By Scott Sterling
A professional learning community is only as strong as the sum of its parts. A group of apathetic teachers will only produce apathetic results. Part of that can be solved by the initial grouping, but some things need to be left to the individual educators. Here are some tips to make sure you are putting your best foot forward.
Keep it professional
It’s no accident that the P in PLC stands for professional. You’re there to improve your craft, not socialize. A lot of off-task behavior can usually be solved by a systematic, agreed-upon meeting structure, but it’s up to the individuals to follow through on those plans. Save the gossip for the teachers’ lounge.
Don’t be afraid of observation
In the 21st century, multiple observations are a way of life for teachers. Visits from administration can be disconcerting by themselves, but many teachers get more nervous when being observed by their colleagues.
Observation is a key step in an effective PLC process. It fosters open communication among the group and offers an impartial view of each teacher’s craft. If you really have “stage fright”, consider using video cameras instead.
Offer to model your best skill
Everyone brings something different to the PLC table, especially if the group was well balanced in the first place. Usually, each teacher knows what that something is. Perhaps you’re more technologically inclined than your colleagues, or you are well-versed in the latest research. If so, offer (or form a mandate) to lead a PLC meeting centered around your topic. If your strength is in the classroom, offer to be the first to be observed. This willingness to share doesn’t just model your best practice, but also a selflessness that can be infectious for the whole group.
Don’t be afraid to hold people accountable
If someone is not pulling their own weight or promising things they aren’t delivering, anyone in the PLC should feel comfortable in holding that person accountable. After all, you will be held accountable for your growth as a teacher come appraisal time. If someone is stunting your growth, you have a right to an explanation. This will take communication skills, much like you would use for a student that’s falling behind in their work. If everyone in the PLC keeps that same understanding, the laggard should welcome the intervention.
Conflicts can be a good thing; fighting isn’t
It’s inevitable for any team to have internal conflicts. No one agrees all the time, especially when it comes to dissecting something as personal as a teacher’s practice. The question then becomes – what happens next?
Conflict, when managed effectively and objectively, can generate new ideas and steer the group in more productive directions. But if someone takes conflict personally, that will only derail the PLC’s progress. Don’t be that person. Everyone should remind themselves that they all have the same goal – to help every student reach their potential.
5-to-1 isn’t just for students
We’re told to maintain a positive atmosphere in our classrooms by offering more positive feedback than negative, usually at a 5-to-1 ratio. The same applies to a PLC. When someone does something great, recognize it. As the old adage says, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.”