your next PLC meeting go in with the attitude of openness and vulnerability. It might have a big pay-off for both you and your students!


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