Part 3: Assessing and Refreshing PLCs – Creating alignment between district priorities and teacher needs

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By Dan Gottlieb

Professional learning communities (PLCs) have become the commonplace model for teacher collaboration in K-12 districts. But how do you ensure PLCs are remaining tightly aligned to district priorities during the year? We hosted three education leaders via a 45-minute panel-style webinar to explore this important question: how do district and school leaders assess and refresh their PLCs mid-year?

This is a three-part series. Want to start at the beginning? Check out Part One for useful tips on finding and maximizing time for PLCs or Part Two for guidance on assessing the impact of PLCs.

Question 3: What advice would you give other district leaders for creating alignment between high-profile district priorities and the work being done in PLCs so that PLCs both feel supportive and “move the needle” at the district level? Why is this alignment so hard to establish?

Invest time in communicating your vision and mission with clarity. All three of our panelists overwhelmingly agreed: ensuring there’s a shared understanding of district goals and key areas of focus (and the role of PLCs in reaching them) is essential. Engaging folks at the building level to identify real-life examples of what those priorities look like in practice is mission-critical to the success of aligning PLC groups to big-picture initiatives.

“This way, you have shared accountability; even if you have a top-down driver, you still have teachers in the building level with their oars in the water rowing in the same direction because they actually understand what the district is looking for.”

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Leslie Abbatiello

Director of Professional Development and School Improvement, ACES

Align PD resources by providing ample time, support, and training outside of PLCs. Colonial School District initially provided external professional development focused on the big 4 questions (DuFour) that drove their PLC time. However, as they began major initiatives surrounding blended learning and wellness (social learning), the district reimagined PLCs as a place for teachers to reiterate learnings and learn from each other. In response, they put an emphasis on providing educational opportunities for blended learning and wellness outside of PLC learning time, dedicating district and building PD towards those initiatives, then encouraging teachers to use PLC time to connect the dots.

“At the district level, it’s our responsibility to demonstrate how it all ties together and communicate to teachers that it’s okay—they have time to learn and all we ask is that they stay focused on what they can control. Together, we’ll get there.”

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Dr. Lori Duerr

Assistant Superintendent, Colonial School District

Create and clearly identify space for teachers to share top-of-mind issues. If your PLCs are frequently going off-track to consider issues that are important but not within your district priorities, consider when they should be voiced. For instance, if your team is struggling with a classroom management issue, when should they seek help? The answer should be clear to both you and them. Additionally, resist the urge to schedule compliance mandates (i.e. a staff training on a new PDMS software) during PLC time; doing so implies the time belongs to your administration instead of being a space for meaningful teacher collaboration.

Design PLC protocols for continuous improvement. A mid-year break can be a great time to stop and take stock, but the real key is to think of this work as continuous—and not always linear. The more you can make necessary adjustments and corrections in an ongoing fashion, the more likely you are to stay on track towards your outcomes.

“If you have the right indicators in place and they’re clear—and time is spent ensuring there is a shared understanding amongst the group—then a simple rubric or checklist allows participants to monitor their own participation and see their growth as it occurs.”

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Leslie Abbatiello

Director of Professional Development and School Improvement, ACES

Conclusion:

There are a number of ways to measure and refresh your PLCs, but effective communities all share a few key traits: intentionality behind assessment and alignment, time and space to iterate, and a serious commitment from administration to the initiative.

It’s challenging to ignore how much emphasis all three panelists put on how a healthy combination of peer reflection, action-centered protocols, and evidence of student work contributes to a culture of continuous improvement in a PLC. As you move forward to improve your own practice, how might you put these tips into practice?

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