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"PLC Rounds" Open Educator Meetings to Community Stakeholders

Katie Pak
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
Policy Attributes Theory
Teaching and Instruction

Once an obscure phrase, professional learning communities (PLC) have now become the dominant term used to describe the ideal collaborative learning structure in schools. Other versions of the same concept in education are “communities of practice,” “learning networks,” or even just grade-level team meetings. “PLC” resonates with teachers and administrators the most because it assumes (a) the professional expertise of teachers, (b) the ongoing, collaborative generation of knowledge rather than the top-down delivery of knowledge, and (c) strong relationships among teachers who support and respect each other. In other words, it rejects the notion that one-off, lecture-style professional development workshops can serve as effective avenues for professional growth, and that teaching should be an isolated endeavor.

PLCs involve educators, usually within a school, meeting regularly in small teams to discuss and implement teaching and learning strategies. School-based teams may consist of teachers with students in the same grade-level across content areas, teachers with students in different grades but in the same content area, or teachers with principals and district administrators supporting them around a specific focus area. PLC teams beyond the school-level may consist of principals across a district reflecting on common leadership challenges, instructional coaches at several schools convening to analyze the strengths and areas of growth of the teachers they coach, or teachers of English language learners in a district meeting around the equity issues they face in their sites of practice. Though there is no single correct way of structuring PLC meetings, often times they include open reflection and the use of student data to inform decisions about instructional improvement.

Rarely does one hear of PLCs that bridge multiple stakeholder groups. In one school district in Kentucky, however, PLC meetings are open to the general public approximately once a month.

While all of these various versions of PLCs have been implemented in education systems throughout the country, rarely does one hear of PLCs that bridge multiple stakeholder groups. In one school district in Kentucky, however, PLC meetings are open to the general public approximately once a month. This innovative district is Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), which began the process of “PLC Rounds” five years ago when the district’s chief academic officer decided that every school would be required to implement PLCs as a regular aspect of their teachers’ professional practice. In addition to assigning a “Goal Clarity Coach” to each school to help facilitate the PLCs, JCPS worked with schools to open up their meetings to parents and community members interested in observing how PLCs support their children’s learning.

Each month, JCPS picks one school to host PLC Rounds. After selecting the school, district administrators call the principal or coach to identify the time and topic of a PLC meeting, which are then relayed to the broader Jefferson County community. Those interested in observing the PLC then come to the teachers’ meeting space, and they watch the teachers engaging in conversation with the Goal Clarity Coach on the topic for the day, whether it is student mastery of a 1st-grade math standard or grade-wide results on a diagnostic assessment. Once the PLC concludes and teachers return to their classroom, the district administrator remains to take questions from community members.  

The practice of “PLC Rounds” borrows the ideas of observation and reflection from another increasingly popular professional development practice called instructional rounds. Modeled after medical rounds, in which groups of student doctors visit patients to observe diverse cases as a teaching tool, instructional rounds invite teams of educators and administrators to visit classes, observe instruction, debrief what they saw, and reflect on next steps. Instructional rounds mobilize PLCs to witness in real-time what their colleagues are doing in the classroom and how this information can help them move their schools and classrooms forward.

The merging of school-based PLCs, instructional rounds, and community engagement is an exciting districtwide practice that could benefit other districts nationwide. The norms of teacher collaboration, collective problem solving, and public exposure of school-based routines help cultivate a sense of mutual accountability, which in turn can stoke positive energy around professional growth and learning. Within JCPS, it is a practice that “took off like wildfire” and led to the unintended result of deepening public understanding of Kentucky’s academic standards (personal communication, September 14th, 2017). JCPS’ initial reasoning for implementing PLC Rounds was to help expose parents and community stakeholders to the education jargon of “PLC” and how teachers work hard within their PLCs to benefit students, but it has since grown to help familiarize non-educators with the rigorous expectations of the standards on a grade-by-grade basis.

PLC Rounds seem promising because they align with three of the five features of successful policy implementation: specificity, consistency, authority, power, and stability. Together, these five features constitute C-SAIL’s policy attributes theory, which guides our Center’s thinking around standards-based reform. PLCs help both educators and non-educators observing the meetings gain specific clarity around the standards themselves, as well as the instructional practices that help students master individual standards. They encourage the consistent implementation of the standards both in school and at home, if parents are taking what they learn from the PLC Rounds and applying them to their home interactions with their children. And finally, community members seeing how the standards, and the PLC meetings structured around the standards, improve student learning may buy-into the reform and ascribe authority to the state’s policy to adopt the standards.

These three attributes—specificity, consistency, and authority—suggest that PLC Rounds can indeed be an effective means of ensuring the continued implementation of the standards in JCPS, though this was not explicitly the intent.