One of the things that I’ve become really aware of lately is how much time is wasted in schools on things that really don’t have a big enough impact on kids to make them worthwhile.  Some examples of things that I think take up a TON of time and don’t have a huge return on the investment:

  • Staff meetings where we review things that are already written down somewhere
  • Elaborate newsletters and parents notes that barely get read by parents because they’re so overwhelming and generally TMI
  • Professional development where there is no expectation of anyone doing anything once they’ve attended
  • Most emails from anyone about anything
  • Parent conferences where we tell every parents the same thing…but just meet with them individually because it makes us feel like we’re doing something

But the one time-waster that I hear about 97.13341329480981234% of folks talking about and referring to?  PLCs.

For those of you who have somehow escaped the hype, PLC refers to Professional Learning Community.  When I ask what a PLC does, things start to get murky.

Here’s what I’ve heard:

  • PLCs are the place where we talk about student data (My thought: So then why do you have PLCs AND data meetings?  Aren’t they the same thing?)
  • PLCs are the place where we don’t name kids by name (My thought: So then what on earth do you say?  “Student X, who shall remain nameless, needs intervention for something that we can’t talk about.”????)
  • PLCs are different from staff meetings, professional development and team or department meetings (My thought: Then why can’t anyone explain to me HOW they’re different?  Or better yet…why they’re different?)
  • PLCs require a lot of training (My thought: I talk to hundreds of folks who have been to PLC training for days in another state and come back and can’t answer the on-the-ground who/what/when/where/why/how questions about it.)
  • PLCs are not for lesson planning (My thought: If perfecting lesson planning is a major way to improve the quality of our instruction, then why on earth would be meet not talk about lesson planning and lesson results?  Or better yet DO THE WORK that prepares us to teach well?
  • PLCs are the safe place where teachers can come together and talk about new ideas and try new things (My thought: I’m all for this!  But I think know that trust is built while we do the work and by talking about the work, we aren’t doing the work, so how do we build a safe place for teachers to try things when we don’t get around to doing those things

I could go on and on, but I won’t.  Because I’m starting to sound like I hate PLCs.  I don’t.  I mean, I might hate them…if I knew what they were!

Here’s the real deal: I think PLCs are the new name for something we’ve wanted teachers to do for a long time: work together to make the job of teaching kids do-able and spend a lot of time putting their heads together to think of logical ways to teach kids things so they learn them and retain them and do really well on assessments that show what they know and in life in general.

But I think that title is a little too long?  We could do what us educators do really well: give it an acronym! WTTMTJOTKDASALOTPTHTTTOLWTTKTSTLTARTADRWOATSWTKAILIG.

If all we wanted teachers to do is WTTMTJOTKDASALOTPTHTTTOLWTTKTSTLTARTADRWOATSWTKAILIG (I’m laughing just typing that!), then why do we make it so fussy and difficult!  And even more importantly, why don’t the people who have to do PLCs each week know what a PLC is and what it should look like when it’s running well?

I have added PLCs to my list of things that are huge time wasters on school campuses because I don’t see that we have consensus about what they are and why we do them.  Anything that doesn’t have purpose and an outcome or something to go and do because of the meeting is a huge waste of time, in my experience.  I think it’s easy to say “we are doing PLCs” or “we are having our PLC” but what I’d really love to hear is “I can’t WAIT until our PLC where we can discuss ____________________________” or “My PLC isn’t going to BELIEVE how my kids knocked that last quiz out of the part because I changed my lesson in X way.”

But I don’t hear that.

Why?

I think that PLCs have an identity problem that’s leading to a lack of meaning.  And an identity problem can lead people to wonder, “Okay…but…what’s the POINT?”

I kind of wonder that when I’m thinking about how our clients and other educators I run into use PLCs.  I guess that’s the real question: What are we using PLCs for?  To talk about kids?  To talk about teaching?  To talk about school climate?  To talk about assessments?

I guess what I would love to see happen every single day in schools is this:

Teachers getting together for WTTMTJOTKDASALOTPTHTTTOLWTTKTSTLTARTADRWOATSWTKAILIG…remember that good, ol’ fashioned, simple acronym I shared above?

What does WTTMTJOTKDASALOTPTHTTTOLWTTKTSTLTARTADRWOATSWTKAILIG look like?

  • Teachers meet to talk about kids
  • Teachers look at data to be able to talk about kids
  • Teachers spend some time talking about how recent professional development will help them solve problems or concerns about data
  • Teachers spend time talking about how implementing the stuff they learned from professional development should have impact on their kids
  • Teachers spend time sketching out how they will do the thing from professional development with their kids
  • Teachers set a time limit to try the new thing they’ll do to solve problems or concerns about the data
  • Teachers pick a time to come back and bring their data a check-up on how it went

Why do I think that this plan works?

  • Because it’s focused on the thing that we have control over (what the kids do, what we do)
  • Because it’s focused on doing things, not just talking about them
  • Because it’s an honest plan (we use the data, not just how we feel about things, to determine what we need to work on and what’s worked
  • Because it focuses on the thing that is most important on school campuses (the quality of the teaching)
  • Because it takes the magnitude of making changes in the classroom less dramatic (we talk more like, “Let’s try this thing for two weeks and come back and report how it went.”  Nothing’s permanent unless it’s working and we make it permanent)
  • Because it’s built upon the idea that teaching is flexible…it’s experimental to a certain degree
  • Because it puts the control in teachers’ hands

I mean it’s not really about PLCs…it’s about thoughtful use of time we have with colleagues.  If time is so limited (in fact, it is the #1 thing that teachers tell me about what makes their jobs challenging), then I think we have to be especially choosy about how we spend the time we do have.  I think that the practice of collaboration (PLCs or otherwise!) is a great place to start analyzing.

I’d like to encourage you to start by asking your teammates this question…

QUESTION OF THE DAY:  Are we talking about the right things during our meetings or are we just talking about things?

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to waste time, then you’ll appreciate this!