PLCs - an introduction

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Introduction to the basic principals of establishing Professional Learning Communities

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  • Good morning (Bore Da). My name is Simon Ford from British Council Wales and this morning I’m going to talk to you about some of the theory behind the Professional Learning Communities, the reasons for engaging with model and how it works. I’ll be delivering this presentation in English but we will provide a bilingual version to anyone who requests one following the session. I first became involved in PLCs through the British Councils International Professional Learning Community programme, which was developed with the support of Professor Alma Harris from the Welsh Government School Management and Effectiveness team. Alma is a passionate advocate of the PLC model as a way of delivering school improvement and if you’ve met her you’ll probably recognise some of the ideas that I’ll be covering in this presentation. Following this overview of the theory of the PLC model you’ll be hearing about how this all works in practice from Joe Cudd, Head of Maes Y Morfa Community Primary School, and one of the participants of a recent International Professional Learning Communities visit to New York.
  • Professional Learning Communities and networks of professional practice, are identified as an essential strategy for school improvement in the Welsh Government’s School Effectiveness Framework. But why? What is it about the PLC model that makes it so valuable for both practitioners and learners? One thing that is commonly heard within the education sector is that with so much reform, there is in fact very little change. There are many reasons behind this, including introducing change too quickly, focusing on the wrong areas and perhaps most importantly, the lack of an implementation strategy – the ‘how’ behind new ideas. While these ideas are often impressive, it’s the hard slog of implementation that actually makes things work. Practitioners that I speak with can all give examples of reforms or initiatives that have failed to make a difference at classroom level because they have failed to engage teachers in the reform process. The McKinsey report has recently highlighted the importance of collaborative practice and the benefits of teachers working together, learning from each other and making a difference through collaborative activities. However just getting teachers to collaborate is not always sufficient. It’s what they focus on and the nature of the collaboration that is the most important thing. The PLC model puts the learner at the centre of the school improvement process. The ultimate goal of a PLC can be summed up in three words; improved learner outcomes. This is done by brining a group of professionals together to collaborate and enquire into how this can be achieved. The PLC methodology has been designed to facilitate the delivery of better learning outcomes and wellbeing for all children and young people, regardless of their socio economic background by reducing variation in learning outcomes between classrooms, schools and local authorities.
  • What is a Professional Learning Community? There are a number of characteristics that are shared by effective PLCs, however in the limited time that I have I’m going to focus on what are widely understood to be the three non-negotiable elements of PLCs. These are as follows. PLCs Focus on learner and learning outcomes. The work of the PLC focuses on the learner need first and at the centre of this is learning, not just for the learners themselves but also for the teachers and others in the school in order to enable them to deliver better outcomes for the learners. PCs use data and evidence. They are data informed rather than data lead. They use data, not as an end to itself but as a means to an end, in an intelligent way to get to the real issues that are getting in the way of young people learning. PLCS provide opportunities for professional empowerment. I think that the general consensus, by practitioners and experts in the sector, is that we’ve got what we need within the system to improve it we just need to find a way of releasing the potential that exists. PLCs are a way to do this. Now instead of trying to convince you why you should be doing this, which I’m going to leave that up to Joe, what I’m going to do is to focus on how you can do it. I’m going to take you step-step-by-step through the seven phases of the National PLC model and hopefully highlight the key questions that you’ll need to answer at each stage of this in order to ensure that the Professional Learning Communities that you create will be work effectively by including these non-negotiable elements.
  • 1: Establish the group Perhaps the first challenge you’re going to face when establishing a Professional Learning Community is going to who to work with. Essentially this is a challenge that we’ve tried to overcome by bringing you together with a group of like minded colleagues, with an interest in PLCs, and something that we’re going to explore in more depth during the workshop sessions that we’ll be running this afternoon. There are some other considerations to make however when first setting up a PLC. Firstly, How long should a PLC last? The life cycle of a PLC is ultimately determined by the depth of the enquiry that the team is expected to undertake but should last no more than a year. The reason for this is that each year the students in the groups you’re focusing on may change and by association the issues relating to those learners will also change. How man people should be involved in a PLC? Of course this can vary depending on the level of experience and expertise you’re work with, but ideally there should be no more than six to eight participants in a PLC as this ensures effective contribution from all participants. Any less than three to four staff means there might not be sufficient depth or challenge within your team. Should the headteacher be involved in a PLC? Our recommendation is that the headteacher has to initially be a participant in a PLC. Firstly, in order to fully understand the PLC model and process, and secondly to be able to support subsequent PLCs within the school. When PLCs become a natural way of working within the school, the head’s role as an active participant may then change as they take responsibility for ensuring the work is reflected and embedded in the annual self evaluations and school development planning cycle.
  • 2: Identify a focus So, if you’ve established the membership of your PLC, the next stage is to decide what the you’re going to focus on. How do you start? By using data to identify a particular issue or problem for a group of learners and therefore a specific learner need. PLCs start an end with data, without this you cannot gauge the impact of your PLC on outcomes for learners. What data can be used? Core data sets from self evaluation, assessment data, performance data, class & year group data and test data are all valuable sources of information when deciding what area you’re going to focus on. The are of focus that you choose should also be linked into your school development plan, the work that the PLC delivers should be part and parcel of school evaluation and not separate from the natural processes within the school. Who takes the lead? As a group you need to decide on the way that you’re going to work within your PLC. One of the most important things to do as part of this will be to identify the group facilitator. This will be a key role within the PLC as your facilitator will be responsible for linking the work the PLC with the school leadership team, developing the action plan for your team, feeding your work into the planning of the school development plan, overseeing effective communication, monitoring and co-ordination processes are followed, ensuring the appropriate links with other schools are formed, monitors the development of new knowledge and the transfer of practice and consults learners on the success of their learning arising from the PLC work.
  • 3. Action Enquiry Once you’ve decided what you’re going to be working on a key stage of the model will be your action enquiry. This is where the scope of your PLC widens as you investigate what existing expertise there may be on the area that you’re focusing on, which your group can use. What research is there? Investigate what has already been done with regards to the area that you’re looking at, research studies can give you a basis of evidence to consider or even put you in touch with other practitioners that might offer you new ideas or methodologies that will meet the needs of your learners. What are other teachers practicing? In my experience, the best resource that you have in terms of professional development is each other. Later today you’ll have the chance to talk to each other about your experiences and areas of expertise but what we’ll also ask you to consider is who you can learn from locally, in your region, nationally and internationally. Where do we get more information? Some of the recommendations that we have from experienced PLC practitioners on where they’ve gathered information from include, peer observation, lesson study, learning walks, visits to other schools, problem solving team building, collaborative use of data, shared INSET programmes, action learning partnerships, specialist peer consultancy, instructional rounds, networking events and workshops such as today’s. Essentially these are probably all familiar to you and examples of what you’re already doing.
  • 4. Innovation and change At the heart of a PLC is the notion of change, change in practice, change in process, and change in outcomes. When trialling new approaches and strategies are being trialled by a PLC you may find that the way in which your group is operating also needs to change, and develop, in order to deliver the required outcomes. What if the PLC goes off at a tangent? This is where the role of the facilitator is crucial to ensure that the PLC team remains focused and enthused. Setting out key principles in the way you want to work, what your are responsibilities and expectations for all the participants at the outset is important and something to reference if you do feel there has been slippage. What if the focus is too broad? If the focus is too broad then the group has to continually refine until it is precise enough for the group to address. So for example, improving literacy is too broad and presents too big a task for a PLC. Be realistic. Where does the time come from? We know that schools allocate time and resources at different times of the year according to need. You need to show the value of the PLC by ensuring it is linked to the objectives of the school development plan. Effective PLCs, by securing commitment and engagement from the school leadership team, have used staff development and CPD time for PLC activities, in service training time for PLC work and even the abandonment of other meetings in favour of PLC sessions.
  • 5. Trailing and feedback This is about putting things into practice. Once you’ve decided on the methodologies and strategies that you’re going to adopt, you need keep people informed of the activity the PLC is engaging in and its progress, How effective is my teaching? What teaching strategies accelerate and improve learning? What is the impact for the learner?
  • 6. Refining As the work of the PLC progresses we should be working to embed the new strategies that are being practiced. In order to do this effectively we need to understand. Who monitors the work and outcomes of the PLC? A PLC is accountable to the whole school and they have a direct responsibility to share and disseminate their findings regularly. The facilitator and the management team of the school also have a joint responsibility for monitoring progress and the outcomes of a PLC. How is the impact of a PLC measured? The impact measures need to relate directly to the particular focus or issue that the PLC is trying to address or improve. The impact initially will be in terms of changes in teaching and classroom practices. Subsequently, these changes in classroom and teaching practices should lead to improved learning outcomes which can be measured by returning to the evidence base that the group began working with. How is enthusiasm maintained after several iterations of a PLCs? Every cohort of students presents a new set of challenges, so while the PLC process may be the same the focus will be completely different and will be a new and exciting learning opportunity for staff.
  • 7. Sharing outcomes Following the completion of your PLC cycle, a key part of the model is the dissemination of the learning. Who do we report to? The PLC team reports findings and recommendations to all staff and governors. What should we share? Share what you would use to measure the impact for learners. That’s where the value of the PLC will be proven. Review the evidence that you have built of the course of the PLC, revisiting the data you began with, PLC reports and updates of progress, external viewpoints inspection and assessment. How can we go further? The strength of the PLC model depends on the further dissemination of learning and successes. Again, one of the things that we’ll be talking about in our second session this afternoon is widening your own professional networks and what external audiences there may be for the work that you’re going to be doing.
  • So how do we measure what the impact of a PLC has been? The two key areas to focus on when deciding this are change in learner outcomes and change in professional practices. There are several key questions to ask in order to help understand this. We should always start with, what was the impact of the PLC activities on pupil learning and associated outcomes? What does the data tell us? How do the group members personally feel about the impact of the PLC on their own professional development? Have the participants used new knowledge & skills and did all group members apply learning to their school/classroom context ? Was the PLC supported with implementation strategies and resources ? How did you disseminate your findings? What were the lessons learnt? How has the PLC impacted on practices and policies?
  • PLCs - an introduction

    1. 1. Professional Learning Communities and how they work Cymunedau Dysgu Proffesiynol a sut maent yn gweithio Simon Ford British Council Wales
    2. 2. Why PLCs? Pam CDP? <ul><li>The ultimate goal of a PLC can be summed up in three words; improved learner outcomes. </li></ul><ul><li>Teachers working together, learning from each other and making a difference through collaborative activities. </li></ul><ul><li>Better learning outcomes and wellbeing for children and young people regardless of their socio economic background. </li></ul>
    3. 3. What is a PLC? Beth yw CDP? <ul><li>PLCs focus on leaner and learning outcomes. </li></ul><ul><li>PLCs use data and evidence. </li></ul><ul><li>PLCs provide opportunities for professional empowerment. </li></ul>
    4. 4. 1: Establish the group Sefydlu’r grwp <ul><li>How long should a PLC last? </li></ul><ul><li>How man people should be involved in a PLC? </li></ul><ul><li>Should the headteacher always be involved in a PLC? </li></ul>
    5. 5. 2: Identify a focus Adnabod ffocws How do you start? What data can be used? Who takes the lead?
    6. 6. 3: Action enquiry Ymholiad gweithredol <ul><li>What research is there? </li></ul><ul><li>What are other teachers practicing? </li></ul><ul><li>Where do we get more information? </li></ul>
    7. 7. 4: Innovation and change Cyflwyno a newid <ul><li>What if the PLC goes off at a tangent? </li></ul><ul><li>What if the focus is too broad? </li></ul><ul><li>Where does the time come from? </li></ul>
    8. 8. 5: Trailing and feedback Treilau ac adborth <ul><li>How effective is my teaching? </li></ul><ul><li>What teaching strategies accelerate and improve learning? </li></ul><ul><li>What is the impact on the learner? </li></ul>
    9. 9. 6: Refining Mireinio <ul><li>Who monitors the work and outcomes of the PLC? </li></ul><ul><li>How is the impact of a PLC measured? </li></ul><ul><li>How is enthusiasm maintained after several iterations of a PLC? </li></ul>
    10. 10. 7: Sharing outcomes Rhannu Deilliannau Who do we report to? What should we share? How can we go further?
    11. 11. Impact? Effaith? <ul><li>What was the impact of PLC activities on pupil learning? </li></ul><ul><li>How do the group members feel about the impact of the PLC on their own professional development? </li></ul><ul><li>How has the PLC impacted on practices and policies? </li></ul>

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