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PLCs At Work– Understanding the Big Picture

Last week, I attended the PLC At Work Institute by Solution Tree in St. Charles, MO. Before I fill you in on the conference, I’ll let you know that St. Charles is a historic, unique little place just outside of St. Louis. Our group really enjoyed all of the locally owned and operated shops and restaurants in the area. Though we stayed at the hotel connected to the conference center, it was easy to get the hotel shuttle back and forth to Main Street to enjoy the town’s offerings each evening. We dined at Trailhead Brewing Co., Tony’s steakhouse and Hendricks BBQ and enjoyed them all. 

Now, on to the good stuff! Our district has only just begun our “PLC journey” (as it was called throughout the week) so I came to St. Charles ready to learn. After hearing from a number of PLC “gurus” I feel as though I have wrapped my brain around a few big ideas that weren’t necessarily clear to me from my district’s initial roll-out of this concept–

  • Professional Learning Communities are a structure used by many schools to guide collaboration and ensure student learning.
  • The focus is on student learning. No matter what.
  • The 4 guiding questions used by a PLC are not an agenda but are the driving force of the work.
  • The work of a PLC centers around a growth mindset– students and teachers are always learning more and working towards success.

The presenters throughout the week said many of these points much more eloquently than I did here but these were my basic take aways. Overall, it makes a lot of sense why districts, buildings, and teacher teams would embrace this concept. It is a focus on student learning while working in a collaborative environment. In my mind, if you think about the PLC process as a structure, just like a structure you would use in your classroom to guide group work for instance, it is no longer another “thing” but a strategy. It is a way to guide collaboration of teachers with the sole purpose of helping kids learn. Presenter Anthony Muhammed said, “PLC is just a way of doing business. Think about it as the operating system for your computer– it organizes the work.” That’s it.

It is my understanding that there is a lot of freedom within form that wasn’t necessarily clear at our school last year. I think we all got tied to the 4 questions as more of an agenda and that limited the discussions that were had during our PLC work time. I also think that the connection between our work in our PLCs and RTI was lacking. In my opinion, questions 3 & 4 (what will we do if they don’t know it? If they already do?) were the “nice to knows/do” versus the driving force of our time together. Now that I have attended the Institute, I understand that a PLC structure is a way for teachers to work together to ensure that all students are learning at high levels no matter what skills they come to the table with. Though we need to be very clear on what it is we want our students to learn (which our district is working on right now through curriculum collaboration work) the real focus of our work time together must center around the students in our classrooms and how to get them to succeed at high levels.

It made sense to me that we would start thinking about “our” students as a group instead of comparing class averages that belong to the teacher. The idea is to find students that need extra help and give it to them– no matter who their teacher is. Here’s a taste of a few of the powerful statements that were made throughout the week–

  • “Are we talking about success for all or success for some?” – Tim Brown
  • “If you wait for kids to fail, they will.” – Mike Mattos
  • “They built this school so that students have a place to learn… not so that I can teach.” – Mike Mattos
  • “Are the decisions we are making right here and right now what is best for students or most convenient for us?” – Luis Cruz

As you can see, what really hit home for me was the big picture of committing to PLCs. My hope is that our district will send teacher teams to the conference in the future. More focused ideas from the institute to come. I will be attending a district training on PLCs next week and will try to share info gleaned from it, as well. Want more tidbits from the Institute? Search the hashtag #atPLC on Twitter and check out the resources at for loads of quotes, ideas, reproducibles, and more.




Instructional coach and former art teacher on the hunt for tips, tricks, strategies, and knowledge to pass along.

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