by Tim Grivois-Shah, Ed.d., Director of Professional Learning and Community Engagement
Schools often designate time for teams of teachers to meet as part of a Professional Learning Community. Usually, the purpose of this time is to develop a common understanding of what students need to learn, monitor student performance on different kinds of assessments, or to decide what helps students need based on their latest test scores. Teams follow a meeting template, fill out forms, and send their meeting minutes to their principal for review. And, teachers generally don’t feel these meetings are very useful.
In 2015, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation published a comprehensive report called “Teachers Know Best: Teachers’ Views on Professional Development.” One key finding was that, despite teachers reporting that PLC meetings often aren’t a good use of their time, principals and superintendents would happily spend more time and resources so that teachers could attend more PLC meetings.
In short, teachers say “My PLC meetings aren’t all that useful for me or my students,” while school leaders say “Let’s spend more time and money on PLC meetings.
Especially since all educators want their learners to achieve, it’s important to understand why school leaders want to do more of something that teachers really don’t want to do. The Teacher’s Know Best study asked teachers to describe what their current collaborative time feels like. It’s heartbreaking to hear, but the data describe teachers feeling “held hostage” and “wishing to be anywhere else.” Whatever is happening during what is commonly thought of as Professional Learning Community meetings does not seem to support teachers in meeting the needs of their learners. Instead, teachers are asking for a better Professional Learning Community, rooted in a culture of professional learning that is energizing, supportive, and hands-on (2015).
CITY Center for Collaborative Learning is committed to a better model of Professional Learning Community that places the teacher at the center of the conversation. Rather than meeting as a team to review the latest benchmark assessment, a trained PLC facilitator meets with a colleague to choose an important piece of work that they believe their team can help
improve. Then, with kindness and candor, the team looks at the work and provides helpful, and specific feedback that the teacher can bring back to their classroom without delay. Patrick Kelly, teacher at Paulo Freire Freedom School, says that the value of his PLC is that it is “teacher driven, and is about meeting needs of teachers. We’ve built a culture that keeps it real and responds to the problems we all have as teachers with care and compassion.”
Advocates for traditional PLC models often talk about shifting the conversation from teaching to learning. After all, no one has really taught something until someone learns something. Truthfully, though, teaching and learning happen side by side, and the children in our classrooms learn more when teachers have time to collaborate around what know matters most.
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