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What Makes Some PLCs Work?

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May 8th, 2018

Presented by Pete Watson – Transcription Below


Hello everyone and welcome to the Illuminate Education Whiteboard Series. I’m Pete Watson, the former superintendent of Upland Unified School District and the Senior Executive Director of Professional Relations here at Illuminate Education. Really excited about the topic we’re gonna talk about today and that is why are some PLCs successful and others are not? It seems like a simple concept. Professional learning communities, how can we not work together and make it work right? And get it right every time, all the time. Well that’s the big challenge. There’s a lot of elements with this. There’s so many factors that get involved with this.

School Culture

School culture is a big one. What about the school culture? How does that work in each individual school with the complexities of the people that we have to lead? As a former principal of both a middle school and elementary school and a district curriculum coordinator, I found it was really important to look at the structures and the roles within a school district. So let’s talk about school climate and school culture. Grade level. Is it gonna be at a grade level? Is that how the PLCs are gonna be structured? Is it gonna be at department? By department? Is it gonna be vertical or horizontal, kind of, professional learning community pieces? And then, as important as all that, what about the communication that happens? How do you communicate and get that to everyone?

What Are the Roles People Play?

The other most…other critical piece is the roles. What are the roles people play? Who’s gonna be the leader? Who’s gonna create the agenda? Is it everybody? Is it just some people? Is it random? And what kind of involvement and participation is each member responsible for? Am I gonna be a contributor to this piece? And then there’s always the challenges. What are those challenges? Boy, I’ll tell you the challenges are about resources, time, people, and the skill sets of those people. One of the things that’s really important for me is this. People improvement is the only way to have school improvement. It’s the only way. So what I like to do…some people like to think that they’re doing something. Short cuts. Take short cuts and we can get it done easier and faster, and we lose the importance of a professional learning community. Going short cuts always creates a feeling of accomplishing something but in actuality the real work never gets done.


So a couple key things that are very important for PLCs, at least in my experience, and that is meet regularly. Always have a schedule. Always. At least once a week. Share expertise. Be willing to give and be willing to take. Set yourself out there and work collaboratively. People always make the difference in a PLC. Those PLCs that don’t function, people don’t trust each other. They’re not willing to share their best practices. So some key things for a successful PLC: Trust each other, respect each others’ values and opinions, be willing to listen and change, believe in continuous improvement, and with that that means we’re always giving and always taking.


Utilize reflective practices. Find out what you did, take another look at that. How could we make that better? What were the best pieces in that? Demonstrate selflessness. If you’re always giving and helping other people then they’ll give back to you and help you. Have your commitment to the PLC mean something. Commitments nowadays, sometimes people say a commitment they don’t last. If you’re in a PLC, the ones that are most successful and help students the most are the ones where people have given a commitment and made it a priority to be part of that PLC. Exemplify perseverance just like we want our students to do. Don’t give up. The work is hard. Hang in there. do the right things because you benefit as a professional and the students benefit from your successes as good teaching. And I guess at the very end of the piece, everything, have fun. The work is tremendously hard but has such a great impact on the students that you serve. Thank you very much for being here today and listen to our Illuminate Whiteboard Series. Thank you.

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