In 2011 I set up a Professional Learning Community (PLC) in my school as part of my action research project. The intention was to implement and maximise the use of RP in my school. Eight teachers initially agreed to join our weekly meetings. The intention was for us to plan, implement and evaluate the impact of RP in our classes. I would teach/share an aspect of RP with this group. I would invite them to implement a task relating to this knowledge with their class X. Teachers would journal on this process and impact on them/their class x on a weekly basis and then share back with the group at the next PLC meeting. In this way we could encourage one another by sharing our success, and support one another by addressing the live needs of any problems that emerged.
The definition of a PLC is a group of people who meet in an organised, structured space that is agenda and solution focused. The community focus promotes supportive relationships and develops shared norms and values. RP promotes the FRESH guidelines (Fair, Respectful, Engaging, Safe and Honest) that our PLC aims to promote and model. The focus on professionals is towards the acquisition of knowledge and skills. The fact that I had become a trainer in RP meant that I could facilitate and share this knowledge with my colleagues.
I feel that PLCs are a wonderful way to build community, promote reflection and to share our strengths and skills. There are two important factors to sustaining a PLC. Firstly, physical conditions such as time, space and funding; and secondly, human conditions, including a culture of trust and supportive leadership. The fact that our PLC has been running since 2011 is a great testament to its success. There is a core group of committed teachers that attend our weekly Monday lunchtime PLCs but everyone is very welcome and the composition of the group changes quite regularly. I find the meeting cathartic and supportive. Some yummy bread and tea are essential ingredients to the warm, supportive atmosphere that we create and we always begin by sharing the highlights of our weekend. This ensures that we are modelling the restorative intention of proactively building positive relationships among ourselves. Last month we set up an ARK (acts of random kindness) initiative where we took a name from a jar to target our kindness towards. This generated some lovely energy, bonding and undoubtedly some needed pick me ups during the week! I highly recommend this, it is such a simple way to positively impact one another’s daily life and lift the spirit. It also generates that feel good ‘helpers high’ for the giver of the act. Our world could do with a little more of this energy, all it takes is a good intention and a few names in a hat!
After sharing our highlights in the PLC, we then reflect on the progress of our previously determined targets and/or share anything that we are currently seeking advice about. Our solution-focused lens promotes positive energy that ensures that we leave with a number of great ideas. In the outset we only had group targets but now each teacher often has individual targets/goals that they plan to implement with their class/case X. This week, however, we did have a group target which involves being positive with students and encouraging good behaviour. We have decided to focus on very short-term goals with our classes. One teacher suggested that we call our roll on a daily basis using a 1-10 number scale. Students gain points/numbers by arriving on time/ sitting quietly/beginning the warm-up immediately/ having homework completed etc. Another idea was to ask students to give themselves a number/ or to use the system to ask targeted students to reflect on their own behaviour and what number they felt they may deserve.
Obviously the tone of the exchange is essential here to cultivate genuine conversation or sincere responses from challenging students. We are mindful that our restorative intention is not to punish but to honour relationships; to improve behaviour and learning. The idea of involving the students in the process is to promote reflection and ownership of problems and perhaps also empower students to be able to solve these issues in the next class. If students offer a low number perhaps the restorative questions may help – What are your thoughts on that now? What needs to happen next to solve this? Etc. This system encourages cooperation but also explicitly and repeatedly instructs students how to be successful in the class. The 1-10 points can be added up to determine a student of the week/month/most improved. One teacher has a raffle ticket system where she offers them as an incentive to students who have fulfilled an expectation/reached an outlined goal. She pulls a ticket at the end of each week for a small prize. I guess the main idea is the intention of helping, teaching and encouraging our students to reside within the WITH box and cooperate freely and knowingly with what is happening in the classroom. This allows for a healthier and happier learning experience for everyone involved. A happy classroom, now who wouldn’t want to live in one of those!