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What’s Your Professional Learning Community Style?


Contrasting Styles Add Spark!

What do you want out of collaborative time? Has your team ever discussed the best way to use that time? One method for understanding each other’s wants and needs is to explore four overall styles that describe different ways that teachers

  • Learn
  • Communicate
  • Value forms of data
  • Benefit from support

While all of us can flex, and benefit from learning in different ways, collaboration is more effective for everyone if no one is constantly left out. 

These styles are described in detail in handouts 4.2 to 4.5, available at the Solution Tree site for my book Creating a Coaching Culture for Professional Learning Communities.

Teachers who prefer Pragmatic PLCs expect to walk away from team time with tools and strategies they can use immediately. And, if it requires a significant departure from their own style, they learn best by watching a video clip or observing a classroom similar to their own. Their desire to work with proven curriculum and strategies is sometimes misinterpreted as lack of initiative or even as resistance to change. However, one teacher’s comment—“I will not experiment on my students!”—clarifies their perspective. Real-time results, not theories or data that they deem irrelevant, motivate them to change. When they witness a tool or strategy working, these teachers are often the first to innovate by finding multiple ways to implement it in their classrooms.

Teachers who prefer Supportive PLCs thrive on modeling, co-planning, and co-teaching. They learn best when working with experienced colleagues and value group time spent planning each step of a lesson or how to use a specific strategy. One middle school teacher asked her PLC team for launch activities that would add more structure to the first five minutes of her classes. She thanked a colleague who brought directions for her favorite technique and then asked, “Any chance you could join me as I try it? And if you have time, could we discuss the adjustments I’d need to make for my English Language Learner (ELL) students?” While Supportive PLC teachers understand the importance of common assessments, they may also advocate for measures of children’s growth in their desire to learn and in their ability to work well together. Specific populations, such ELL students, are often their focus.

Teachers who prefer Collegial PLCs often enjoy developing or trying new strategies, but resist uniform implementation. They encourage their students to express individuality and chafe when professional development doesn’t allow teachers the same opportunities. If a PLC member introduces, for example, a station-based learning strategy, Collegial PLC teachers prefer brainstorming different ways to use it or having freedom to alter stations someone else planned. Or, instead of every PLC member implementing an identical intervention strategy, they may advocate for clear goals or outcomes, with choices for how each teacher reaches them. They’re often most interested in data that includes student voices. Although they value objective assessment data, they also need information about student growth as lifelong learners.

Teachers who prefer Intellectual PLCs look for well-reasoned theories and models, expert knowledge, or research. They usually emphasize developing student thinking over memorizing right answers and thus may critique flaws in design, timing, or alignment of common assessments. They’ve often developed a mental model for how students learn and measure each new suggestion against it, usually through raising multiple questions.

Which style incorporates the most of who you are? Consider sharing the styles with other members of your PLC. Might you adjust how you work together to better meet everyone’s needs?

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Genuine Professional Collaboration

Differentiated Professional Development

Jane Kise is a consultant and executive coach. The founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates and author of over 20 books, she works with schools and businesses worldwide to help create environments where everyone can flourish.

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