Question 2a: What are the specific outcomes you look for to determine if a PLC is effective and whether you need to make adjustments mid-year?
Develop a logic model or rubric for your district’s PLC groups. Leslie Abbatiello’s team developed a protocol for the understanding the impact of the work they do in their partner districts supporting professional learning communities. They used these to assess implementation and identify areas of focus.
They see three defining areas in PLC practice, boiling down to the following:
Technical Components (fundamental pieces). These provide the foundation necessary to ensure time can be productive. If these pieces aren’t in place, it’s really evident that they’re not. It’s important to correct these issues immediately to keep PLCs on track.
- Have you identified the right participants for the PLC?
- Is the meeting time clearly and explicitly dedicated to PLCs?
- Is there enough recurring time to allow for repeated and meaningful collaboration?
- Do your participants have access to the data they need (whether that’s qualitative, quantitative, or in the form of artifacts like teacher work and student work)?
Procedural Components. This is where it gets more complex; are procedures in place to ensure PLCs are productive with their time? Good protocols shouldn’t stifle conversation but rather structure the time so that your teachers can be focused on meaningful conversations. The good news is that if PLCs are lacking in these areas, the issue can be immediately addressed with thoughtful facilitation.
- Is there a discussion protocol in place that provides the roadmap for goal-focused conversations? Do all members seem familiar with the protocol?
- How are discussions facilitated? Ideally, they are guided by a skilled facilitator, which could be an external person or a member of the team—a teacher leader who is sufficiently expert in using the process, for example.
- Are discussions informed by data? Effective PLC teams encourage discipline in decision-making by using quantitative and qualitative data to prioritize discussion and generate solutions.
Aspects of Collaborative Engagement. These are customized by the individual PLCs; ACES works with the PLC to identify indicators of collaborative engagement in practice. Though these “look-for”s vary depending on the context and goals of the PLC, the point is to recognize how often these moments occur in order to ensure growth over time.
The three general tenets the team is looking for include:
- Shared responsibility: are teachers invested in the success of the PLC? Is there a shared sense of “collective success” in which members proactively consider each other’s professional growth?
- Teacher agency: are teachers empowered to act to improve practice?
- Building social capital: are teachers building connections that encourage meaningful collaboration?
Design PLC protocols and a rubric around Dufour’s 4 Questions. Colonial School District is in the seventh year of its PLC implementation, where PLCs have become the primary forum for professional learning. They initially dedicated PLC time to reinventing instruction with Dufour’s 4 critical questions, with a focus on analyzing student data.
The district provided PLC participants with an observational rubric and feedback tool to help teachers give each other feedback. This tool also made expectations for PLC time explicit and formed a foundation for assessing if time was being used effectively.