professional learning communities

August 14, 2008

Today, as part of my teacher professional development, I participated in a discussion with the Senior Class teachers regarding the general direction the high school is moving and the plans put in place to progress the learning community. They showed a video put together by the people who developed the Professional Learning Community concept.

The term professional learning community describes a collegial group of administrators and school staff who are united in their commitment to student learning. They share a vision, work and learn collaboratively, visit and review other classrooms, and participate in decision making (Hord, 1997b). The benefits to the staff and students include a reduced isolation of teachers, better informed and committed teachers, and academic gains for students. Hord (1997b) notes, “As an organizational arrangement, the professional learning community is seen as a powerful staff-development approach and a potent strategy for school change and improvement.”

(attributed here)
This first video we watched was a discussion between the authors of the concept, namely Rick DuFour, and its texts and some of the main implementers. One of these was Becky DuFour, wife of the author, is a big proponent of the system. This video, no offense to those involved, was boring as all get out. Also, this was supposed to be a promotional video about how Professional Learning Communities work, yet they presented no evidence or research in this video. Now, the basic concept, where teachers collaborate with administration to reach a plan on how to teach and progress the learning done at the school, is a good concept. It makes sense. It just seemed intellectually dishonest to present no evidence to this. Granted, I suppose if I was reading the texts associated with the subject, I’d find the research I wanted, so I suppose I should be looking at the administration for not providing this.

Today, we watched another video in which they showed a student going through a school with no PLC and then again with the PLC added in. In the first act (no PLC) the teachers and administration were distant, rude, and uncaring toward the student. One teacher only cared about what the report card said, one thought the student should be thrown to the wolves because he “chose” to not turn in assignments, and another teacher thought he should be made to pass just on virtue of kindness. The student failed and failed and failed, and was left to hang out in the wind at every turn. The counselor in the video even said that he wasn’t a child anymore and he needed to grow up and take care of himself.

In the PLC school, all the teachers were working together to ensure the student’s success, and in the end, the student goes from multiple failing grades as a freshman, to a straight-A student by his senior year. Teachers worked with him throughout using tutoring, mentoring programs and continuous check-ups with the family and with the student to ensure progress. A very rousing success.

For this, I go to the developers of the video with complaint. By the way the video is produced, schools with no PLC are bad schools, and in fact, have only bad teachers. Competent teachers with true conscientiousness toward their students are now just softies, and teachers who try to be fair and challenge their students are hard and uncaring. Administration can’t possibly care about students without the PLC, it seems. But, if you have a PLC, all your problems will be fixed. Teachers with no skill or poor training are instantly better, and teachers who grade unfairly or are uncaring are middle-manned away, or something like that. It’s a very poor view of how a school actually works. I’ve only been teaching a year and I can see this.

So, kudos to the Dufours for developing a program that has changed many schools, apparently, but you should really reconsider developing materials that do justice to the education system and how effective your system would really be in the face of honest teacher ability and experience in the education field.


One comment

  1. When I worked at ENMU, I worked at the office for the PLC’s. Back then they were still researching it seemed. I was plugging in grades in an Excel program to track the progress of the PLC. At the begining the students had very poor grades (I never knew who they were, they were all assigned numbers) and by the end of the semester they were doing so much better. It is a great concept and hopefully more schools take it in.

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