Authors Colin Sloper and Gavin Grift explain how to make sure you are.
The term PLC – or professional learning community – can be confusing because it has so many interpretations in the world of education. Sometimes the acronym applies to a team, and sometimes to many teams. Often it applies to a school, or network of schools.
That lack of clarity can sometimes lead schools to adopting the title of a PLC, without knowing what it takes to actually become one.
But we believe the one common thread between any group calling itself a PLC is an unrelenting focus on what’s going to have the greatest impact on student learning.
If a PLC was an orange…
If a PLC was an orange, the whole school would be the skin. But if we break that skin open, we have the segments of the orange – or the collaborative teams within that school.
There are two distinct layers of work that need to be happening simultaneously for a school to really call itself a PLC.
There’s the work of the teams, as detailed in our new book, Collaborative Teams That Work. But we recognise that their work must also be embedded and protected by the skin of the orange.
This is why we see the whole school as the PLC.
Creating the conditions for success
How does a school create the right conditions for success? And what does a leadership team need to do to support the work of collaborative teams, so they can constantly improve student learning?
Fundamentally, we believe a whole school needs to work together with a genuine effort and focus, while understanding its clear purpose as a PLC is an unrelenting focus on improving student learning.
How are collective commitments different in a PLC?
Every school has its own mission and vision. So how does a PLC differ?
In an authentic PLC, critical commitments represent a specific set of behaviours and beliefs that all staff agree to uphold as they strive to achieve their fundamental mission of improving the learning of the students they serve. These critical commitments detail the way all staff will work together as they move the school closer to becoming the school in their desired vision.
We truly believe that the constant strengthening of the collective commitments is the mechanism by which the leadership team monitors the school’s continued transformation into a PLC.
Changing the culture
In many schools, staff tell us that some of their biggest challenges are ‘blockers’ – teachers who don’t want to collaborate in the ‘PLC’ way or genuinely show allegiance to the school’s critical commitments on a daily basis.
We’ve come to realise this is a symptom of something deeper: a failure of the school to ensure its mission and vision have been fully understood and adopted by all staff.
This indicates more work is required by school leaders to strengthen the school’s culture (i.e. the skin of the orange), and that staff may require more support and time to become engaged and onboard.