PLC Basics

At the Seattle Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) conference, Richard DuFour explained the basics of what a PLC is and the principle responsibilities of a PLC’s members.

First, one must distinguish between a group and a team. DuFour used the metaphor of a marathon to explain the difference between groups and teams. Since most people define a team as a group of people with a common goal who are working towards that goal, he noted the inadequate nature of this definition. All marathon runners state the goal as “finishing the race,” but this does not mean the runners are a team: same goals but no interdependence. A true team must depend on one another to achieve a shared goal. A group simply has a common goal but no interdependence.

DuFour stated three core elements of a PLC team:

  • Common Goal: A PLC team must have a common goal. DuFour mentions using a SMART Goal (strategic, measurable, attainable, results-oriented/guided, timely) to guide a team’s work. Regardless, the team must have a primary goal by which the team measures its progress and determines its success.
  • Interdependence: The members of a PLC team must depend on one another for reaching the desired goal. No individual is responsible for the common goal, which also means no one may work in isolation. Michael Jordan was perhaps the greatest basketball player of all time, but he alone could not reach his goal of an NBA championship; he needed a team who were all working towards the goal and dependent on one another.
  • Mutual Accountability: The members of a PLC team must be mutually accountable to one another. Often teachers will say something like “my kids are doing fine, so all is well. I’m not responsible for her students.” However, a member of a PLC is responsible for the group’s efforts, not just his own. Thus, the team’s goal must be one that everyone works towards meeting and one that does not allow for individuals to use on their own. For example, the goal may be for all 4th grade students to reach 80% on the state exam. In this way, everyone is responsible for everyone’s student progress and also means group data must be shared along the way, preferably using formative and summative assessments.

Of course according to DuFour, teams are course content specific. This means that my department is a group, not a team, since we teach different classes. We will have, most likely, four teams: ELL, Freshman English, Sophomore English, and American Literature.

My department was already organized into grade-level teams, which is a bonus for us. Now, we have to create common formative and summative assessments and to start sharing the data. Of course, we need to create a common goal in each team first.

Well, those are my first reflective thoughts after the conference as I’m planning my first meetings with the department.

Is anyone else’s school jumping head-first into the PLC waters?

4 thoughts on “PLC Basics

  1. John Spencer

    I like PLC. I don’t see it as a magical cure, by any means. I think they miss too much when presenting a model (for example, the need for teacher autonomy, strong leadership, the dangers of groupthink, etc.) If they train teachers well by empowering rather than bossing them, it works. The teachers take ownership, contextualize it to the school environment, grow passionate about it and see results. If it becomes a heavy-handed element of a hierarchy, it fails. So, we watched it work in the beginning at our school and then at the end, it was hijacked and it wasn’t ours anymore. We were no longer the ones designing common assessments. We were no longer able to customize the intervention and enrichment time. Thus, teachers grew bitter and angry.

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  3. drpezz Post author

    Trust is a word that I don’t believe was mentioned enough at the conference. Teachers must trust one another that the shared data will not be used to judge one another but will be used to help students. Plus, the administration must trust the teachers (and vice versa) that the data will be used for student progress, and the administrators must agree not to use the data as any sort of evaluative process as well as allowing the teams autonomy.

    Big steps for everyone.

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