Friday, January 22, 2010

PLCs: Fake trend alert?

I’ve sat through consultants’ presentations, I’ve read the books, I have visited schools trying to achieve this, but no matter how hard I try I still don’t understand what “professional learning community” actually means, besides a commitment for a school’s staff to collaborate in figuring out how to help students. Shouldn’t that happen as a matter of course? Yes, I know it often doesn’t, but do we need a nebulous phrase, expensive materials, a movement?

Please, reporters, don’t repeat that phrase until you can find a jargon-free and meaningful way to explain to readers what it means and how it differs from what was going on before.


  1. I'll just describe what I see each week in my student teaching placement in a second grade classroom:

    I see a meeting focused on the nuts and bolts of improving lessons so that they make more sense to students. For instance, in yesterday's meeting, five second grade teachers deconstructed a series of lessons on writing realistic fiction. They talked about what was working with their students and what wasn't working. One teacher explained that students frequently got hung up on taking a story from a "story arc" diagram to a booklet with pages and sentences and paragraphs; her students were simply copying the phrases from the story arc diagram into their booklets. At that point, another teacher explained how she approached this problem--she gave specific examples of the language she used and showed some chart paper with steps on it that she found helped the students over this hurdle.

    The school where I'm interning considers this group of five teachers--when they're engaged in this type of activity--to be a PLC. Call it whatever you want to, but this seems to me to be the exact type of professional collaboration that will improve student performance in the classroom. It's teachers sharing their experience and knowledge in a focused, specific way.

    At least, this is what it looks like from my point of view.

    Should it happen as a matter of course? Yes, it should. But because it takes energy and a commitment outside of the meeting to be prepared--and not to mention a teacher's willingness to throw open his or her lesson plans for modification and evaluation--it doesn't happen as often as it should. If it takes calling this a "movement" to make it popular, can't we be okay with that?

  2. Agreed. I've been in PLCs in three different schools in three different districts, and they've all functioned pretty differently, some vastly more effective than others.