Examining Failed Professional Learning Communities
After decades of defining, describing, and implementing PLCs, it shows that teachers are the primary experts in the teaching profession. Rachel Sims and Richard look at different literatures and their own studies to examine Professional Learning Community, and they “[warn] that PLCs that are launched just to conform … to an authoritarian mandate rarely result in the desired impact on student achievement” (cited in Talbert, 2010) (2014,p. 44). They also assert that “the use of data-driven decision-making in PLCs did not see improvement in their students’ achievement in the classroom or on the high-stake tests. “ (p.43). Instead, they find that a successful PLC need to be a system of support that allows teachers openly to share their practices and get constructive feedback. In the process, teachers are sharing and being inspired by other teachers to innovate and differentiate their lessons. They point out that “PLC has to do more than just consider data; it has to provide a venue for a rich and deep collaborative discussion of all aspects of the learning environment, teaching practice and outcomes” (p.44) (3). “To be a successful PLC, the PLC should also include open and reflective conversation, open practice, and focus on student learning…Ideas on student achievement and educational practice are shared openly” ( as cited in Fullan, 2007) (Sims & Penny, 2014, p.43).
Berry, Daughtrey, and Wieder’s review of literatures about teachers’ collaboration and the results from surveying 1210 teacher leaders suggest teachers are the main experts in students’ learning.
Of course, all administrators want their teachers to care and support each others; however, they also know that they need to measure the outcomes of implementing PLCs. For many schools, they requires teachers to fill out forms. Some PLCs spend their time create common assessments. Many view this shift from supporting teachers’ individual expertise and creativity to telling teachers what to teach and how to teach is creating negative consequences that lead many teachers to view negatively about PLCs. They also view that the current implementation of PLCs forces teachers to conform rather than exercising their individual expertise. Former President John F. Kennedy once said:
“Conformity is the jailer of FREEDOM and the ENEMY of Growth”
Throughout history, one’s individuality has brought one breakthrough after another. The education system is supposed to produce diverse individuals with the skills and knowledge for the challenges after high school. Ironically, many views that most of current PLCs are mainly operated under the idea of collaboration through conformity: Teachers “collaborate” to create common assessments, common lessons, and common ways to teach all students in the entire school. On the other hand, teachers also have to differentiate their instruction to support the individualized needs of the diverse groups of students today. The pressure to collect measurable outcomes and enforce teachers’ accountability lead schools to implement PLCs that focus on collecting data and conformity rather than supporting teachers to embrace their individual expertise to differentiate instruction.
Below are critical limitations of implementing PLCs without the right technology, accountability, and transparency
- Communication/collaboration only occurs within a department. There are no opportunities for cross-curricular collaboration.
- Most of the communication is in one direction. Consequently, this results in a lack of transparency.
- Work is turning as a group, so we cannot measure each teacher’s contribution. Consequently, administrators cannot support teachers to exercise their individual expertise if they don’t have a way to measure each teacher’s outcomes.
- Collaboration is limited to assigned PLC time, and this discourages teachers to work together because they don’t have continuous communication.
- Teachers have to rely on District Specialists or Administrators to introduce new teaching practices. This causes teachers to depend on them, but most importantly, it creates a culture where individual teacher’s expertise is not respected, it forces teachers to conform to the teaching practices introduce by District Specialists or Administrators. Ultimately, it creates a culture based on conformity and limited individuality.
How does COVID-19 affect your school’s Professional Learning Community?
If your school already has a difficult time with Professional Learning Community before COVID-19, then your PLCs will be even less productive. Before COVID-19, disengaged teachers may pretend to participate during your PLCs’ meetings. However, they are physically present, and they are forced to participate.
PLCs through video-conferencing introduce new challenges.
- Teachers do not have to be physically present. They could join and turn off their camera.
- Teachers are less motivated.
- Communication is limited.
- Little individual accountability among teachers.
Win Elements empower educators to streamline collaboration and support to provide learning equity for all students.
To show the impact of the solutions, we first have to look at the nature of teachers’ collaboration and support.
Why do teachers collaborate?
According to Hattie, he asserts that “collective teachers efficacy” has the highest impact on students’ learning. However, he is missing the most important factor: How do teachers collaborate easily and meaningfully?
To promote authentic teachers’ collaboration and teamwork, we need to understand teachers’ individual needs and the basics of teamwork. Most teachers have specific common needs to perform their teaching jobs:
- Grading: This is the most time-consuming task for all teachers. Recent studies show teachers spent most time grading students’ work. Most teachers don’t have the time to grade students’ work to provide students meaningful feedback timely. Teachers often take work home to grade after school or during the weekends. Consequently, some teachers often come up with strategies to streamline grading without providing students any meaningful feedback. For example, teachers utilize valuable class time for peer grading or just grading students’ work.
- Gradebook: Grading all students’ work is only one aspect. Another important and time-consuming aspect is updating the grades on the district’s gradebook. Middle or high school teachers have about 160 students, and updating all the student’s grades takes a lot of time. Consequently, some teachers develop strategies to grade students at the end of each unit to input in a single number for each student. However, it is too late for many students to make up any missing if teachers wait until the end of the unit to provide meaningful feedback and intervention.
- Late Work: Accepting, grading, and updating students’ late work an essential part of teaching. It is a crucial component of providing learning equity for all students. However, it is also time-consuming because it adds more chaos to teachers’ daily tasks. Consequently, some teachers have grading policies that will not accept any late work.
- Making copies: Every morning before schools or evening after schools, many teachers line up to make their copies. Teachers spend hours at the lounge, making copies weekly. More importantly, it is the most expensive consumable goods in schools. Most high schools spent nearly $50,000 on printing and making copies related ( maintenance, ink, and paper).
- Student Accountability: If you ask any teachers, they will tell you that student accountability has the highest impact on students learning outcomes. However, many are reluctant to emphasize these points because it blames students. Of course, there many other social, financial, and academic factors that also affect students’ learning. Nevertheless, conversation evolves into subjective arguments among stakeholders. Therefore, it is critical to creating transparency in teaching and students’ learning progress to provide learning equity.
- Eliminate distractions of cellphones: Many research underestimates the impacts of distractions from cellphones on students’ learning. They argue that teachers should teach students to self-regulate. If we look at around, we will see that many adults are more addicted to cellphones than students.
How we increase our teachers’ collaboration.
The core of the solution is inspiring teachers to want to make a difference in their professional lives.
Satisfy teachers’ essential needs.
It’s very easy to increase authentic teacher collaboration throughout your schools. The two essential steps below outline how you can increase teachers’ engagement during Professional Learning Communities at your schools.
- Streamline Grading-related tasks: We create websites to host a flexible and comprehensive Learning Management system that allows us to perform 90% of grading tasks:
- Auto-grade adaptive assessments and provide students instant feedback. Students can self-assess and retry the question for partial credit.
- Comprehensive and auto-updated grade book that links all grades to students’ assignments. Students can make up late or missing work for partial credit at their convenience.
- Real-time data and analysis: Teachers and students access real-time and comprehensive data to evaluate students’ progress and learning outcomes. Identifying struggling students and provide meaningful intervention is now a simple task for us.
- Reasons to collaborate: Now teachers are no longer burden by time-consuming administrative tasks, they can focus on innovating engaging lessons during PLCs. Most importantly, teachers will gain the immediate benefits the shared resources and their teamwork.
- Shared resources and activities are customizable: Teachers no longer feel that they are dictated to do something; instead, they feel that are helped by their peers.
- Contribution is documented and rewarded: Often teachers refuse to share their resources they feel that they don’t need to. However, schools and districts can identify innovative teachers to reward them based on their contributions. Therefore, it becomes an objective system to reward students.
Before we look at the solutions, we need to understand teachers’ intrinsic and extrinsic motivations.
Possible Extrinsic Motivation:
- Accountability: Because participating in PLCs is part of all teachers’ daily teaching responsibilities, they are expected to participate during PLCs. However, if their participation is not measured or held accountable. Will they participate?
Possible Intrinsic Motivations:
- Need help from colleagues: Teachers participate because they have questions, need help, or want to learn. This support will teachers improve their teaching jobs. In many ways, this is very extrinsically motivated.
- Spending time with their colleagues: It’s fun to work with other teachers who share the same commitments and passion as you.
Our Step-by-Step Solution
Step 1: We will create an online Professional Learning Community course for your school. School leaders are assigned as co-teachers to add activity and resource for all staff at your school
Step 2: Teacher enroll in your school PLC course, and they will participate through this online course.
Done: All teachers’ participation and contribution are streamlined and recorded for school leaders to provide Multi-tiers System of Support for teachers but also recognizing dedicated teachers.
Here are some essential online tasks that school leaders can create to transform their school PLCs. It is effective in any learning settings because it hold all teachers accountable to participate actively.
- Make Announcements: All messages are organized & accessible in one place instead of being lost in emails.
- Online Discussion Forum: Engage teachers & address teachers’ concerns by allowing teachers to engage in online discussion 24/7. This builds trust among your staff.
- Survey & Real-Time Analysis: Customize survey & collect real-time data from teachers. Real-time analysis graphs and other data are collected and shown to all teachers in one place. This creates transparency in the entire school.
- Folder: Upload all training files in one place, so the teacher can access them directly. No more having teachers typing short URL links. Training files will be accessible to all teachers for future usages.
- Assignments & Due Date & Grade: Assign tasks to all teachers or groups of teachers, so they upload data, forms, & other documents. Then, you can provide constructive feedback at any time. You can also use Rubrics to provide detailed feedback. All of these will be organized and accessible in one place.
- *** Administrators can delete inappropriate content/posts to maintain a safe environment.