From time to time, I am asked about how administrators should be involved in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). I’ve written an earlier blog, and recorded a podcast, on administrators supporting or hijacking PLCs. I have continually proposed that PLCs should be empowering teachers, but in too many schools are often a compliance activity. (See blog: Empowering PLCs )
Recently, I was sent this statement to address in a workshop for instructional coaches:
Teachers are saying they don’t feel it’s safe sharing during a PLC because of the administrator’s presence.
That statement communicates the need for in-depth conversations among all school members regarding the purpose, process, roles, and accountability around the time and energy invested in PLCs. I have facilitated some of these conversations with teachers, coaches, and administrators. Here are some of the topics explored.
Effective PLCs function as a team. Members are collaborative. They take shared responsibility for the success of all students. A sense of team should also exist among the PLCs within a school. Grade level PLCs or subject focused PLCs should be collaborating for student success across the entire school. School leadership should also be a team with individual and collective PLCs. Having common goals is one element that builds team cohesiveness. I’ve begun using the term “goals before norms.” When I have a strong desire to achieve the goal of a group, I am ready to commit to norms that increase the likelihood of our success. As PLCs set goals for student success, they should be examining school-wide goals and the connection to their students’ learning. There should also be goals for areas of student learning that teachers in a PLC feel are an urgency. If PLC goals are not compelling and connecting it is difficult to gain educator vulnerability, risk taking, and change that are necessary for increased student success.
I often find a lack of clarity concerning the roles administrators and instructional coaches are playing when they attend PLC sessions. I’ve generated conversations around three possibilities: observer/supervisor, supporter/expert, participant. Similar to leaders developing trust when they are in teachers’ classrooms, teachers need to know which “hat” the leader is wearing. The degree of vulnerability a teacher assumes if the leader is observing as coach is likely greater than when observing as evaluator. I’ve found that consciousness and transparency from conversations build understanding and trust.
In the observer/supervisor role a leader is carrying out an accountability function. A building principal is responsible to assure the system that the time invested in PLCs is impacting student achievement. If teachers are missing skills or understanding to function effectively, a supervising leader would identify appropriate resources to train, coach, and support.
Sometimes PLCs are looking to coaches and administrators to provide assistance or knowledge as a supporter or expert. A leader’s previous experience can support a PLC with options for instructional strategies. A leader could observe in teachers’ classrooms as a coach, collecting information the PLC applies in problem solving. Leaders can bring outside resources to the PLC.
When leaders are participants, they become a member of the PLC. That means they are analyzing, appraising, examining possibilities, deciding and sharing responsibility for student success along with the other members of the team. When the PLC is examining student work the participant leader owns the results equally with the other members.
Quality agendas and minutes from PLC sessions can extend communication among PLC members, school leadership and the entire school. When a PLC ends a meeting by creating the agenda for the next meeting, it creates an opportunity to consider, “whom would we want to invite to join us?” Leaders and coaches reading minutes which include the following week’s agenda can identify resources and information that could support the PLC’s work. Patterns emerging from PLC minutes can guide the work of a school leadership team.
Students are best served by teams. Leaders and teachers can use PLCs to build the teamwork that supports each other and maximizes learning for all.