In the nine years that I’ve been teaching at St. Joseph’s College, I’ve been part of some pretty fantastic learning communities.
Thinking about it, collectively, the school culture underwent a significant shift in my first year and emphasis was placed on us (teachers) as learners. A principal that arrived in the same year was chiefly responsible for this shift. 2010 marked the first inception of a PLC that I would participate in. While this version was not what I would call a highly effective rendition, we did work collaboratively to improve our practice. This was based on several prominent books within education. Teams would read sections of the book and have discussions and seek ways to implement it in our practice. While this was not as focused on specific student improvement using their data, anecdotally, we agreed that it was positive and brought with it some new metaphorical tools for our teacher tool bag.
Other versions of the PLC at St. Joseph’s have followed a process where a leadership member (part of the four-person team of Assistant Principals, House Leader or Learning Leaders) run the team of teachers with similar learning goals. These goals are based on the AITSL Standards and are driven by areas teachers would like to work on. It was in this version of the PLC where peer observation was implemented. This was either really embraced or feared by staff. As teachers refined this practise, generally speaking, the majority of staff seemed to gain a lot of insight from these discussions.
More recently (2017), teachers have been given a list of topics and were asked to “sign up” for the one that most interests them. They were then able to refine a research question and collaborate while they undertook an inquiry process. Again, one of the school leaders was placed in charge of a group. This seemed to be one of the more successful versions of the PLC it created a rigid focus on this inquiry rather than being able to be distracted by the whims of other group members.
It also important to note that group dynamics seemed to play a factor. Vangrieken, Meredith, Packer and Kyndt (2017) also identify this as a key when forming a PLC (p.57). When working with a group of motivated educators, the group was more likely to be productive. When working with educators that seemed to be disinterested or didn’t buy into the PLC, it seemed to have a larger impact on the group and impact the output negatively. In some PLC groups that I’ve observed it almost seemed like an ‘us versus them’ mentality. Philpott and Oates (2017) suggest that some group members might perceive the presence some form of leadership within the group as “surveillance by the group on behalf of authority” (p. 212). I wonder if this may fester into the negativity presented in the groups that I’ve observed.
I’m looking forward to helping shape what PLC version is in store for 2018.
Philpott, C., & Oates, C. (2017). Professional learning communities as drivers of educational change: The case of learning rounds. Journal of Educational Change, 18(2), 209–234. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10833-016-9278-4
Vangrieken, K., Meredith, C., Packer, T., & Kyndt, E. (2017). Teacher communities as a context for professional development: A systematic review. Teaching and Teacher Education, 61, 47–59. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2016.10.001