Have you ever considered a Professional Learning Community(PLC) as being on a journey with colleagues? A journey into discovery and problem-solving? PLCs are about constantly striving for improvement, adapting to new challenges, and learning from both wins and losses. PLCs are about growing together, alongside a team. This is often referred to as “collective efficacy”, and there is great power in collectively solving problems.
Collective Efficacy and PLCs
Teacher Collective Efficacy is at the top of a list of over 250 influences on student achievement identified by researcher John Hattie (2017). With teacher collective efficacy ranking at the top of this research, it is clear that effective Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are an important component of school culture. A culture of learning through intentional collaboration builds the collective efficacy Hattie references. With the right structures in place, PLCs provide a job-embedded space for teachers to collaborate and improve their practice. So how do we provide opportunities for teachers to effectively collaborate during PLCs? Let’s begin by understanding what a PLC is and the purpose of collaborative learning communities.
Professional Learning Communities are teams of teachers who come together to engage in ongoing, job-embedded professional development. Teachers work collaboratively to analyze student data, to research and discuss instructional strategies, and to identify best practices for instruction. The ultimate goal of a PLC – improve student learning outcomes. Inquiry into problems of practice and discovery of solutions are key characteristics of a strong PLC journey.
PLCs typically meet regularly, often weekly or biweekly, and are led by a facilitator (i.e., an administrator, an instructional coach, or a teacher). The meetings are structured and focused, with specific goals and objectives set in advance. Without structure and focus, learning is often replaced with more urgent matters, and the time set aside for learning during a PLC succumbs to short-term crisis management that doesn’t lead to transformative change. Additionally, Steve Barkley (2009) describes PLCs as being PWCs – professional working communities. He states, “. . .collaborative time is being spent getting work done, tasks completed. This is not a bad thing to do, but it differs from teacher learning as an outcome. Without educator learning, there is unlikely change in teacher practice and, therefore, little likelihood that there will be a change in student learning outcomes (Barkley, 2009). I appreciate this clarification, but how do we address the issue? How do we provide a structure that puts the “L” back in PLC?
Texas Lesson Study, Then and Now
Over the past seven years, the Texas Education Agency, in cooperation with Education Service Centers (ESCs) across the state, has implemented Texas Lesson Study (TXLS) as a job-embedded framework for in-depth learning that transforms instruction. Lesson Study is a research-based approach to collaboration that originated in Japan and has been gaining popularity in many parts of the world (Lewis, Perry, & Hurd, 2009). During Lesson Study, teams enter a journey together to select a focus (problem of practice), research instructional solutions, design and teach a lesson including the best practices found through their research, and then observe and reflect on the outcomes. In the beginning stages, TXLS was focused on providing an opportunity for teachers to engage in action research and publish their findings. It was great work that led to in-depth learning, but the lift was heavy. The shift in TXLS now provides a framework that is ideal for PLCs, including the key pieces of Lesson Study, with clear direction and accountability for job-embedded learning. Teachers collaborate with colleagues during PLCs, learn about and apply research-based instructional strategies, become better consumers of their curriculum, and reflect on evidence-based outcomes while engaging in continuous cycles of improvement to enhance student learning. The changes have led to exponential growth over the past few years. Statewide from the 21-22 school year to the 22-23 school year, there was a 296% increase in teachers participating in TXLS with six new districts and 15 new campuses adopting TXLS as the PLC framework for job-embedded professional learning. This increase represents 121% more students being taught by teachers who are systematically planning instruction and reflecting on evidence-based outcomes.
TXLS PLC cycles of continuous learning include the following phases:
- Phase One: Examine Data and Identify a Focus (Problem of Practice)
- Phase Two: Review Instructional Materials and Plan Instruction
- Phase Three: Teach & Observe
- Phase Four: Reflect & Revise
- Phase Five: Share and Network
Each phase builds upon the previous one, and then the process is repeated. Teachers dive into problems of practice using questions that provide guidance and focus. Teachers discover solutions and confirm their effectiveness by examining data and evidence of learning. At the conclusion of a cycle, teachers ask, “What’s next? Do we need to continue trying to find a solution for this focus, or launch a new cycle to find solutions to a new problem of practice?”
The timeline of a TXLS cycle of continuous learning is like an accordion. Cycles expand and contract depending on several factors such as the intensity of the problem of practice, success in finding solutions to the problem, the consistency and protection of the PLC time, and the support from campus leadership. Cycles can last from three to four weeks or up to 10 to 12 weeks. It is important to note that the work in PLCs using this model is focused on short-term wins that lead to long-term, transformative change through cycles of continuous improvement.
When teachers engage in this systematic structure, transformative change can happen. Without a systematic approach, educators are likely to flit from one problem of practice to another without knowing if they ever solved one.
If you have done any research on PLCs, you are most likely aware of the work of Richard DuFour. He is a well-known researcher and developer of PLC practices. DuFour (2006) established four critical questions for PLCs: 1) What do we expect students to learn? 2) How will we know if they are learning? 3) What will we do when students are already proficient? 4) How do we respond when students don’t learn? These questions fall into three main priorities for PLCs, Focus on Learning, Focus on Collaborative Culture, and Focus on Results (DuFour, 2006). The Texas Lesson Study PLC process systematically accomplishes these three focus areas by
- Focusing on Learning: Teachers and coaches work collaboratively to examine data about student learning and develop research-based lessons that include anticipated student responses and address wide-ranging needs.
- Focusing on Collaborative Culture: Teachers build collective teacher efficacy during TXLS PLCs. Teachers meet on a regular basis to discuss problems of practice, reflect on prior lessons, and share best practices.
- Focusing on Results: Teachers access research-based instructional strategies to achieve intended learning outcomes. Teachers observe and reflect on evidence-based lesson outcomes and summarize the highlights of the work they’ve done.
Powering Your PLCs with TXLS
The PLC journey training at the Region 7 Education Service Center is called Solution-Based PLCs: Discover the Power of Collective Problem Solving. Our training is powered by the Texas Lesson Study process and tools, providing a systematic framework that leads to transformative change based on evidence.
This training can be customized to your campus or district needs and includes the option to add planning and coaching to foster effective PLCs in your district or on your campus. To learn more about how you can benefit from Solution-Based PLCs, contact Mendy Wandling at [email protected] or 903.988.6713.
|Mendy Wandling is a Curriculum Coordinator for Region 7 ESC and serves as the Texas Lesson Study (TXLS) Program Manager, a Texas Education Agency (TEA) grant-funded initiative, for Region ESCs 4, 7, and 8. Prior to joining Region 7 ESC, Mendy was a TXLS Coach for two years and the TXLS Program Manager for Hub 4 at Region 4 ESC for three years.|
Barkely, S. (2016, October 9) PLC or PWC? Steve Barkley, Education Consultant. https://barkleypd.com/blog/plc-or-pwc/.
DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Many, T. (2006). Learning by Doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work. Solution Tree.
Hattie, J. (2017) Hattie’s 2018 updated list of factors related to student achievement: 252 influences and effect sizes. https://visible-learning.org/hattie-ranking-influences-effect-sizes-learning-achievement/.
Lewis, C., Perry, R., & Hurd, J. (2009) Lesson Study Communities: Increasing achievement with diverse students. Corwin Press.