How to create effective PLCs

More and more schools and districts are mandating weekly Professional Learning Communities, aka PLCs where departments are required to meet and collaboratively plan together. Often this topic is met with Earth-shaking groans of frustration and annoyance – I know, I joined in on the choir many times myself!

More and more schools and districts are mandating weekly Professional Learning Communities, aka PLCs where departments are required to meet and collaboratively plan together.  Often this topic is met with Earth-shaking groans of frustration and annoyance – I know, I joined in on the choir many times myself! So how do we as educators take yet another mandate and turn it into a beneficial part of our day?  The answer lies in the letter “P”.     Every PLC should revolve around the following foundations:   Purposeful – When your group meets, it’s up to the group’s leader to make sure that every second of the meeting is purposeful.  Too often groups meet and spend a majority of the time socializing instead of working.  While building relationships with our colleagues is important to the cohesiveness of your group and morale, it does need to be limited.  Teachers get maybe 50 minutes of planning a day and realistically by the time we collect all our materials, run to the restroom, walk to wherever the meeting is, we really are left with 40 minutes.  There is little to no time to waste; so how can we make sure we get the biggest bang for our buck in our PLC? First and foremost – a purpose must be established.  Whoever is leading the PLC can create a purpose by making sure each member of the group knows what is required of them each week.  What supplies should they bring? During the meeting, what exactly should group members be doing?  What is the end game of each meeting – what should all group members accomplish? Establishing a purpose leads to an often-overlooked and critical part of education – teacher buy-in.  When a purpose is established, teachers will now view the mandated Professional Learning Community as a much-needed, beneficial part of their day.   Practical – It seems that in the field of education, tasks are constantly and unnecessarily turned into elaborate events full of educational lingo and pageantry.  Professional Learning Communities need to be practical.  For instance, the lesson plan formats used during PLCs need to be easy to use and simple.  Teachers should not feel bogged down by every little box that needs checked off. For new teachers especially, I know from experience how overwhelming lesson planning can be – my first year of teaching I cried during a planning period because of all the silly requirements from my principal.  Did all those extra boxes and dialog I spent hours filling in make me a better, more effective teacher? I would argue no! If anything, it took away time that I could have been using to utilize to create fun and engaging activities that would help my students learn. Whatever the reason may be for the PLC to meet, group leaders need to make sure what is required is practical by cutting out all the “extras” and “cuteness” of education and get down to the nuts in bolts.  Whatever the requirement is, there should be a clear, achievable path to get there. Teachers have enough on their plate without having extras piled on.     Punctual – There is nothing more frustrating to a driven, organized teacher than a Professional Learning Community where fellow team members meander in at their own convenience.  It is insulting to their group leader and rude to their colleagues who are waiting on them to arrive so the collaboration can begin. It is up to group leader to make it clear when and where the meeting will begin.  It is up to the members of the PLC to insure their punctuality to each meeting, hence helping assure the entire team gets the biggest bang for their buck.  Time to plan and further our development as educators is a hot commodity and should never be wasted.  If one is a true professional, they should never want to be known as the colleague that is not reliable or of no value to the dynamic of the group.     Praise – In our classrooms, think of how our student’s eyes light up when we praise them for their  hard work and achievements.  Everyone, no matter how old or humble they might be, enjoys when their work ethic and dedication is noticed.  I am not advocating holding a ticket tape parade in someone’s honor every PLC, but make sure to recognize your colleague’s successes and good ideas whenever you can, even if it’s on a one-on-one basis.  It is also important to spread the love throughout the group; no one likes to hear the praises sung of one individual over and again. Remember all the brown-nosers and teacher’s pet from when you were in school and how much you loathed them?  Eliminate the possibility of such resentment in your group by highlighting everyone’s importance. At the same token, make sure that your praise is genuine.  Just like your students, teachers will catch on quickly if you are dotting out unearned flattery.   Follow these 4 principles of “P” in your Professional Learning Communities this year and I guarantee you will experience effective, worthwhile meetings.

Rebecca Harris

2019 Teacher of the Year!

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