You asked, my friend. I feel good about PLCs this year, and that's a new thing. Last year, I felt that we had failed at PLCs in the high school. You had moved on to a new position, and we approached PLCs the way we had previous learning teams, where we divided into self-chosen groups. Each group picked a topic, discussed it monthly, and tried to implement it using data-driven methods. It was an 'islands of excellence' approach, and it was no better than the one-shot PDs we tried, because it was not systemic. Since we run our own PD at the high school, we just did it, and shared with the new curriculum director after the fact. I'm not saying the PD was a waste, but I am saying that effective PD for the 21st century needs to be systemic, not department-based. So I accept the fact that the mistake was primarily my own, although it was supported by the BLT. And so I re-learned lesson #1 of PD: Be careful what you ask for...you might get it--and if you ask for department excellence, you may not get system excellence.
This year, we tried again. Along the way, we had gotten much, much more educated. The BLT, as well as myself, realized that we needed to set a PLC structure that was not departmentalized for the high school. We organized the groups around the four 21st century skills we planned on implementing in 2011-12. We realized that our PLCs would have two primary purposes during the year: implementing RTI and Tech Integration. And we started over from step zero....the groups needed to gain trust, to become cohesive, and to make certain things didn't disintegrate into 30 min grouch sessions. We talked about the need to connect with one another in meaningful ways. We meet twice/month--once for individual meetings, and once in professional development. Lesson #2: Take the long view of PLCs. Plan on the dynamic lasting for 3 years, and you'll be less likely to take shortcuts in implementation.
We are getting richer conversations--fabulous stuff, as a matter of fact. Our building IS changing. We are getting better at looking at system data. Now we've got to add in SMART goals that let teachers start collecting meaningful data themselves. We plan on using the PLC as the primary PD focus for our next two years, building tight-knit communities that are focused on change. Lesson #3: Real change takes time.
Our guideline book is Learning by Doing by duFour (solution-tree.com), and I know that some of the other levels are meeting by grade group. This is not an option for the HS, so we are not stressing it. I think that the buy-in was the fact that the IRIS project was focused into PLCs, but I would suggest that if a district is doing this, another way of buy-in would be to have a group of teachers take the Learnersedge.com course on PLCs. It was nicely done, and provided plenty of personal reflection. Lesson #4: Personal reflection is the power in PLCs, because it is in reflection that TRUE CHANGE comes into view.