Using PLC's to support Practitioner Inquiry

...apologies to PLC experts!

Practitioner Inquiry, often given a host of similar titles, is defined simply as "systematic, intentional study of one's professional practice" (see Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993, 2009). Traceable as far as Dewey, it has proved its 'stickability', spawning many models.

A PLC, or Professional Learning Community is a group of educators engaged in Practitioner Inquiry (P.I.) You meet on a regular basis: one group I know meets weekly; my group meets half-termly, for example. The sole aim of the PLC is to support each other in P.I. It has no other agenda: no other items of school business are allowed to creep in. You can take a range of approaches: each person can have their own, separate P.I. or you can all choose the same P.I. You could also have one main 'issue' that you all work on, using different P.I's to feed into the same issue.

In my school we have just established a PLC within our English Department. We have chosen to use our main concern as our 'theme' for each Inquiry: the lack of independence in our students. So our main 'Question' (or Wondering, as Nancy Dana puts it) is: "How can we use the curriculum to help our students to build confidence and Independence and thus improve learning outcomes?" My own Inquiry is about using Flipped Learning; another colleague is looking at literacy amongst our weakest students; another is exploring alternative curricula at KS3; another is focused on building skills through literature. All these Inquiries feed back to our main theme and will enable us to explore our main issue in much greater depth.

As I mentioned, there are many methods of Inquiry. In my department we are using those espoused by Nancy Dana: her books are excellent guides through the process - and we like the protocols she has created for meetings. These keep us 'on track' and sometimes shove us out of our comfort zones - this is where I discovered that Practitioner Inquiry is far more about my identity as a teacher than I had ever imagined! Nancy also provides some excellent ideas and templates for writing up research: for a busy educator, this is fantastic. I also have to confess: having spent time with Nancy earlier this year, she is generous enough to maintain email contact and so has answered my many questions with patience and diligence.

The biggest impact this process has had on me is that I am so excited to be in my classroom. It has always been my 'happy place', but now it is a place of opportunity, a place where my research meets my practice in a way I have never really been able to achieve before. Using a PLC has been an empowering experience for all of us: we feel as though our teaching is back 'in our hands'.

I would love to hear about your experiences of PLC's, any questions you might have - or any ideas you have for their use!


Ben Ward Ben Ward @mrbenward 7 months ago
I love the idea and have tried a few ways of rolling them out... I find it tough to find create the space for staff and create the buy in... Amy advice staffrm?
Zebedee Friedman Zebedee Friedman @zebfriedman 7 months ago
I'm a fan of action research and I've used a wiki page to link up teachers across 12 schools to share their research as they go along.
[Retired Colleague] [Retired Colleague] [Retired Colleague] 7 months ago
Like this - check out the work of @sherbert and @lauracarney who are some of our school's research bursars. I think that this kind of engagement in classroom level research is vital - teachers talking about teaching and teachers watching other teachers teach then talking about it.
Freya Odell Freya Odell @fod3 7 months ago
Sounds a fantastic idea :-) Going to have a think about that one - time is definitely key
Jo Baker Jo Baker @jobaker 7 months ago
A great post. Inspiring - and I have been asking questions about PLC and how it can help reestablish an ethos of enthusiasm in a school recently downgraded from a 1 to a 3. This is something I am just starting out with. I will def read your post a number of times over the coming few weeks.
[Retired Colleague] [Retired Colleague] [Retired Colleague] 7 months ago
I've been able to use some Pupil Premium funding to develop action research which aims to test and disseminate great teaching ideas
Julie Hunter Julie Hunter @mshmfl 7 months ago
We have just launched this for colleagues who are interested, as opposed to making it compulsory. We have called it triads.
Tarjinder Gill Tarjinder Gill @gillt 7 months ago
Sounds great - would have loved to have done that at primary school level also where we could really improve our subject knowledge and pedagogy. Better than yet another generic staff meeting.
Kip Kippert Kip Kippert @kippert 7 months ago
staffrm is a great example of Professional Learning Community
Kimberley Constable Kimberley Constable @hecticteacher 7 months ago
Really like this idea of PLC and PI, but as mentioned by others it is a time issue. Although I think online forums such as Staffrm and UKedchat etc are great PLC's as well.
Zebedee Friedman Zebedee Friedman @zebfriedman 7 months ago
The idea of Joint Practice Development is very powerful and supported by teachers researching in their own classrooms. Too often 'experts' are wheeled out to show others what to do in their classrooms
Lenny Dutton Lenny Dutton @missedutton 7 months ago
We all do a staff learning project over the year - I'm doing one with Lego and another with Design Thinking!
Claire Bracher Claire Bracher @missb 7 months ago
I have been part of a learning trio to observe and learn and grow - we all then talk at an equal level and from this we take new risks and try out new opportunities - its brilliant and across the key stages it works wonders... it brings more things to the table to think about and tai about and from that all of our teaching developed.. I really like your post - it has made me think about how I might use this in my current school - thank you!!!
Lesley Munro Lesley Munro @lesleymunro 7 months ago
@daviderogers good idea, will look in to that. Like this post. We have research lead but like the idea of meeting with others to work on something together. Thank you
Andrea Walker Andrea Walker @musemusic 7 months ago
A little group of us tried this and arranged meetings, set up a block and a twitter account ... But school has got so busy, we couldn't match up our free time. It was a great thing to do-highly recommend it - will be trying to start ours up again.
Alison Weston Alison Weston @craftyteacher 7 months ago
This is why I love Twitter and Staffrm! They are my very own personal PLC. I can dip in and out when I have time, rather than seeking to fit into something rigid that appears to limit my creativeness.
Claire Bracher Claire Bracher @missb 7 months ago
Now I'm sitting thinking about it this would be an excellent place to link research ideas too... imagine the possibilities...
Simon Johnson Simon Johnson @clcsimon 7 months ago
Agree with Kip, the @staffrm is a perfect example of this model!
Abigail Mann Abigail Mann @abster 7 months ago
This sounds like a useful idea for all involved. I like how you all have different topics to research too. Definitely one to think about :-)
@staffrm has been like my PLC this year!
Zebedee Friedman Zebedee Friedman @zebfriedman 7 months ago
I agree Alison, Twitter has been the best CPD I've ever encountered...
Claire Bracher Claire Bracher @missb 7 months ago
Staffrm has brought me personally more ideas than ever before - simply a great place for inspiration..
[Retired Colleague] [Retired Colleague] [Retired Colleague] 7 months ago
@jobaker @lesleymunro Thanks! Long way to go but round two is almost ready
Nina Elliott Nina Elliott @senoraelliott 7 months ago
fab idea - but do agree there is danger of preaching to the converted - key to get on board as many staff as possible
Alison Weston Alison Weston @craftyteacher 7 months ago
Teachers learning whilst watching Antiques Roadshow!
Andrea Walker Andrea Walker @musemusic 7 months ago
When you're not able to talk to other colleagues, PLN is incredible tool and support !
Sam Williams Sam Williams @samwilliams 7 months ago
I agree with @abster
Staffrm has become my PLC.
Would be great if we could declare what we were working on as part of our profiles.
Zebedee Friedman Zebedee Friedman @zebfriedman 7 months ago
What needs to be in place to have a whole school engaged in this?
Liane Pitcher-Leigh Liane Pitcher-Leigh @lplflippedeng 7 months ago
I was lucky in that I mentioned it right at the time when there was a real need for 'something to be done', so I didn't have the 'buy-in' problem.
Mark Steven Mark Steven @what 7 months ago
The trick with implementation is to make it clear to colleagues that PLC fit their existing interests whilst feeding into an overall strategy. At my school we are trying to foster intrinsic motivation (which involves making our unit plans more purposeful). How each teacher interprets the overall mission and defines their inquiry is up to them. It doesn't catch everyone, but as time goes on and we report back, others are beginning to see the benefits.
Claire Bracher Claire Bracher @missb 7 months ago
Sam Williams - great idea - link the research more specifically somehow - its an avenue to explore for sure..
Leah Sharp Leah Sharp @leahmoo 7 months ago
I use my year group in this way, unofficially. It would be really beneficial to make it more of an official meeting with focus.
Jon Neale Jon Neale @jnealeuk 7 months ago
As @mshmfl posted... on a smaller, local scale: the important thing it that those involved must buy in to the process; no one can have token involvement in the process for it to work! On a recent trip to Europe, the school I visited had a happy hour after school each Friday... staff didn't need much encouragement to be there (to share, of course!!)
Sam Williams Sam Williams @samwilliams 7 months ago
Maybe even have Staffrm venues for those who are exploring particular avenues, so that we can share ideas and successes throughout the year.
Hannah Tyreman Hannah Tyreman @hannahtyreman 7 months ago
We're definitely trying to work towards this model of professional development: collabprative, useful and important! With plenty of measurable impact! Now to get staff interested in doing it...any tips on that would be welcome! @lplflippedeng
Jill Berry Jill Berry @jillberry 7 months ago
Lots of great stuff in this post and in the comments - thank you @lplflippedeng!
Alison Weston Alison Weston @craftyteacher 7 months ago
Wouldn't it be fantastic to get all teachers to a point where they see this kind of conversation as CPD and not just that which is 'done to us' on PD days!
Kimberley Constable Kimberley Constable @hecticteacher 7 months ago
Alison I think that to help this would be being able to include things like this on performance management. not sure about other schools but at present mine doesn't recognise online CPD unless it comes from a recognised body.
Julie Hunter Julie Hunter @mshmfl 7 months ago
online CPD was offered this year as part of our CPD programme. No takers. The option was online subject chats etc instead of inhouse workshops.
Liane Pitcher-Leigh Liane Pitcher-Leigh @lplflippedeng 7 months ago
@hannahtyreman I asked my colleagues for their views on CPD - they were predictable and depressing! We explored a future model, which included Twitter & social media, plus a range of Teachmeets chosen by ourselves. We agreed we wanted to 'own' our CPD; we hate the top-down method. My colleagues thought a PLC might be a way to achieve a degree of control over our's early days but the signs are good!
Liane Pitcher-Leigh Liane Pitcher-Leigh @lplflippedeng 7 months ago
@mshmfl So..."do you want to sit at home in your pants and talk online" was rejected? OMG! Do you know any of the reasons for that - or was it a mistrust thing?
Laura Holdsworth Laura Holdsworth @mrsholdsworth 7 months ago
It's great that people are starting to use PLC in school. I'm trying to get people involved in this at my school by sending them resources I've found during Twitter sessions like #primaryrocks and #tweachcode and then said I've found this during these chats! I'm hoping eventually they will begin to join in! I've also found Coursera to be great for online CPD courses, currently working towards a verified certificate for Python coding.
Kimberley Constable Kimberley Constable @hecticteacher 7 months ago
Liane I really like the idea of teachers owning their CPD rather then a top down approach, we are told that we need to differentiate for the students but CPD is rarely differentiated for teachers despite it being a learning experience.
Robert Howell Robert Howell @theedukator 7 months ago
Love this idea @lplflippedeng - am sure the department would jump at this. Will now spend the rest of the week thinking about how to keep the initial 'buy in' from staff going without it causing extra work for me or HoD 'chasing and cajoling'.
Julie Hunter Julie Hunter @mshmfl 7 months ago
@lplflippedeng online CPD is only used by a tiny percentage of colleagues - this was a way of trying to increase it. Plans to increase outward looking personalised CPD instead of inhouse blanket approach to CPD.
Liane Pitcher-Leigh Liane Pitcher-Leigh @lplflippedeng 7 months ago
@mshmfl I really like the focus on personalised CPD. Ultimately, that's got to be the ideal, right? I hadn't thought, when I started my own Inquiry, that it would ever end up being so closely linked to the CPD issue, but it is. In my own school there is a growing dissatisfaction with top-down CPD, especially as we are pretty innovative in other areas. I still feel that senior people are thinking about CPD as a blanket issue (I may be wrong: it's just my impression).