New learning model success starts with principals' support
- When principals support and encourage the formation of professional learning communities (PLCs), students in their schools benefit from best practices and a more unified vision for success being shared among teachers around new educational models like project-based learning (PBL), Shanghai American School Instructional Coach Andrew Miller writes for Edutopia.
- PBL projects can be assessed within PLCs, giving educators more feedback on the success of their own project. Teachers may also be able to see why other PBL class projects may have had different outcomes, gleaning helpful details to use with their own students.
- Within a PLC, teachers can also work together collaboratively to differentiate lessons to meet students' needs across all of their classes — no matter who their teacher may be.
Schools often use peer-based learning networks, usually within grade levels, where educators work together to make sure students are reaching set milestones before they graduate.
But a formal PLC can bring more structure to these groups, and even give educators more of a voice in how curriculum is designed for students. In fact, leaders of Learning Forward have urged schools to make curriculum the primary focus of teachers' work in a PLC. Educators can use PLC structures to share best practices with each other, spend time in each other’s classrooms, and pick up other tools from their peers, seeding these into their classes to boost the effectiveness of their teaching.
How PLCs are introduced, however, can impact the way educators feel about them, according to a 2016 paper. Researcher Kelly Higgins notes that PLCs are not something that can be adopted and put in play overnight by administrators — nor even in a single school year.
“Leaders need to be aware that this type of school change is a process and takes time,” wrote Higgins, who surveyed educators involved in PLCs at 11 high schools in North Carolina. “It takes three to five years for successful implementation of change to occur.”
Higgins found that principals who were open to PLCs, also happened to support teachers’ role in leading schools. When both occurred, there were signs of “increased morale” among educators. The success of PLCs, however, was tied to “the willingness of principals to share leadership roles.”
For PLCs to flourish, all participants need to be on board — but administrators must be fully involved for teachers to feel the support they need to, in turn, successfully support their students. “The vehicle for school change within schools begins and ends with the principals,” notes Higgins.
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