More than ever, teachers need connections and opportunities to talk about student learning, celebrate progress and discuss overcoming challenges. The welcome and standard structure of PLCs in schools is an obvious route for these professional conversations. It is easy for meetings to be eaten up with personal stories, professional questions, and school concerns. It distracts from the intention of this time, which is designed to ensure students are at the center of teaching and learning.
What do we want all students to know and be able to do?
How will we know if they learn it?
How will we respond when some students do not learn?
How will we extend the learning for students who are already proficient?
Everyone in education wants these questions to remain the focus. In a system where time is at a premium and the urgency to address learning gaps continues, Monroe County Schools in Tennessee has intentionally leveraged their PLCs to create space for those conversations to happen.
Designing a PLC structure and process
In partnership with Education Elements, Monroe County Schools (MCS) gathered a team of teacher leaders, administrators, and data leaders to explore the question, “How might we design a PLC process where we meet consistently, collaborate effectively, and target student needs?” They recognized that having a PLC structure wasn’t enough to guarantee quality discussions around student learning. The thought emerged that if the district leadership could create space to cultivate a learner’s mindset around PLCs and promote modeling of how teams could be more responsive during meetings, then everyone would be more informed about student learning progress in real-time, thus providing opportunities to use data to drive change.
Building teacher and leader capacity through responsive practices
The approach started with introducing responsive practices to establish more effective meeting structures and build capacity for teachers and leaders to facilitate meetings so that important conversations about learning happen during the PLC.
Teams then designed a prototype of an ideal PLC meeting that included an agenda template they could test over several sessions. As they developed their prototypes, they were given five constraints to allow for better conversations to occur:
Must have a length of time identified for the meeting
Must have an Agenda Template that can be used across every building
The new PLC process provides alignment and empowerment
The process is working. During a recent check-in with administrators leading their teams through this process, we asked, “How would you describe the process so far in a newspaper headline?” Some responses included: “Finally, a great meeting!” “We are a work in progress!” and “Old teachers can learn new tricks!’
The power of human capital is an unlimited resource in today’s schools. As Monroe County Schools heads into their next round of maximizing PLCs, the hope is to see sustainable and robust conversations continue around student learning. We know that being clear on what should and should not be included in these conversations is paramount for teams to feel aligned and empowered to collaborate consistently and efficiently.
We’d love to hear from you! What constraints does your team leverage to design meaningful PLCs that are efficient, consistent, and focused on students?
If you need a thought partner as you navigate how to implement responsive practices in your school or district, our consultants are here to help.