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PLCs and Defining “High-quality Professional Development”

With WIOA’s focus on quality and accountability, the national LINCS Professional Development Center released a self-assessment to help state leaders gauge their professional development (PD) efforts. As part of that project, LINCS identified five research-based features of high-quality professional development:

  1. PD activities are intensive, ongoing, and connected to practice (job-embedded).

  2. PD activities focus on specific academic and programmatic content.

  3. PD activities build knowledge and peer relationships through collaborative learning.

  4. PD activities are differentiated to address the varied needs of practitioners.

  5. Teachers are provided clear feedback on their performance and progress in serving students.

PLCs embody collaborative learning (Feature #3) almost by definition, but care must taken to ensure they are designed to address the other elements as well. The CCR Standards-in-Action student work protocol reflects such careful design:

  1. PLCs meet multiple times, over time, and focus on real assignments teachers bring from their current classrooms.

  2. There are separate protocols for math and English language arts/literacy (ELA) so that PLC groups are encouraged to focus deeply on one academic discipline, but assignment choice allows flexibility to introduce other subject areas such as social studies, science, and workforce preparation. (Virginia has also used a separate protocol for ESOL instruction, though some ESOL-focused groups have used the CCR ELA protocol.) This element of professional development also has a focus on “evidence-based” practice; both the standards documents and the critical friends process used in the protocol are grounded in an extensive research. Again, teachers focus on real examples from their own classrooms and programs.

  3. This element of teacher choice allows teachers from varied settings and with varied experiences to benefit from the PLC process. Especially experienced and knowledgeable teachers may have more suggestions for making assignment revisions or may serve as the PLC facilitator, while teachers of all levels can participate in the analysis of standards alignment

  4. Feedback is built into the protocol, based on evidence of standards alignment and evidence of student performance. After discussion and feedback from colleagues, activities are revised, and participants are encouraged to report back on the effects of the changes made to their assignment or practice. PLCs, like other types of professional development, have the biggest impact when used in conjunction with other program improvement efforts (such as observations and analysis of student feedback and data).