A good starting point for a PLC is to develop a shared sense of purpose. This does not mean that being a PLC member creates an obligation of conforming to a set of practices, but that there are common values and principles. In a PLC the ambition is to gain knowledge, share expertise and to enhance practice. Developing a sense of solidarity – with each other as professionals and with the school community as a whole provides a strong foundation to the group. A PLC needs to be facilitated and participated in as a ‘safe space’. Participants should feel able to express their anxieties and vulnerabilities without fear, and know that this does not imply a deficit in their competences. This is essential if members of the PLC are to work in a way which allows them to be honest about and open to the challenges of teaching all learners.
Each PLC meeting should provide opportunities for all members to engage positively. There should be careful regard paid to the different roles and knowledge that members bring to the group. The discussions should allow for all PLC members to feel heard and valued. All contributions should be considered respectfully. A good place to start is by taking account of what PLC members are curious about and why. It will be appropriate to include paired, small group and whole group discussion. There should be opportunities for appreciation to be expressed.
In schools we often feel short of time. It is important that the PLC is structured in such a way that time is used well. Being clear about the start and end times and providing adequate time for planned activities is essential. There is nothing more frustrating than feeling rushed and only being able to engage superficially with complex information. It is also frustrating if complex ideas seem to be being over-simplified. It may be useful to frame a series of sessions around a limited number of key reflective questions and to ensure that participants are invited to return to these questions over time. This can help the PLC members to gain a sense of challenge and progression.
The main difference between coaching and ordinary conversations, is that coaching conversations are goal-directed. In the general coaching literature, a model often used to structure these conversations is the GROW-model (Whitmore, J. & Landsberg, M.,1996). This model uses different steps to explore one's 'Goal', 'Reality', 'Options', and 'Will'. In Belgium, this model was broadened with an extra lettre 'R' (Clement, J., 2015) to stress the Resources one can use. School coaches have been using the GR(R)OW-model in professional learning conversations to develop inclusive competencies of teachers and other educational professionals collaboratively.
The phases provide you with a support to structure your meetings. In doing so, GRROW does not form a rigid schedule that you have to complete step by step. The order is not absolute. For example, colleagues often come in with a problem about diversity or cooperation and from there you look together at what they want to change or learn. As you explore opportunities for inclusive action, sometimes you will also see a goal shift or change. So GRROW is more like a stepping stone or stepping dance that reminds you which areas are important and may need deepening. To effectively achieve depth in your conversations, it is also necessary to apply your coaching skills consistently in each of the phases.