"A PLC isn't a meeting; it's about learning in community."
Mausbach, A. (2023, August 10). School Leadership Show. Albany, NY; The School Leadership Show.
and Laun, M. (2023, August 23). Karaton Consulting. August 23, 2023, https://www.karatonconsulting.org/charcuterie-quote-board-blog
THE MEAT (The Main Idea)
In the realm of education and professional development, the term "Professional Learning Community" or PLC has become commonplace. However, there's a subtle but significant issue that often goes unnoticed – the "L" in PLC, which stands for "Learning."Far too often, what masquerades as a PLC is, in reality, nothing more than a meeting. A gathering of professionals sitting together, discussing agendas, and sharing updates does not inherently equate to a genuine PLC. It's a common oversight, the tendency to place undue emphasis on the "P" and "C," while the "L" - the core essence of learning - sometimes takes a back seat.
My revelation came during a podcast episode of The School Leadership Show by Dr. Mike Doughty, where Ann Mausbach and Kimberly Morrison discussed their book "Differentiated Supervision: Growing Teachers and Getting Results." Ann Mausbach succinctly stated, "PLCs are not meetings; it's supposed to be about learning." The simplicity of this statement struck me like a lightning bolt, and I had to capture it immediately (I may or may not have pulled over to write it down- the important thing is that I did write it down). A week later, I connected with instructional coach Felicity Liversidge from the Cicero School District near Chicago, who has done extensive work within her district on PLCs and the district has since redefined gatherings as "Professional Learning Teams" or PLTs. While this shift might seem like semantics at first glance, it's worth pausing to define what a learning community truly represents. A learning community transcends the boundaries of mere meetings; it embodies a culture of collaboration, reflection, and continuous improvement. It's a space where professionals come together not just to exchange information but to engage in collective questioning of information, share expertise, and elevate their practices.
Now, I pose a question: Was your last PLC truly a learning community or a meeting? As a result of that gathering, what did you LEARN that made you a better educator?
THE CHEESE (Added Depth)
Imagine your Professional Learning Community (PLC) as a football game. We're not just playing for the sake of playing; we're here to score points. But to do that, we need goalposts to aim for. So, in this analogy, we're going to use the big ideas from DuFour & DuFour as our goalposts. Are we right in between, confidently scoring points, or are we "wide right"? Ouch! As a Buffalo Bills fan, I can attest that no one wants to be wide right. We definitely want to be down the middle, confidently scoring those points. Now, let's explore how we can achieve this in our PLCs.
Big Idea 1: Purpose – Ensuring All Students Learn at High Levels
As a facilitator of the PLC, your first goalpost should always be the purpose. Is the primary objective of this meeting aligned with the mission of ensuring all students learn at high levels? Are the discussions, activities, and decisions centered around students? Use this as your litmus test as you plan and then listen to discussions in the PLC.
Quiz: PLC or Not – The main focus of this meeting is to discuss the procedures for lining students up for the bus. (Check answers at the end of this section)
Big Idea 2: Collaborative and Collective Effort
The second goalpost emphasizes collaboration and collective effort. Are you fostering an environment where all voices are heard, where diverse perspectives contribute to richer discussions? As a facilitator, your role is to nurture this collaboration by encouraging dialogue, active participation, and shared leadership.
Quiz: Is this a PLC or not? – A meeting where one person dominates the conversation, and others passively listen. (Check answers at the end of this section)
Big Idea 3: Results-Oriented
Finally, the third goalpost relates to being results-oriented. Are your meetings designed to set and track goals, monitor progress, and make data-informed decisions? A genuine PLC seeks tangible outcomes and improvements in student learning outcomes. Your role is to keep the focus on results.
Quiz: Is this a PLC or not? – In this meeting, we regularly review student data and adjust our strategies based on the findings. (Check answers at the end of this section)
By using these three big ideas as your guide, you can transform routine meetings into dynamic PLC gatherings. It's not about checking off items on an agenda; it's about aligning every aspect of your meeting with the core principles that define a true learning community- THE LEARNING. As you facilitate, keep these goalposts in mind and watch as your PLC meetings evolve into powerful engines of professional growth and student success.
Big Idea 1 Answer: Not a PLC
Big Idea 2 Answer: Not a PLC
Big Idea 3 Answer: PLC!
THE OLIVES (A Surprising Element)
Let's take a surprising turn in our exploration of PLCs by stepping outside the traditional educational context. Meet Sister Jean, now 104 years old, a remarkable educator who, over her century-long journey, embodied the very essence of collaboration and collective wisdom.
Sister Jean's Journey: From Teacher to Chaplain
Sister Jean's career, which began in 1941, took her from the classroom to the principal's office, from teaching committees to academic leadership roles, and eventually to her role as the Chaplain for the Loyola men's basketball team. Through each role, she consistently leaned on the collective intelligence of her teams.
Building Community from Scratch
One of the most inspiring stories from Sister Jean's early career is her second teaching assignment at St. Bernard School in Glassell Park, California. The school was so new that only the foundation of the building existed. With just four teachers, they were tasked with teaching different grades in unconventional spaces like in a "Feed and Fuel." Yet, Sister Jean reflects on how they were "thrown together and started building our community." This initial collaboration set the stage for her lifelong dedication to the power of learning in community.
Learning from Everyone
Throughout her various roles, Sister Jean's mantra has been learning from everyone around her. From her colleagues to her students, she found value in every interaction. Her journey from teacher to social advocate, through multiple positions, was marked by her willingness to embrace the collective knowledge of those she encountered.
So, how does Sister Jean's remarkable journey connect to our quote: "A PLC isn't a meeting; it's about learning in community"? Sister Jean's experiences beautifully illustrate how genuine learning communities are not confined to the walls of a school. They can be found in unexpected places and are built on the principles of collaboration, shared wisdom, and a commitment to a common purpose. In Sister Jean's journey, we find a shining example of how individuals from diverse backgrounds can come together, share their insights, and collectively build something extraordinary. Her story reminds us that the true power of a PLC lies not just in what we bring individually but in what we can achieve when we set our focus on learning together.
(By the way, Sister Jean continues to serve as the Loyola Men's basketball chaplain to this day.)