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22 February 2008

PLC's? Puh-leaze! (Part 1)

Last year, at almost this exact same time, I blogged about the introduction of the term PLC into the lingo at my old school, and poked fun at the the jargoned-up description that my principal handed out to us about said Professional Learning Communities. Little did I know, from my lofty perch at the top of Mt. Smarmy, that in less than I year I would be working at a high school that had gone whole-hog PLC-ing. I have refrained from blogging about it so far this school year partially because the topic is so overwhelming, partially because it is kind of boring "inside baseball" school talk, and partially because it has taken this long to form some views that are in any way insightful. Now, however, the topic is unavoidable at work, and things seem to be reaching a new level of intensity over the whole matter.

In this post, I'm going to try and give you a short PLC primer, and then in subsequent posts I'll give more specific accounts of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Hope it's not too dull.

Essentially, PLC's are a new label for what used to be called "team-teaching", with a few other cherries on top. The centerpiece is that teachers of the same or similar subjects meet at least once a week and discuss their curriculum and what they are doing, and as their subject allows they try to come up with a few tests or assignments that they can all give, perhaps followed by a comparison of results. [Oh, did I say "tests or assignments"? Sorry, the prevailing jargon won't allow that denomination anymore - I mean common assessments. However, I'm jumping ahead of myself here, as I will spend more time ripping the jargon later.] During these meetings there is also supposed to be lots of sharing and supporting and affirming, and there are even fancy mechanisms for how to catch failing students early on and find more inventive ways to get them interested in their own educations and back on track.

A corollary benefit of PLC's is, ideally, that a the entire school and faculty will have more cohesion - that schools might, I suppose, have more of the community feel that has disappeared from so many of them. But there is only nostalgia for that one aspect of the schools of the past, because PLC-acolytes like to denounce "older school models" where the teacher was "an independent contractor who closed his or her door, took care of his or her own business, and rarely made contact with the rest of the school."

Some departments at my school have been doing their own PLC's for a couple of years, but sometime last spring our School Improvement Team (SIT)decided to forge ahead with PLC's for the entire school, starting the next (now current) year. So, most all of us have been dutifully showing up early on Monday mornings all year for our collaborative meetings. But the high majority of us have had little to no training in what we were actually supposed to be doing, and eventually this became a very apparent wart.

In response, the SIT decided all our staff development days this semester needed to be redirected so that we are only talking about PLC's (something that should have happened last spring). As a result, I've sat through about 10 butt-numbing hours of PLC talk in the last month, with four more hours to come in a couple of weeks.

Yes, kind patron, you should feel my pain.

Just as a preview, I'll tell you my feelings and opinions on the whole experiment are quite mixed, and I'll go into that in detail next post.

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