Embracing and evaluating professional learning community in schools

Being a teacher does not exempt one from the learning process. Following an obvious dichotomous logic, teaching will not take place if there is no learning involved. Instead, this could be achieved through a professional learning community.

As educators, we tend to forget the essence of our own learning. Usually, our personal and professional baggage bog us down.

In fact, social change will not take place if we become so content. Sticking to status quo of acquiring knowledge and skills won’t  help either.

In this journey of meaningful change in the education system, we need to reflect on the value and pitfalls of professional learning communities (PLC).

Working on a Professional Learning Community (PLC)

Professional Learning Community (PLC) offers promising ideals of change in the education system. In line with Tri-level reform and the idea of systems learning for educational change, PLCs strive to achieve an environment of collaboration.

It goes by the purpose of having various carefully planned strategies.  In any case, this leads to staff development and system improvement (Fullan, 1997; Harris and Jones, 2010).

Although open for scrutiny, properly implemented PLCs lead to more motivated teachers who perform effectively in and out of the classroom (Huffman and Jacobson, 2003 in Harris and Jones, 2010).

On the other hand, Fullan (2007) looks at PLCs as a “flawed change theory”.  Despite being a promising espoused theory of action, the theory in use ends up being superficial, individualistic and school-centric.

Similar to any proposition for change, if PLCs are properly implemented and sincerely adhered to, then this would yield meaningful and long-term changes not just in the schools but in the system.

 PLC’s in schools

Dr. Jose Manuel Villarreal, who was then Senior Director of San Diego County Office of Education, had a talk on Building Professional Learning Communities. His idea of PLCs centered on ideas of reflective organization, self-talk or professional language, a culture of collaboration and teacher leadership.

Learning walks as a PLC opportunity

The ‘learning walks’ system is one of the many ways to improve visibility and guidance for all teachers.   Learning walks is a classroom observation strategy in which school leaders or principals literally walk around the school and observe teaching practices as they happen spontaneously (Finch, 2010).

Superficially, this strategy may seem as a euphemism for monitoring teacher’s activities and ensuring security protocols. Worse, others may deem this as an invasion of teachers’ and students’ space.

However, if the school leaders enlighten the  receivers of ‘learning walks’ of the value and sincerity of this strategy, then change in perception may lead to positive impact.

With this, is there a prescribed timeframe to evaluate the impact of a program in an educational system?

Evaluating PLCs

Taking into account these two contexts, PLCs could provide a good foundation for school reforms if strategically implemented and collaboratively accepted.

Needless to say, the initiative for genuine PLC must come from a charismatic, visionary, sincere, and capable leader.  In effect, this leader could build the grounds for this change by making the teachers understand the need for such actions and by directing the flow of this “double-loop learning” process. Perhaps, to sustain the momentum and promises of progressive change by PLCs, school

Perhaps, school leaders and teachers must dig deep into the core of PLCs.  This helps sustain the momentum and promises of progressive change by PLCs.  The school must look at this as a way to transform the culture of the community through motivation, contextualisation, evaluation, and system engagement (Fullan, 2007, p. 8).

The future of professional learning community

In the same way that schools in Wales operated its PLCs well (Harris and Jones, 2010), it could be an alternative that other schools could replicate this success.  Schools could considered and later on evaluate the following steps in adopting PLCs in this particular school setting:

  1. Schools should institutionalize PLCs and not just concentrate on one department. Departments should also learn from each other.
  2. There must be a clear policy framework  in place with a pilot PLC program covering achievable agreed goals, and grounds.
  3. Evaluation should include a regular collection of evidence from the piloting of the PLC programs. For example, learning walks, collaborative learning, learner engagement could serve as factors. The community should regularly address commendable outcomes.
  4. Establish networks with other international schools within the district or region.
  5. Engage in global learning by having online links with international schools in other countries.

PLC offers idealistic conditions for educational change, which some might misconstrue as messianic especially those clamouring for true, long-term reforms.

Schools can put to test the feasibility of these PLC programmes when implemented and evaluated consistently.

Systems should always be open to learning. Thus,  PLCs must usher in long-term reforms.  Through collaborative, interconnected, and transformative learning among teachers, administrators and the system itself could lead to better learning.

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