Reflecting on a “True PLC”

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In November, I set out to facilitate a virtual PLC that would run across the remainder of the school year. This PLC was comprised of a voluntary group of online instructors from Michigan Virtual School, and we recently gathered for our last session of the year. Below are my reflections on the 8-month experience and implications that have emerged.

Goals for the Year

  • Develop knowledge and skills as disciplined researchers of our own practice
  • Build capacity to collaborate with colleagues as critical friends
  • Have evidence of the impact of instructional experiments on students’ outcomes
  • Earn 24 SCECHs credits for participation

How’d we do? 

Based on feedback from the group, our data, and my own reflections, here’s how I’d assess our actual outcomes:

  • Made progress towards goal – Develop knowledge and skills as disciplined researchers of our own practice
  • Met goal – Build capacity to collaborate with colleagues as critical friends
  • Did not yet meet goal – Have evidence of the impact of instructional experiments on students’ outcomes
  • Made progress towards goal – Earn 24 SCECHs credits for participation

How do I know this is how we did?

Disciplined Researchers – My PLC members all identified an improvement aim they’d like to pursue. They analyzed the whys behind the problem they wanted to solve. They identified change ideas they felt might lead to the improvements they wanted to see. Most of them enacted a change idea, and the group helped them to analyze preliminary data results. Two members ended up diving into an extended research endeavor – one turning into a thesis for a Masters in Mathematics at Harvard (closing the gap between Calculus AB and BC) and the other emerging as informative of a viable PLC focus for 2017-18 (improving student writing in STEM subject areas).

Critical Friends – Every remaining PLC member reported that they valued the collaborative structure of our recurring meetings. Members reported that they felt more connected to their PLC colleagues, more aware of cross-departmental happenings, and more aware of what it can look like to engage in disciplined collaboration in a virtual setting.

Evidence of Student Impact – It became clear over time that having each individual PLC member identify their own improvement aim made it hard to give each improvement effort the time it required to stay disciplined and to be held accountable for showing up to each meeting with new information to inform change efforts. Although one member reported that she is more cognizant of parent and mentor communication as a result of her efforts to pursue her aim, this is not yet producing measurable results in her aim to increase the percentage of students who meet critical course deadlines. A promising indicator towards this goal is that members reported feeling as though the initial data gathered has left them “wanting more” and that it feels like a “great practice run for future collaborations.”

State Continuing Credit Hours (SCECHs) – We started with 9 voluntary PLC members, and we ended up with 5 who will earn the 24 credit hours. Of the 4 who will not, 1 took a new job out of state, 1 earned a promotion and shifted gears, 1 felt overwhelmed by her course load and opted out mid-year, and 1 opted out from the start based on a conflict with the monthly meeting time.

Moving Forward

Our PLC spent the entire last meeting reflecting on the year, and the last prompt I had them work together around was to, “Name the core principles and practices that you believe need to animate the work of a PLC that strives for the objectives we set out to achieve.” This is what they came up with:

  • Focused: Establish & work together towards a single, common improvement aim
  • Collaborative: Space where all voices are heard and for people to connect with one another
  • Structured: Common agenda structure, recurring meetings (possibly more frequently than monthly)
  • Job-Embedded: Relevant to one’s teaching / role
  • Clear Expectations: Regularly expected deliverables, both synchronously and asynchronously

I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to engage in this endeavor this year. It came at the start of a new job among new people, doing work in education that is somewhat new to me. I was able to put my passions to work in this PLC, and I feel more connected to new colleagues whom I would not have had the opportunity to work with otherwise. This group voluntarily signed up to do something challenging – another of so many affirmations of the passionate educators that permeate our nation’s schools.

I look forward to the next iteration(s) of this learning experience with a laser-like aim on improving student learning, to prototyping what it might look like to create online structures to support other leaders’ in their facilitation of such a structure, and to sharing our experience with the rest of our organization in ways potentially useful for our broader structures for organizational learning.

Relevant Resources: 

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