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A PLC Pop Quiz for the New Year

The start of a new school year brings renewed interest in how schools "do" teaching and learning. Over the past few weeks my Google alerts have produced countless articles on schools that are "betting" on professional learning communities to close the achievement gap. I'll take that bet, but only if these schools are paying attention to those elements of PLCs that are critical to getting results for educators and students.

Our definition of effective professional learning captures the foundation of the PLC strategy. I have converted the key components of the definition into questions that I invite you to take to your school leadership team, or to your grade or subject-level learning team, to make sure you have everything in place to get you the best results for this new school year.

  1. Is our PLC committed to fostering collective responsibility for improved student performance?
  2. Is our PLC aligned with rigorous state student academic achievement standards as well as related local educational agency and school improvement goals;
  3. Is the PLC facilitated by well-prepared school principals and/or school-based professional development coaches, mentors, master teachers, or other teacher leaders?
  4. Do the communities convene several times per week or the equivalent of several hours?
  5. Do the professionals organize into teams of teachers, principals, as well as other instructional staff members?
  6. Is the PLC engaging in a defined continuous cycle of improvement?
  7. Is the PLC evaluating student, teacher, and school learning needs through a thorough review of data on teacher and student performance?
  8. Is the learning based on the rigorous analysis of the data and a definition of clear educator learning goals?
  9. Is the learning characterized by implementing coherent, sustained, and evidenced-based learning strategies, such as lesson study and the development of formative assessments, that improve instructional effectiveness and student achievement?
  10. Is the learning supported by job-embedded coaching or other forms of assistance to promote the transfer of new knowledge and skills to the classroom?
  11. Is the PLC assessing regularly the effectiveness of the professional development in achieving identified learning goals, improving teaching, and assisting all students in meeting challenging state academic achievement standards?
  12. Is the PLC using assessment findings to inform ongoing improvements in teaching and student learning?
  13. Is the PLC tapping external assistance when it finds it does not have the internal expertise to achieve its goals?

Do you agree that all 13 of these questions are critical for any professional learning community? Are some more critical than others? Where will you focus this year? Answering these questions will help guide you to a higher performing PLC whose results you will be celebrating throughout the school year.

Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director, Learning Forward

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