Establishing PLC Norms

What is a PLC?

PLC… An acronym that is used widespread, and it is defined in different ways. For me, PLC stands for Professional Learning Community, based on the book by Rick DuFour.

I have lead many many PLCs over the years and one of the things I have learned to do is become a facilitator of leading. What’s that? For me, it’s the key to leading a successful PLC! To be a facilitator of leading is just not to lead it. A PLC takes teacher ownership, and if you present yourself as the leader, the teachers will rely on you to keep the conversation going. They will always look to you to decide what to discuss next.

At the beginning of the school year, teachers will look to you for guidance in implementing the PLC model. Feel free to guide them in creating and establishing norms, in looking for ways to document the meeting, and in looking at data and creating assessments and ways to implement strategies.

As time goes on, release responsibility. You are the support in those meetings. Continue to ask probing questions to get the team to think through their issues and problems. Facilitate them to come up with answers that will help them become successful as a team.

A story

I recently worked with a coach who attempted to launch very data-driven PLCs in her building. The goals of creating the PLCs were to have each team collect and share data from their classrooms. We wanted them to be keenly aware of how each student in their building was performing on each standard.

The building’s coaches led the teams through setting goals and norms. Together they also determined their core values. The coaches made spreadsheets in Google and shared them with team members to input pre- and post-test data. They created “minutes” forms to log discussion notes from each meeting.

The coaches also attended each grade level’s planning once or twice a week to lead the PLC discussion and keep teachers on track. The woman I coached spoke of this approach as being great . . . until it wasn’t. The building’s coaches also served as interventionists, and one grade level’s planning time might be one or two other grade level’s RTI time.

The coaches had to follow coaching cycles. They had lessons to model while some teachers might be in a PLC session. Even with two leaders in the building, scheduling was too much for them to perform their job.

The coaches found that when they were unable to be present, the teachers did not know how to maintain the routine of the PLC. As the rigor of the year got heavier, the coaches’ ability to keep up with the PLCs dwindled, and so did the teachers’ interest in learning how to do it themselves.

When the woman I was coaching and I discussed the situation, she noted that the coaches did a poor job of gradually releasing responsibility. 

How do we create teacher ownership of the PLC?

In situations like the one above, my recommendation is to start by helping the teachers lead the PLC. If there are team leaders, they can facilitate discussions. Another option is for roles to rotate (timekeeper, note-taker, discussion leader, etc.).

However, you decide to do it, keep the teachers at the center of the process. Do not make yourself the leader. PLCs should be focused, honest, data-driven discussions and teachers need to know how to do that with or without you present.

How do we build community in the PLC?

A large part of leading or being a part of an effective collaborative planning meeting or PLC is making sure teachers have a good relationship with each other.

Norms and team values are important parts of a productive, successful planning meeting and PLC. Earlier One of your many roles as a coach is to be a support during PLCs.

You will, of course, lead the first meeting, but you will assign teachers the task of coming up with five to ten team norms, as well as their core values as a team. Doing so helps them unite as teachers and gives them the chance to voice their opinions about their own values.

Taking the time to listen, lets all the teachers know that their ideas are valued and that these planning meetings are a safe space to voice opinions.

At the beginning of each meeting, “set the mood” for team collaboration by having the teachers revisit the norms they set. Then ask them to read their core value(s) aloud. This reminds everyone of why they are there. It’s not to serve their own agenda but to serve their students.

Revisiting norms also ensures that side-table conversations don’t happen and that extra work is put away, allowing everyone to focus as they prepare to share ideas. 

What are examples of PLC norms?

As I mentioned in the preceding section, stating norms at the beginning of a meeting can help teachers refrain from griping or venting about their students. They will focus on planning and strategizing about ways to help their students. The list of norms below may evoke thoughts about a list of your own (you may want to share this list with teachers).

  • All team members will arrive and be ready to begin meeting no later than five minutes after planning time begins.
  • All team members will arrive with materials they need.
  • Cell phones will be silenced and out of view during PLC/planning.
  • Everyone will have the chance to voice their opinions and share their ideas.
  • All team members have the right to agree or disagree with other team members without judgement.
  • Any discussions about student data will be kept professional and will not leave the room.
  • All suggestions, ideas, and opinions shared will be student-centered and data-driven.

Norms are very important for hosting effective meetings with teams of teachers. Creating the norms together allows the team members to build trust with one another and to all feel valued.

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