Teachers are being told that their PLC (professional learning community) is not functioning properly if an administrator “walks through” their classrooms on any given day and s/he doesn’t see the same things going on in all classrooms. Teachers are also being told that disagreeing with initiatives/ideas handed down from somewhere above is a sign of “not being a team player.”

These are disturbing signs as they indicate a confusion of collaboration with conformity.

Diversity is a strength, not a weakness—we are told this too, but we tend to forget it when it comes to PLCs and faculty meetings. People must feel free to speak their minds and hear each other’s views to make good, well-informed decisions. Perhaps it is a human tendency to avoid conflict, but conflict that is genuine and respectfully expressed is a vital part of what a properly functioning democracy is all about.

We also need to work together on continually making things better. So how do we reconcile that with PLCs and faculties who may seem hopelessly at odds?

I see a solution in the way teachers in Japan conduct their PLCs. There is a little book called The Teaching Gap by James Stigler and James Heibert. The authors observed hundreds of math lessons in Germany, the US, and Japan and share their observations. One that I found interesting was that Japanese teachers study lessons in their PLCs, as opposed to only achievement data. They work together on constructing a lesson, they film it (taking turns with the various roles), and then critique it. No one teacher is thus singled out and critiqued alone and all benefit from the knowledge of each regarding the elements of a good lesson and how to carry them out well. The teachers design it, view it, and then try to improve it—together. They don’t have to all agree, yet they all contribute their ideas and learn from the experience.

This kind of focus for the PLC allows everyone to work together, come up with a product, and feel free to critique the product–all to the benefit of the students in the classrooms. It also allows teacher to focus on something over which they actually have some control.