Creating a school culture where teachers purposefully collaborate

Victoria University Secondary College Principal, Elaine Hazim, explains how their professional learning community (PLC) supports staff to develop skills that are fundamental to achieving excellence.

It was 2015 when Victoria University Secondary College began laying the foundation for an effective PLC. Starting by developing their vision and values, this was the first step in a cultural shift that would include the development of a school-wide approach to pedagogy that would drive excellence and equity.

It was in this transition, that the leadership team collaborated closely with school staff to identify changes needed to move from a focus on teaching to what students were learning.

Building the skills to form an effective PLC

Four members of the school's leadership team attended the PLC core professional learning, and on their return created domain-specific PLC teams.

Over time, the four members organically formed their own PLC leadership team within the school. This team became responsible for working with, and developing, the middle leaders.

Making collaboration a priority

Principal Elaine Hazim explains the steps that she and her leadership team took to make sure all the PLC teams had the time they needed to succeed, including carving out time in the calendar and developing a standard model for each meeting.

'The school made timetable adjustments, without impacting student learning time, to enable the PLCs to meet each week for two hours,' explained Elaine.

'These meetings privilege staff time to focus on a common agenda, which provides a structured framework for collaboration.'

As the PLC matured, teams were given the flexibility to adjust the standard protocols to suit their domain-specific context, as well as the size of the PLC to ensure that there was effective collaboration.

Making decisions based on evidence

At Victoria University Secondary College, time is privileged at the start of the school year to access and use student data. This allows Elaine and her PLC teams to strategically consider how they can improve their students' outcomes, with a focus on NAPLAN (National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy) and VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education) results, in addition to other evidence of student learning.

'This year the creation of data walls has further supported teachers to interpret and use data', said Elaine.

Consistency is key to success

Elaine, her principal team, and the PLC leadership team attend weekly meetings, which always start with the sharing of student work samples.

'Each meeting, our teachers work collaboratively to set learning goals for the students, based on where the evidence places them on the learning continuum.'

'They then break into smaller groups to plan targeted interventions where necessary. There is a clear, common understanding that they are all our students,' explained Elaine.

Teams complete an action record at the end of each meeting to reflect on student progress and document next steps.

'Staff look forward to PLC meetings as an opportunity to meet with colleagues to discuss student work, and consider how they can enhance their teaching and learning to improve student outcomes. Watching staff work together in PLCs, there is a lot of collaboration and sharing.'

Elaine reflected that 'the school staff opinion survey results, particularly collective efficacy, have improved dramatically since the implementation of the school's PLC structure.'

'This PLC approach, and a school-wide focus on reading and tier 2 vocabulary, has been instrumental in VCE English results improving, with an increased percentage of students with study scores over 40. The school has also seen growth in their Year 9 NAPLAN results for students in the top two bands for reading.'

Principles of an effective plc

Collective teacher efficacy

Collective approaches to the learning and development of all teachers to reduce the variation in quality teaching practice across classrooms, is most effective in improving student outcomes.

Collective responsibility

A shared ownership for student learning outcomes. Teachers hold themselves responsible and accountable for the outcomes of all students.

Collaborative practice

A culture of trust that empowers teachers to learn, plan together, and challenge each other's mindsets, knowledge and practices.

Inquiry-based approach

Use of a data-driven inquiry approach, like the Framework for Improving Student Outcomes (FISO) improvement cycle, to effectively link professional learning and instructional planning to the learning needs of students. Effective PLCs engage in regular cycles of inquiry for continuous improvement.

Use of evidence

Decisions are evidence-informed and focused on student learning growth and teacher development. Effective PLCs use evidence at every stage of the inquiry cycle to diagnose and address student learning needs and monitor the impact of interventions.

Alignment with school priorities

PLC goals and strategies are directly linked to improvement aims in a school's Annual Implementation Plan (AIP) and school strategic plan (SSP), and ensure these are reflected in teachers' Performance and Development Plans (PDPs).

Regular monitoring

Regularly monitor the impact of teaching practices against student learning growth using student data, peer feedback and the feedback and guidance of a knowledgeable other.

Explore the latest professional practice note

A professional practice note has been developed to support you and your teachers in implementing purposeful collaboration practices within and across a number of schools, for achieving excellence in practice and student outcomes.

Professional practice note 17: purposeful collaboration for excellence

To further explore how Victoria University Secondary College used PLCs to improve teacher collaboration, see: How can PLCs improve teacher collaboration?

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