Professional Learning Communities: Establishing Norms

This will be something like the tenth post in a series (if I ever write the previous nine!) about the work I have been doing to establish and support professional learning communities (PLCs) at North Berwick High School (NBHS).  It's a long story, which began 18 months ago with the growing realisation that the real work of professional learning looked more like personal growth than  "going on courses".

A potted version of the story so far...

I became very enthusiastic in 2013 about the potential for peer-coaching to support the professional growth of teachers.  This enthusiasm coincided with my temporary promotion to depute head, and my embarking on the Flexible Routes to Headship programme.  My FRH project became the development of PLCs supported by peer-coaching, initially in a pilot project of ten volunteers.  I failed to secure the permanent depute post, but continued to lead the pilot PLC as head of maths during the 13-14 session.  The pilot was deemed sufficiently worthwhile by the participants that they all agreed to be facilitators of PLCs this session. Meanwhile I secured a permanent post as depute head at NBHS. I launched PLCs with the whole staff on the 19th of August, as a voluntary professional learning opportunity that they could opt-out of if they felt able to meet the aspects of the standard regarding engagement with research, evidence of impact and collaborative learning in other ways. Only a handful of staff opted out - all of whom who were about to retire this session or next.

I am absolutely delighted that so many colleagues are giving PLCs a go, but rather anxious too.  I am anxious to ensure  that we deliver on my promise that PLCs will provide  rewarding, challenging experiences for teachers - experiences that will lead to real learning for them, and thus to real improvements in the learning of our pupils.

The PLCs are meeting for the first time this Friday.  I am acutely aware, as Katz says (in the first video here, and in his book Intentional Interruption), that "there is no magic in collaboration" and that our PLCs must, therefore, adopt deliberate practices that avoid making "together... worse than alone".

Clearly PLCs are not new, so we benefit from the experiences of those who have gone before.  All of my reading points to the importance of each PLC establishing its own norms, so this will be the principle agenda item for Friday afternoon.  I like this activity, purloined from this pdf:

A Strategy for Establishing Team Norms  
Ask team members to think of a past negative experience they have had serving on a team or committee  and to identify a specific behavior that prevented that group from being effective: for example, whining and complaining, arriving late and leaving early, being disengaged during the meetings, and so on.  
For each negative norm identified by members of your team, establish a positive commitment statement (a norm)  your  team  should  adopt  that,  if  everyone  adhered  to it,  would  prevent  the  past negative experience from recurring. 
If any readers have experience of establishing PLCs, I would very interested in any advice they have to offer!


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