Professional learning communities are currently a common vehicle for education improvement initiatives. Schools invest time, money, and effort in support of these collaborative groups led by teachers and driven by relevant data outcomes.
Where does the instructional coach fit into the PLC process?
In some schools, coaches attempt to attend each session or to facilitate each session. However, constant participation is often not a logistical possibility. If we approach the coaching role as an instructional partnership, there are three specific ways that coaches can support and aid in the quality of the PLC’s work.
Professional development, coaching cycles with action research, and resource brokering put the school-based coach at a unique vantage point for supporting professional learning communities. Let’s take a brief look at each of these three approaches.
1. Support through Professional Development
In order for professional learning communities to function effectively and efficiently, participants should develop skills of communication that allow for the free flow of ideas. The beauty of the PLC process grows from the idea of building collective efficacy. Both the individual member and the team will strengthen practice as a result of genuine and in-depth dialogue on student learning.
The instructional coach can provide opportunities for professional learning to strengthen communication skills in the following areas, through face-to-face sessions, article studies, book studies, and/or coaching cycles with individuals, teams of teachers, or with the full faculty:
- Active listening
- Differentiating between dialogue and discussion
- Psychological safety
- Creating norms and learning commitments
2. Support through Coaching Cycles and Action Research
One desired result of the PLC cycle is a series of next steps requiring instructional shifts. It’s important that teachers and coaches work together to truly study the impact of the instructional shifts on student learning through action research.
By setting measurable goals and using descriptive data gathered from focused observation the teacher can analyze instructional effectiveness and reflect on instructional decisions that can be made to improve the data. The coach can collaborate with the teacher to plan for the instructional shift, to decide on data collection tools, to observe and collect data, and to provide reflection protocols for the teacher to reflect on the process and outcome.
3. Support by Sharing Strategies, Resources and Research
Teachers are hard-working professionals who are applying the strategies that they know to make a difference with their students. They are willing to share ideas and to try new approaches, but when do they find time access new ideas, better strategies, and current research?
Coaches who are willing to pitch in and do research, provide resources, and model new strategies play a critical role in bringing new ideas, practices and processes to the teacher’s toolbox. If we are not succeeding and we continue to do things the same way, there is little possibility that student learning is going to increase. An influx of new ideas is critical for change and growth.
With professional learning communities as ground zero for the data cycle in our schools, it’s essential that coaches find ways to promote, support, and contribute to PLC success. Developing skills and proficiency in the three coaching support functions I’ve described here provides a foundation for contributing to the successful work of PLCs in your school.
Kay Haas is the Instructional Partner at Walker Elementary School in the Tuscaloosa County School System. Kay has been involved in the Instructional Partners program for eight years and is a member of the Alabama Instructional Partners Network.