January 11, 2012 by Doug Napolitano-Cremin
The concept of a Professional Learning Community (PLC) was introduced to staff where I work in May 2011. The aim of the development of PLC’s within our school has been to embed school improvement plan (SIP) priorities and to encourage staff learning. The communities that were going to be developed would consist of 8-9 members of staff. Throughout the 2011-2012 academic year, these cross-curricular groups would work together and focus on a particular area of school improvement. Our work would involve reviewing literature about our focus area and carrying out a piece of action research.
Work began before the summer holidays in 2011 to decide on the core themes for each of the groups. The following themes were decided upon based upon the SIP and also to support excellence in learning:
- Developing independent KS3 learners.
- Differentiation for students with specific learning needs e.g. dyslexia, autism, speech and learning.
- Extending Gifted and Talented students through homework/online activities.
- Alternative strategies to help students manage behaviour.
- Effective practices in Assessment for Learning.
- Supporting students through mentoring.
- Impact of using student leaders in the classroom.
At the start of the 2011-2012 academic year all staff, including teaching assisstants and year managers*, were asked to identify three of the seven themes that they were interested in exploring. Members of senior management assigned members of staff to their preferred groups. Once groupings, timetables etc. had been decided, it was then over to each individual PLC to make the most of the late starts, twilight inset sessions and staff meetings that have been set aside for them to carry out action research on their chosen theme.
We have had one term of our PLC work and, so far, I personally feel that it has been an incredibly positive experience. The benefits of the work have included:
- The opportunity to collaborate with colleagues I very rarely see during the hectic working week. The input from people who came with many different ideas and with varying experiences has enabled me to refine changes I wanted to make to my own teaching practice.
- Having the time to discuss issues with colleagues. This has helped me to put some of the challenges I face in to perspective. I am not the only person who finds these particular issues challenging. Working together with colleagues on these issues has enabled the burden to feel that little lighter!
- The opportunity to carry out some action research on an issue I am particularly interested in. I am also working on my MA Education at the moment and the work I have been doing with my PLC has complemented my MA work nicely. By focusing on an issue that interests us personally, we all have an interest in producing work that is of a high quality.
- Contributing to whole-school improvement. There are times when you can feel that no matter what improvements you make to your own individual practice, it would be nice to see those innovations spread to other parts of the school community. The PLC work has fostered a feeling that you really will be making a difference to teaching and learning in the school.
- Everyone has something to learn. One of the positive points about working in a PLC is that there is no hierarchy. Everyone has something to contribute, all contributions are given equal consideration, and we all have something to learn. This fosters an ethos within the school community that everyone is here to learn, not just the pupils. We all have a contribution to make towards the teaching and learning that occurs in the community. With that equal contribution comes equal responsibility for the outcomes and so people have taken pride and put effort in to their work.
- Too heavy a focus on reviewing current literature and a lack of an attempt to trial strategies in class. I believe that for the experience to feel worthwhile, colleagues need to see that the work they are doing will have a practical impact on their teaching practice.
- Group dynamics. We so often see it when we try proximal learning with pupils in class, but people can often fail to ‘gel together’ when working in large groups. This can obviously have an impact of the work that is carried out and the enjoyment of those participating.
Some other issues surrounding the creation and implemetation of PLC’s are described in this TES article.
- What happens at the end of this academic year when the programme cycle is complete?
- How do we decide which enquiries will be implemented school wide, if any?
- How do we share our work beyond our own school community?
(*In our school there is no longer a ‘head of year’ system. Each year group is now ‘managed’ by non-teaching staff who spend their working time keeping track of pastoral issues that may arise.)