By now, most of us in the education profession are part of a PLC or Professional Learning Community. About four years ago our district began a campaign to require all teachers be part of a school-centered PLC. Since I was the sole music teacher in my elementary building, instead of a grade level group, my PLC was made up of the librarian, P.E. teacher and me. While there were a few things we could talk about and problem-solve together (behavior issues; scheduling puzzles), by in large we did not have that much in common. Our curriculum was distinctly different and the particular demands of our subject area did not have much crossover. Eventually we just stopped meeting. But that ineffectual PLC only makes me appreciate the one’s that have been worthwhile. What follows is the story of three successful PLCs. Through their stories I hope you can be inspired to create a PLC that works for you.
When I first started teaching in the public schools, I took over a music teaching position that had pulverized five teachers in two years. Some called it combat music. On the first day of teaching, my 8th grade class had me in tears. After all, with two years and five teachers under their belt, those students were experts at teacher destruction. But, I am here to report that I survived. I even succeeded, managing to get that unruly group to perform at 8th grade graduation. I hung in there for two years, and then the middle school was shut down. Some prayers are answered.
There is no question about the key to my survival. I had an awesome group of teachers that was my middle school team. The computer teacher, the Spanish teacher, the art teacher and I met almost daily. These teachers had many of the same difficult students grouped together in their classes. During our meetings we would swap stories about tough situations, laugh a lot and commiserate on our challenge. The terminology was “team” not “PLC,’ but whatever you call it, that group of teachers was my lifeline to survival as a music teacher.
Treasure Chest PLC
My second teaching position took me into the elementary music classroom. It was before the PLC movement in our district. With nine elementary schools, I was thrilled to find that the music teachers met monthly for sharing sessions. Topics were outlined at the beginning of the year, and each person brought their best teaching examples to fit the topic. Being new to the elementary level, it was like being handed a treasure chest. Without trial and error on my part, I was gifted with excellent teaching materials, already student approved and time tested! Our group called these meetings “Sharings”, but really we were a PLC; focused on student success and best practices.
In the first years of implementing PLC’s in our district, that Treasure Chest PLC was terminated. General music teachers were required to have a school-centered PLC. Mine was the one described above, not very effective. For two years I lamented the loss of my Treasure Chest PLC and then, the district wised up and allowed cross-district PLCs of like disciplines. What a pleasure to be back with teachers working on the same curriculum. Now in it’s second year we meet more frequently and share our best teaching materials. But we have also decided to work on collaborative performances involving students from all nine schools. It is very exciting to put that many creative minds together and come up with a product! All of our students benefit from this creative collaboration as fresh ideas and materials come into the classroom as a result of the work.
Music teaching is an isolated profession, especially when you are the only music teacher at a school or in a district. Professional Learning Communities can be an effective tool in music teaching retention and professional growth. They don’t always look the same, but an effective PLC can mean the difference between success and failure. It’s worth the effort to make one work for you.