Wednesday, January 20, 2010

PLCs - Professional Learning Community Genius OR...Please Leave Crabby Overworked Teachers Alone?

(Stu, my loyal reader, this one's for you!)

Since many of you wrote and said you enjoyed my dissection of articles, I thought I would include this one because it acknowledges that schools need even more than just good teachers to make significant changes. And no, by more than good teachers alone, the article and I are not referring to increased testing, increased accountability measures that just result in increased paperwork and pencil sharpening, increased number of meetings, increased scripted curriculum or any other increased whatever that the Powers That Be dream up in an attempt to control teachers sending the message that we are nothing but idiotic trained circus animals who are in need of an occasional whipping. (Phew. That was a mouthful.)

The author had me at hello when she began her article by disrupting the Teacher as Savior image perpetuated by Hollywood. (Or the Teacher as Wearer of Head to Toe Leather...I know, I love that joke.) And then, THEN, she quotes an education consultant who says we need to stop looking for superheroes to save our schools. Sha-bam! I mean, I like to imagine myself in a cape with some fabulous gold cuffs as much as the next girl, but let's be realistic here. While I have from time to time thought of myself as having Super Powers I knew that there was no way that I could successfully change the lives of each and every one of my students, no matter how much I tried or wanted to. Did that mean I just gave up? No, of course not. But some children are coping with pretty dire situations and I'd be insane to think that I alone (despite all my high-heeled fabulousness) had the power, the knowledge or the ability to help them all.

In this piece, the author suggests Professional Learning Communities in schools which are groups of teachers and members of the local community who work together toward common goals. I'm thinking the PTA on steroids and minus a few bake sales. If I'm right we're talking about teachers, administrators, parents, and community leaders here. And I know, I know, it sounds like we're also talking about one more freaking meeting that you have to go to that will probably take place after hours, HOWEVER, what I do appreciate is the acknowledgement that the school alone isn't the main source of a community's ills. Nor is the school alone the only way we are going to solve larger social problems that impact student performance every day. (Poverty, I'm looking at YOU.)

At first, this idea may sound scary because Lord knows we don't' need another non-educator sticking their noses into our classrooms and curriculum and telling us how to do our jobs (without even asking us what we think!! ARGH!), however, if the PLC is focused on the bigger picture, how schools and teachers can possibly fit into that picture and how the community can better support the work of the schools, I'm all for it. Although, I have to say that I would feel more encouraged about adding one more thing to our already overflowing plates if this article was written from the perspective of an actual teacher or at least a former teacher who had participated in a PLC. You know, 'cuz them folks on the outside have a tendency to a) have too many opinions b) suggest ADDING EVEN MORE without ever EVER taking away and/or c) act like they know how it is on the inside because, hey, they went to school once.

Who knows if this is the solution? I'm pretty sure journaling alone is not going to do it. Nor is walking the streets with a Badass soundtrack. (Secretly, I totally want one of those, but more for personal reasons than the whole Save The Children thing.)

13 comments:

KCL said...

We are striving for a PLC at my school, and I must say, it's pretty dang positive. Like any paradigm shift, if one feels that they can affect change, have a voice, and give/take respect, things function. Nothing works well when those elements aren't present, like a vitamin deficiency. The sum is greater than the parts - without the professional--learning--community, well, then you just have P.

cascadingwaters said...

Thanks for pointing this out!

mrs. pants said...

Le sigh, I wish our PLCs were more like what you've described. Really, it's more like a mandated "We don't really trust that you're teaching, so have this meeting, and jump through these hoops to prove it"

We must meet with our grade level teachers (because, really, what could my friend the 5th grade teacher ever help me with, right? *sarcasm*) and discuss only a very strict set of questions about learning, which gets us virtually nowhere (mainly because we still don't know what the heck they want from us).

I was hoping for more of "What are you doing for water week?" "How did you teach those tricky word endings?" "When so-and-so does this, how do I calm him down?" Which of course we still do, just now we have to spend extra time pretending we're answering the other questions.

One of my super colleagues hijaked her PLC so that it is more focused on community & parents, much to our principal's displeasure. That super colleague is joining me at a PLC conference soon (I think because our principal wants to make her see how misguided her efforts are). I'm going mostly to figure out how not to waste our time.

And I LOVE when you talk about articles, they make me remember that I AM an educated person, who knows about things and can be trusted!

mrs. pants said...

Well, my original comment was very intuitive and lovely, but it's disappeared into the internet wasteland, so here's a summary:

1. I LOVE when you discuss articles, because it makes me remember that I am an intelligent person who knows many things and can be trusted to do her job.

2. I wish that our PLCs were like what you've described! Ours started with promise, but have know devolved into another hoop to jump through to prove we're competent to teach. Blerg.
We must be in our grade levels (because my 5th grade teacher friend couldn't possibly help me *sarcasm*). We can only discuss a strict set of questions that revolve around learning, which we don't really understand. And then we have to provide the all-powerful data to prove that we've done something.
I'd much rather have designated time to talk about how my colleagues taught tricky vowel combination, or how they've decided to teach the plant unit, or even what they do when they hit roadblocks with kids. Now, we do that less, because we have to pretend to do the PLC stuff.

3. My super colleague hijacked her PLC to make it more about parents & community, much to our principal's displeasure. My colleague & I are going to a PLC conference soon. I think super colleague is going because our principal wants her to see how misguided her PLC attempts are. I'm going to figure out how to not waste our time. I'll let you know what we find :)

ChiTown Girl said...

This sounds a lot like our Local School Council (LSC) here in Chicago. If they are used correctly, they can be a positive thing, helpful even. But, when they are run like the cluster fuck we had here at the Hell-Hole, what's the point? I was our LSC who appointed Big Cheese as principal, and then voted to renew his contract every time it was up for renewel. They were a bunch of his buddies from the neighborhood, and they were just as crooked and corrupt as he was. The president was the husband/boyfriend of our business manager, who was fired right along with Big Cheese. Along with the two of them getting fired this summer, our LSC was disbanded, and has yet to be reinstated. It's really kind of a joke around here.

Stu said...

Teachers need time to collaborate. In my school system we were given 30 minutes once a week to collaborate with other teachers...our grade level or subject area peers, or across grades and subjects.

Unfortunately, that has changed. The administration has taken over half of the weeks of the year and provided us with tasks...like Mimi said...more stuff on our plates without taking anything away.

The idea of a PLC is sound. I would love to 1) see it in action and 2) become part of one. Time to discuss classroom problems...share ideas...support a colleague with a difficult class...and so on, not fill out forms for the administration.

One sentence in the article jumped out at me. Test scores, imho, are so tragically misused at this point in time, that they are nearly useless. However, when the author said of the school in Sanger California, that attendance was nearly 97% I perked right up. Something must be right about that school to get 97% of the students to show up. That's a statistic that really means something.

Kids learn to read best when they have access to libraries with good books, the freedom to choose the books they like and the time to read them. In poor communities the access to books is often non-existent except for the schools. Getting kids to come to school every day is a big step in the right direction...

More libraries...fewer standardized tests. More free reading...less test prep. More collaboration among colleagues...fewer administrative directives.

Very thought provoking article, Mrs. Mimi. Thanks for sharing it with us.

glauren5 said...

Speaking of impoverished schools and little parent involvement, please HELP! I'm about to have a melt down unless I get some seriously, out-of-this-world-miracle of an idea to fix my "problem." Please visit my blog for more information and to offer your assistance ASAP: glauren.blogspot.com.

I'm dyin' with this kid!

Lindsey said...

We have PLC's at our school and we LOVE them! It is so wonderful to sit down with a group of colleagues and discuss what we want to LEARN! We have used this time to increase our knowledge and skill, we have designed grants, and just talked about teaching! It is the most refreshing part of my week! Our administrators check in us, and expect minutes, but the rest is left up to us! What a concept!
LOVE your blog. It makes me realize I am not the only one who thinks these things!

JGilcreast said...

My school district implemented PLC's for one year and it was wonderful. I am a school librarian and the only one in the building so before PLC's, I never got to meet with my colleagues. When PLC's came around, we were talking, engaging, sharing ideas, collaborating... it was wonderful progress. We were moving forward! We were making positive change!... And then the district canned it after only one year. Since then, there has been little to no collaboration or communication between specialists... sad.

ms.understood said...

My school has a PLC and the element of working as a whole school is amazing. Everyone really does pitch in. What I don't like about it is there is a "it's never enough attitude." Ideas like "let's work weekends" or "can everyone give up a plan time to tutor". The phrase thrown out all the time is "whatever it takes." Sometimes this can be good and encouraging, but sometimes it is really irritating when you feel like you don't have anymore to give.

hlc said...

We are in the process of implementing PLCs in my division, and I think, if the implementation is done correctly, it shouldn't become just another meeting. However, we all know the very large jump from good intentions and poorly played out reforms! It is definitely a change in the entire school culture, but I think it can be a very exciting change!

AverageMom said...

I'm going to be the one to say it...I despise PLC's. I think it is because of the way they are run at my school. We were given a list of topics to choose from, and each group has a topic for the year. We meet once a month, AFTER the monthly staff meeting, and we have been told we MUST STAY until 4:30. We are not to change topics or groups. So far, it has not been positive.

Ms. Dee said...

Nice book (from a colleague) on starting PLCs - http://teacherleaders.typepad.com/the_tempered_radical/2009/10/building-a-professional-learning-community-at-work.html

Who's Peeking?