What is a PLC and Why Should Teachers Engage in Them?

A personal (or professional) learning community, or PLC, is a group of educators connected online mainly through social media who share resources and ideas in order to improve their skills and outcomes. A PLC can be energizing when you’re in a rut, can be a source of instant information when you’re stuck, and can be a sounding board when you’re not sure about what you are planning. Nowadays, a PLC should also include a teacher’s coworkers, and Technology Coaches need to leverage these communities to create authentic learning environments for professional development so teachers can learn the way they are expected to teach.

After reading the white paper. “Technology, Coaching, and Community” (Beglau, Hare, Gann, James, Jobe, Knight, and Smith, 2011) my initial reaction was to think that of course this is true and should be obvious, no? But the more I read, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that in my experience professional development sessions are still lecture-based and involve a lot of showing but not doing. It is also not always clear how to incorporate the new information into existing pedagogy.

The white paper proposes that teachers need to collaborate with their peers, learn in their classrooms, and focus on activities that will enable them to meet student needs. (p. 3). What does this have to do with a PLC? “By combining what we know about effective professional learning with trends for using technology for informal community building and learning, a sustainable ecosystem will form: highly effective, engaging, and relevant environments for professional learning that were not possible before the rise of readily available access to information and communication technology.” (Beglau et. al., 2011, p. 4).

This got me to thinking how I can improve my own professional development sessions as a technology coach. The key seems obvious, but is sometimes harder to implement than it might appear. “Teachers who have experienced technology as a teaching tool for professional learning, and who in the process have developed the skills for powerful use of technology in the classroom, can greatly improve student learning.” (Beglau et. al., 2011, p. 6). The white paper proposes three coaching models: Cognitive Coaching, which focuses on learning through modification of thought; Instructional Coaching, which focuses on modeling, collaboration, and feedback; and Peer Coaching, which focuses on one-to-one collaboration much like having a personal trainer.

I think the most practical approach in my small school setting is Instructional Coaching. I started attending the middle school weekly team meetings this past year to offer guidance and help set technology goals. My presence was well received and had a positive impact on the technology use of the middle school teachers. I took the results to my principal and next year I will meet with each team (pre-K /K, 1-3, 4-5, and 6-8) once a month at one of their weekly team meetings. This will make it easier to identify concerns and share resources, as well as collaborate with teachers and  providing feedback. “Professional development activities need to make explicit connections between specific types of instruction and technology tools, and only then can the technology be linked to increased student learning improvements.”  (Beglau et. al., 2011, p. 10)

In addition to meeting with the small groups, I plan to expand my use of Microsoft Teams and OneNote to share pertinent information, resources, and training exercises. I will also encourage the teachers to use social media, such as Twitter and Pinterest, to build informal PLCs and to share their findings with the group at meetings and in MS Teams.

“What happens when you combine intensive, ongoing, learning-focused professional development and connecting peers with purpose via social learning? You end up with a highly effective professional development model that combines the power of technology with the power of coaching and learning communities. The following three coaching models demonstrate this important synergy in action.”  (Beglau et. al., 2011, p. 8)

References

Monica Beglau, Jana Craig Hare, Les Foltos, Kara Gann, Jayne James, Holly Jobe, Jim Knight, Ben Smith (2011)  Technology, Coaching, and Community.  ISTE White Paper. Retrieved from https://www.ri-iste.org/Resources/Documents/Coaching_Whitepaper_digital.pdf

Connected Teacher. (Image) Retrieved from ckendall.wikispaces.com/file/view/connected_teacher.jpg/94702990/768×576/connected_teacher.jpg

 

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