Professional Learning Communities: Old Wine in New Bottles?

One of VVOB’s key areas for support in South Africa is supporting ministries at various levels to introduce Professional Learning Communities in schools. This gives implementation to Activity 3.3 in the national Integrated Strategic Framework for Teacher Development (ISPFTED), but above all VVOB supports this because it’s a cheap and effective way of professional development, something .

The first reaction from people when giving an introduction on PLCs is usually something like: we have seen this before, this is the same as the PWGs [Professional Working Groups, a previous and now defunct] etc. This is logical.  When asked to describe PLCs in one sentence, one could reasonably say: teachers regularly meeting to discuss issues relevant to their practice.  The purpose of this 2 hour introduction is to try to convey some of the finer print of PLCs:

  • PLCs start from a vision of teachers as professional, endowed with agency
  • PLCs consider teaching as a social profession, where collaboration is crucial
  • PLCs assume a collective responsibility for making sure that all learners can learn and reach intended outcomes
  • PLCs start from a data-driven, research-focused approach to teaching, with teachers continuously collecting, interpreting and acting upon classroom data to improve teaching and learning.

The main caveat for PLCs lies in the hurricane metaphor that Larry Cuban introduced so aptly.  Policy reforms usually create huge waves at the surface, but at the bottom of the sea, the storm is hardly noticeable.  Similarly, PLCs risk remaining policy on paper, or worse, becoming a compliance or tick-box issue. PLCs need time for trust to be developed among members, develop group dynamics and leadership and evolve from sharing to real collaboration.  In contrast, officials are usually and understandably impatient to ‘do something’ for the quality of teaching and learning.

With its partners, the Department of Basic Education, the South African Council for Educators and the Free State Department of Education, VVOB plans following support for PLCs:

  • Help DBE give the recently approved national guidelines nation-wide attention, such as by a National Colloquium.
  • Organize information events in every province for education officials
  • Organize 3-day workshops and follow-up activities for a groups of mid-level educators in every province, based on a pilot in Free State province
  • Help DBE design and implement an annual monitoring instrument for PLCs
  • Help SACE to promote PLCs as a tool for effective teacher development with education providers

One comment on “Professional Learning Communities: Old Wine in New Bottles?

  1. […] on improving learning outcomes through strengthening systems for professional development such as Professional Learning Communities, enhancing instructional leadership and improving subject advisors’ maths content […]

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