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How to maximise PLGs (professional learning groups)


Jeanette Duffy – Deputy Rector Teaching and Learning

Ongoing monitoring

So today we were session 3 of 8 weeks. And normally the first couple of weeks, I would go around all of the PLGs as they’re running and just check in and kind of ensure the dynamics of the group are working. Because on paper it might look like it will work, but you want to get a feel for whether that is actually the case. I see that as a bit of a support as well for the leaders – some of them are new to leading this year. And I think it’s helpful again to go in and just check in with them that they have what they need, that they’re feeling comfortable with leading the learning. And you might notice something that you might feed back on at that point. So in the early stages of the term, it may be just quite informal in that way, and going to each PLG group across the hour. Later on in the term, as we’re getting going, I think it’s really important that the leaders have feedback on their practice as leaders. And so generally we’ll meet and we’ll talk about some goals that they have as leaders of learning, and then we will talk about what they’d like me to observe when I come into their sessions. And so at that point I might stay for a half-hour, and then we’ll arrange and have a feedback session on that.

Learning alongside

Where we’ve really tried to move to this year is much more a model of learning alongside, so the leader facilitates the delving into a personal inquiry. The leader also has their own inquiry, and they model that practice. People can frame their inquiry within an umbrella theme, which aligns to the annual plan. So for term 2, it’s around improving relational practice. So it’s pretty broad, and it gives people scope to investigate something they’re passionate about, or something that’s puzzling them or interesting them about their practice. But there’s still a certain parameter around what they may do. And, yes, there is an expectation that everybody engages. So again, the learning happens within the context of the school day – the students have a late start, and then the Board have given us that time.

Rules of engagement 

I think a key part of that for this year as well was taking quite some time to frame protocols in the first session. And we had talked a bit about protocols in the first two years, but probably not really committed to them. But this year we made a real commitment to each group being able to shape their protocols at the beginning of session 1. And they have become sort of the guiding beacon for how they have chosen to operate and run.


I might need to do a bit of troubleshooting. So people might say “oh, so and so didn’t seem particularly engaged today”, or “this person’s getting, having, a real problem getting their head around their inquiry.” And the leaders may also come to me and talk about that. And so at that point I may ask to have a chat with that person, or they may even come to me, as one woman did after the first week and said, “Oh look, I just don’t see, I see this as extra, I’m overwhelmed, how do I make this work?” And so for me, I see my role as actually trying to engage those people in the process, and how do we talk through what they’re currently doing, and how that can align with the professional learning materials. So that’s important, but I also think it’s useful again when we come together in a different grouping, to hear what other people are actually inquiring into, and what they’re doing on a day-to-day basis. We’re only a school of 730 – many of us teach the same students – so in fact we can bring quite a lot of shared knowledge about our students to get to that.

Maximising the PLG’s potential

There are mechanisms by which, I guess, you can try to maximise what’s going on in those groups. And by knowing your staff well, hopefully you can achieve that with your grouping.  This year people haven’t had any choice over which group they’ve been placed in for term 2, or who they are with. I did give the leaders some say on that, so I put out a draft grouping and just asked for comment in terms of who they felt they could work effectively with and who they felt they could lead best. So they had some input there. And we’re thinking, moving into term 3, whether we will stay in those groups or whether we’ll move into different groupings. But we’ll put that to the staff and just ask them what they would like to do, whether they want to re-form or whether in fact they’ll remain in those groups.

Reflection and refinement

Those things are key for me. The actual PLG membership is quite key, and I do manage that, I do create those groups. So we all know we have our resistors, and so you know, generally, you’re going to put those across the groups. And you know that there are some combinations on your staff that work well, and some work less well. So you’re bringing all that “knowing your learner” information to creating those groups of teacher learners as well. And so you know those things are key. The protocols that I’ve mentioned previously, I think those are key to people being brave, being prepared to have a principal say, as we did today “I actually feel in staff meetings, it’s them and me”. I think that’s quite a brave statement for any principal to put out there, and allow other staff members to comment on that, and feed into that, and offer him suggestions or things he could think about. I think that’s fantastic. So those protocols allow for that. But I think as you continue to grow that culture of change, that culture of reflection – that we actively reflect on what we’re doing, we seek learning – then all those things, I think, contribute to a professional learning group running well. Certainly for us, the experience has been that we have needed to pause as well and just think, “OK, well, that’s kind of working pretty well. We could keep on doing the same thing as we did in the classroom, or actually can we refine this model? Is there something we can be doing better to actually get better outcomes for our teachers and then, one hopes, better outcomes for our students as well?”

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