Coaches and PLCs

This week I took part in a twitter chat with #esc11coach examining the work of coaches with PLCs. (You can find the entire chat here.) As I was planning for the chat, I found an article in the March 2016 Kappan by Rick Dufour and Douglas Reeves titled, The Futility of PLC Lite. The authors describe how many traditional school events such as faculty meetings or book studies have been renamed PLCs. Often these activities (PLC Lite) don’t meet the tenets of the PLC process and do not lead to higher learning for students or adults.

Dufour and Reeves identify that real PLCs:

  • Address the questions: What do we want students to learn? How will we know if they have learned it? What will we do if they have not learned it? How will we provide extended learning opportunities for students who have mastered the content?
  • Collaboratively gather evidence of student learning with formative assessments.
  • Use the evidence of formative assessments for collaborative inquiry that guides reflective teaching.
  • Design interventions that lead to increased student learning outcomes.

The need for “real” PLCs is reinforced in a report released by Learning Forward and the National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future, Moving from Compliance to Agency: What Teachers Need to Make Professional Learning Work, which reported that more than 1,600 teachers surveyed characterized their professional development as irrelevant, ineffective, and “not connected to their core work of helping students learn.”

The report describes teacher agency in professional learning as the capacity of teachers to act purposefully and constructively to direct their professional growth and contribute to the growth of their colleagues.

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For years, educators and policymakers have referred to ongoing education for teachers as professional development (PD) or PD trainings that teachers “receive.” We use the term professional learning because it recognizes teachers as agents of their growth and emphasizes that learning is an experience driven largely by the learner.

The report called for professional learning systems “that position teachers as constructive participants in their professional growth.”  I believe that real PLCs rather than PLC Lite can place teachers in that constructive position.

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Here are the questions about PLCs that I explored in the twitter chat with coaches:

In what ways do you work with PLCs to reach your coaching goals?  Many instructional coaches dedicate a substantial amount of time to facilitating and or participating in PLCs. I believe that is a good decision if they have administrative support to build real PLC’s. (See my earlier blog Hijacking PLCs.) Coaches can impact teaching using PLC conversations to establish follow-up classroom observation and feedback. Whatever change the PLC is working to achieve in student achievement sets the stage for observation of connected teacher and student behaviors.

How can your observations from classrooms support PLCs? Since the coach as part of a PLC is clear on the decisions that PLCs have made about “how” they will take action to bring about the desired learning results, they can observe and provide feedback that specifically speaks to the planned strategies. When PLCs are analyzing data and questions emerge about “what is happening”, the coach is in a position to observe and return with information to aid decision making.

How responsible are you to build team relationships in your school? Team is a critical element in real PLCs. The members assume shared responsibility for all students to be successful learners. Coaches moving among the classrooms of a PLC’s members can link the members, extending the sharing of teacher actions and students’ responses. In addition, coaches can build the important “sense of team” between PLCs vertically and across departments.

How do you get teachers to coach each other? A PLC meeting is a great place for a coach to speak up and create teacher to teacher observation. A teacher asks, “How will you describe the project to your students?” As a colleague begins to describe her plan, the coach offers, “Why don’t I take the first 15 minutes of your class and you can observe the presentation to her class?” These opportunities are present in almost every PLC meeting.

How do you see coaches working with PLCs?

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Steve Barkley

For the past 35 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…