Educational specialist, Schools of Choice
Miami-Dade County, Florida
Consultant, National School Reform Faculty
Are we naïve if we imagine schools can build professional learning communities with teacher-directed professional development? Many say “yes.” I disagree. But it won’t happen by accident—PLCs must be designed and implemented strategically.
PLCs have many names but share certain characteristics. They recognize that teachers come to the table with lots of knowledge and are best positioned to analyze what their students need most. They shatter the norm of isolation by embracing the idea that “all of us know more than any one of us.”
So why isn’t everyone doing this kind of work? It isn’t easy or quick. And it demands a share of education’s scarcest resource: time.
We explored the time issue during a summer demonstration project in Miami-Dade. Supported by a PLC coach, teachers worked half-days with students, then met to examine their work and fine-tune instruction. We showed that, given enough wisely used time, PLCs can rapidly improve skills and accelerate learning.
Most schools are unlikely to adopt our experimental schedule during the school year, but here’s where being strategic is important.
In Miami-Dade, some high schools have adopted an eight-period schedule that includes one period for collaborative work between teachers. Team leaders help groups use this time effectively, and they prepare by spending five days in training, interspersed with opportunities to practice new skills under the guidance of specialists like myself. This leadership training cycle is critical to sustaining PLC growth.
I’ve seen PLCs transform teacher performance. Building these communities is exhausting, messy work—but what meaningful change isn’t? The payoff is twofold: Teachers feel more in charge of their work, and students flourish because teachers are constantly reflecting on ways to teach them better.
A version of this article appeared in the January 01, 2007 edition of Teacher as Professional Growth