Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)

Who wants to reinvent the wheel?

Or better yet, who wants to tap the collective brainpower of our math cohort in order to achieve the most with our students?

Hopefully many of you have had a chance to read Elizabeth Green’s New York Times article, but for those who haven’t, here is one excerpt that especially stuck out to me:

When Akihiko Takahashi arrived in America, he was surprised to find how rarely teachers discussed their teaching methods. A year after he got to Chicago, he went to a one-day conference of teachers and mathematicians and was perplexed by the fact that the gathering occurred only twice a year. In Japan, meetings between math-education professors and teachers happened as a matter of course, even before the new American ideas arrived. More distressing to Takahashi was that American teachers had almost no opportunities to watch one another teach.

In Japan, teachers had always depended on jugyokenkyu, which translates literally as “lesson study,” a set of practices that Japanese teachers use to hone their craft. A teacher first plans lessons, then teaches in front of an audience of students and other teachers along with at least one university observer. Then the observers talk with the teacher about what has just taken place. Each public lesson poses a hypothesis, a new idea about how to help children learn. And each discussion offers a chance to determine whether it worked. Without jugyokenkyu, it was no wonder the American teachers’ work fell short of the model set by their best thinkers. Withoutjugyokenyku, Takahashi never would have learned to teach at all. Neither, certainly, would the rest of Japan’s teachers.

It got me to thinking more about how we might view professional development as teachers. Many of us (myself included) often view PD as a singular – and rare – experience: a quarterly summit, a webinar, a faculty meeting, etc. Despite how incredible these experience are (or sometimes are not), the “magic” doesn’t happen in just meeting, but in applying the experience in our classrooms and seeing how it goes. So why is this time often not equally valued? Why does our definition of professional development often look like this?


We stand at an incredibly important juncture for the students of Mississippi, where we can be real leaders in defining the power of rigorous, culturally-responsive instruction with the new Common Core Standards. Many districts are in different places in their own understanding of how these standards work, and by purposefully working together and continually improving we can be the exemplar that our schools and others look to as the gold standard of math classrooms in this new environment. But it requires more than anything our schools, Teach For America, or any top-down organization can solely provide. It requires thinking of professional development as inherent in ALL of our work – not just the “learning” but also the “applying”. It requires each teacher to ultimately be the owner of their own development as a teaching professional.


To that end, I’m hoping to introduce the idea of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to our math cohort this quarter. I’ve specifically had teachers ask to be connected to others who are teaching the same content, but I know that a lot of times this is hard when we’re so often spread out geographically and don’t even necessarily know everybody in our math cohort. By having tangible PLCs each with a teacher acting as a “liaison” with myself, we would hope to spur greater innovation amongst our math cohort, develop greater self-driven professional development, and encourage a sense of support and community between math teachers throughout our state. Ultimately, we want to make sure that we have can see professional development as a holistic experience that includes both PD experiences and ongoing collaboration.

What is a PLC and how would it work?

A quick draft for how our PLCs could operate (although ultimately this would be based on the feedback you provide)…

  1. PLC created based on grade level and/or geography.
  2. PLC sets a priority and goal (i.e. We will design a rigorous performance task aligned to an upcoming unit that all teachers in PLC will use).
  3. A liaison from the PLC works with Ethan for clarity on the goal and for any additional guidance, resources, or support.
  4. PLC implements the plan and meets to discuss results (i.e. PLC rubric rates a few of each other’s performance tasks and provides feedback to each teacher in the community).
  5. PLC summarizes results, sends to Ethan, gets feedback, and chooses new priority/goal.

I would love for this to also include certain PLC-based math PD opportunities in Q2, but first we need to have functioning PLCs for any such model to exist.

How can I express interest?

If you are interested, I’d love if you could fill out this super brief questionnaire about your interest. I will take these responses to further design a potential structure for PLCs and reach out to potential liaisons. I hope you take moment to express interest, and please leave a comment below if you have any lingering questions. Collectively, we’re unstoppable.

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