As an education research and policy tragic I was particularly excited to get to watch ClickView’s stream of John Hattie’s keynote at this year’s LEAP conference (I know, I know, I should probably get out more). The LEAP conferences, organised by Warren Marks and Suzanne Lazenby, always cover fascinating topics and this year’s focus on Professional Learning Communities was no exception. John Hattie’s keynote offered a number of really interesting takeaways, all of which had me wishing I was back at my school throwing ideas around with fellow teachers.
Hattie’s core argument was that collective efficacy among teachers has the highest impact on student learning over every aspect of teaching and learning that has fallen beneath the lens of his sweeping meta-analyses. Collective efficacy, according to Hattie, refers to, “the judgments of teachers in a school that the faculty as a whole can organise and execute the courses of action required to have a positive effect on students.”
In turn, Hattie argued that Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs, offer an effective vehicle through which to build this efficacy. PLCs are groups of educators who meet regularly to share expertise and work collaboratively to improve teaching skills and student outcomes. John Hattie argues that PLCs are most effective when their core focus is, ‘what works’. That means they require ways of measuring impact and then reflecting effectively on individual and collective impact. How is impact measured, well Hattie leaves that up to the PLCs to determine.
The honest, open and constructively-critical conversations that John Hattie is calling for require a culture of trust and such a culture does not develop overnight. I mean, I found it terrifying to raise my voice in a staff meeting and say, “I am not sure if I’m making any impact on this student, or these students.” Such reluctance is common among teachers and a truly great PLC, before all else, will foster an environment in which teachers can admit doubt and uncertainty about their practice and feel supported and secure in working to strengthen it.
PLCs are powerful things and I think it is heartening to know that a simple belief that best practice research like John Hattie’s boils down to this: If we firmly believe that our learning community can make a meaningful difference for our students, then it will.