By Dr. Siamack Zahedi, Co–CEO and Director of Education & Research, The Acres Foundation
Co-author: Rhea Jaffer, Manager, Research and Outreach, The Acres Foundation
Research finds that teachers and their classroom practice is one of the most significant influences on student learning! This confirms the immensely important role that our teachers play in students’ lives.
As a result, it is critical to build teacher capacity and enable teachers to be effective in their classrooms. Therefore, schools and governments around the world invest time and money in creating opportunities for teacher professional development (PD).
Unfortunately, teachers in India express that they receive too little PD or PD that does not meet their needs. PD is often implemented as one-size-fits-all lecture based workshops which are usually ineffective in improving teacher practice.
On the other hand, international research finds that teacher PD is most effective when it is continuous and not a onetime engagement, is a place where teachers can collaborate and problem solve and finally, where they can be active learners and not passive participants.
A PLC is a platform for teachers to systematically come together and look at data about teaching and learning to problem-solve and continually improve their teaching practices and consequently student learning outcomes. Teachers can meet weekly, bi-weekly or monthly to share innovative teaching methods and ideas with one another, work together to address gaps in student learning, and engage in reflection and inquiry around specific problems of practice.
In PLCs teachers engage in data driven decision making which is central to their effectiveness. This entails collecting and analyzing student data (related to their participation in class, their understanding of content and performance on tests to name a few areas) to identify gaps or concerns in their classrooms. They then come together to design solutions to classroom problems, implement these and once again collect data to analyse their effectiveness before refining interventions even further.
In DuFour and Eaker’s 2005 publication they stated, “The most promising strategy for sustained, substantive school improvement is developing the ability of school personnel to function as PLCs.”
A recent paper “Professional Learning Communities at a Primary and Secondary School Network in India” was published in a respected peer-reviewed international scholarly journal, Asia Pacific Educational Review (APER). A study was conducted at the CMS in Lucknow, the world’s largest school. PLCs were created across 12 campuses with 778 teachers who taught 32,000 students from Grades K-12. The study was focused on two campuses and investigated how the PLCs may have affected teachers practice. The study also sought to find whether the findings from international research held true in the Indian context.
This study found that Schools 1 and 2 were able to successfully implement PLCs. The study described the design of these PLCs, found it to be aligned with international research with additional recommendations for educators in India.
Since teachers were now actively meeting with each other, seeking advice and brainstorming together, teachers at both schools were positively affected by their participation in the PLCs. The PLCs increased collaboration, bonding and connectedness amongst teachers. Teachers found that participation in the PLCs meant greater alignment in beliefs about and approaches to teaching and learning which made group planning and implementation of similar strategies much easier! Additionally, classrooms became better learning spaces because teachers were using more evidence based practices, activities that were interesting to students including group work and student friendly resources. Finally, teachers were also more actively checking for student learning and understanding.
While the draft National Education Policy 2019 and the National Education Policy 2020 focused on limitations of PD in India, they only mentioned PLCs as a solution in passing. There is no guidance on how to successfully implement PLCs in schools in India. In fact, there is a serious dearth of research on PLCs in our context.
However, this study, like global research, found that PLCs can slowly but surely transform teacher practice. It also detailed how to plan for, set up and implement effective PLCs in India. It is hoped that this research will encourage private and public schools in India to leverage the power of PLCs while also describing how this may be done.