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!