How PLCs Work in International Schools


For the past decade, Professional Learning Communities or PLCs have popularized many US schools’ approach to teacher collaboration.  The most common PLC model is the Dufour PLC framework (Dufour, Dufour, Eaker, & Many, 2010).  In this framework, teacher groups meet to analyze student data in order to make professional decisions for student improvement.  Up until now, much PLC literature has centered on American schools, particularly those low student achievement. Recently the book Global Perspectives by Dr. Timothy Stuart  offers another PLC perspective–the international school viewpoint.

The general principles of PLCs are applicable in the US and abroad.  That is, collective professional inquiry does support student achievement.  In the PLC model, schools improve when teachers can answer these four questions: 1) What should our students know, 2) How will they have acquired this knowledge 3) What do we respond when students do not learn?  4) How do we extend for those already proficient?

However, the international school context is unique from that of public US schools. Many international schools cater to a high achieving student population from families having high socio-economic backgrounds.  As such, a different set of challenges arise when running PLC groups addressing the needs of an international student population.

Global Perspectives reveals these challenges by providing PLC narratives from the viewpoints of  teachers and administrators.  Each chapter explores a different aspect about the international school experience and how PLCs manifested in their schools. As an international educator in Hong Kong, these accounts resonate deeply with my own involvement with PLCs.

One story is that international schools measure success differently from their American counterparts.  The international student population is selective. So international students consistently outscore their US counterparts.  This is a problem when the conventional PLC model rely solely on standardized test scores to quantify  success.  I too have found that engaging  teachers with high performing student data does not lead to deeper dialogue.

Global Perspectives  addresses this problem by providing in-depth ways to look at student achievement.  In one chapter, Jennifer Sparrows offers an assessment  blueprint for teachers to decompose academic standards into different levels of understanding.  Using this method, PLC discussions can focus on how deeper learning is demonstrated by students (Stuart, 2016).

Another theme from Global Perspectives is the lack of viable sustainable curriculum in many international schools.  Stuart (2016) explains that even though international schools hire high quality educators, teacher turnover is an obstacle to curriculum continuity.  Most international schools are not mandated as to what to teach.   Furthermore, many international educators’ teaching experiences have been in isolation.  Hence the international school curriculum is vulnerable to the changes of staff.

Global Perspectives offers PLCs as a solution to sustaining international school curriculum.  When teachers are provided with opportunity to collectively make sense of student expectations, they  are better equipped to deliver a common curriculum.  This viable curriculum is especially important when international schools must convey their vision to an ever-changing faculty.  Thus this book helps clarify practices that can help unite an experienced independent and confident faculty.

Although  Global Perspectives mainly provides examples from Singapore American School, many international teachers can relate to these stories.   As we move forward with globalization in education, the conversations about PLCs in international schools will be increasingly important.  Indeed, Global Perspectives is a wonderful start for  engaging in this dialogue.

Dufour, R., Dufour, R., Eaker, R., & Many, T. (2010). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at workTM (2nd ed.). Bloomington IN: Solution Tree Press

Stuart, T. S. (Ed.). (2016). Global perspectives:  Professional learning communities in international schools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

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