Like many professionals, educators use a lot of terminology. It´s one of our specialties. One term that has become common in schools is “Professional Learning Communities,” or PLCs.
Credentials and Collaboration
PLCs are really just collegial networks for sharing best practices. At TASIS Portugal, our teachers have undergraduate training, often in a particular subject area, and professional credentialing that enables them to qualify as teachers. This training usually takes a year or more after they earn their degrees, and many of our teachers have master's degrees in subject areas as well as master's degrees in education. Although many international schools do not require this certification, TASIS Portugal believes it is important. This kind of mastery can take many years of university study (commonly 5-7 years) plus ongoing learning through research, conferencing, and, most importantly, through working with other expert teachers in the field.
Beyond credentials, at TASIS Portugal, we place a high value on collaboration. Collegial behavior is usually present in schools, but not always. That may mean being nice, cooperative, and friendly. Collaboration is different. Collaborative teachers openly enjoy professional interactions and learning from and sharing with their colleagues, all with the goal of improving student learning. Implicit in this kind of behavior is the belief that no one teacher has all the answers, but that among a group of practitioners there is a greater likelihood of discerning and sharing the practices that best fit the school.
How Do We Encourage Excellence?
Virtually every school’s mission statement articulates a need for successful students to flourish in the global economy of the future by learning to be critical thinkers and problem solvers, to be flexible and innovative, and to be good communicators and collaborators. If educators are to help students develop these skills, the argument goes, they themselves must be able to model those skills in their teaching and in the ways they think and talk about their work. As good as this sounds, it is rare at most schools. Because TASIS Portugal understands this, and because we aim to have the best teachers, we have embedded three important structures into our PLCs:
- First, we utilize a co-teaching model. Although expensive, it immerses teachers in daily collaboration. It is somewhat like apprenticeship, but in our case, taking advantage of two experienced professionals.
- Second, we build professional learning time into our bi-weekly schedule. This enables teachers to work together to learn new competencies and share their practice. Sometimes we invite other experts into the school, and sometimes our resident experts share their knowledge with their peers.
- Third, in August of each year, we gather for weeks to build our “culture of learning.” While many schools request that faculty arrive a few days before their students, at TASIS Portugal we build cohesion and congruence during this time to ensure we are united in our approach well before our students arrive.
The days of closing one´s classroom door and delivering lessons in solitude are remnants of a past system, and one not geared toward excellence. Professional learning communities demand that teachers share their knowledge and expertise. This requires both risk-taking and trust. Both of these are essential components of our school culture, and we strive to be our best selves as teachers, colleagues, and learners.