Professional “Doing” Communities (PDCs)

As I visit schools which have requested my assistance with their Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), I am regularly exposed to what I have started calling PDCs – Professional Doing Communities.

PDCs are characterized by subject-specific (in the case of 6 – 12) or grade-specific (in the case of K – 5) teams of teachers who spend coveted common planning time doing any or all of the following:

(1)  deciding the pacing for the next topic to teach – which day will we introduce topic X, which day will we test topic Y, or

(2)  completing some (usually) administration-dictated template for the next week of lessons, or

(3)  sharing – almost always without feedback – various activities (usually from the more veteran teachers) that have worked in years past for some upcoming topic

Paradoxically, despite pinpoint focus on these teaching-related tasks, PDCs almost never talk about teaching and learning.  Not really.  They are so focused on doing – and planning the next doing – that they rarely engage one another in conversations that allow for serious questioning or discussing the why? and the how? of all the what? they talk about.  PDCs are characteristically focused on the what?.

In my work with these teacher teams, they almost always have a deep and obvious care for the kids in their charge.  They want to do right by them.  But for some reason (often explainable by the dictates of cookie-cutter-thinking administrators) these teacher teams seem unempowered to step back from the doing long enough to engage in serious talk about what we as teachers do and how that affects kids’ learning.  Maybe they put a little too much literal stock in DuFour’s Learning By Doing (DuFour, 2006).

I’m not convinced that teachers “learn by doing” so much as they merely “do by doing”, at least when it comes to working in collaborative teams.  Teachers learn when they “construct community knowledge” (Venables, 2011, p. 31).  They learn when they pursue new ideas and new knowledge together, in real time.  This puts the “L” in PLC for me, and it is something that PDCs – however well-intentioned – rarely get to do.  dven.

[Daniel R. Venables is author of The Practice of Authentic PLCs:  A Guide to Effective Teacher Teams (2011, Corwin) and Executive Director of The Center for Authentic PLCs.]

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