Growth and Collaboration: The School Counselor PLC
By Maureen Q. Ponce, Ph.D. | September 2022
A professional learning community (PLC) is a group of educators that meets regularly, shares expertise and works collaboratively to improve professional skills and academic performance of all students. PLCs are action oriented, results oriented and have a commitment to continuous improvement. If any of this resonates with you, creating a school counselor PLC may be an excellent next step.
Several years ago, I moved into a leadership role as the resource counselor of a high school counseling department. As I met with my administrator during my onboarding, I learned that leading a PLC was part of my responsibilities. Although I have been an educator for many years, my PLC experience was limited. I spent time learning about PLCs to create an action plan for leading my department. Through authentic reflection, I reached some conclusions to ground my work. First, as school counselors, it is important to cultivate a positive and collaborative working relationship with our administrators. I was willing to do my part to support the administrators’ instructional vision. Second, I knew the importance of implementing a comprehensive school counseling program in alignment with the ASCA National Model. Third, unlike our weekly department meetings that focused on the operational side of the school counseling program, the PLC presented an amazing opportunity for creating a collaborative professional culture that could make space for the necessary conversations to determine how best to implement our comprehensive program. With this in mind, I began my journey as a PLC leader for my school counseling team.
After rolling up my sleeves to do this work for several years, I’ve identified some best practices for the sustainability of an effective PLC.
First, make an investment to build your awareness and knowledge through professional development. It starts with a personal commitment to know your “why” for doing this work. Then, put your knowledge and awareness into action.
Second, secure administrator support for implementing a PLC with your school counselor colleagues. You can obtain administrator buy-in by analyzing your school data to know the issues that are most pressing in your school and sharing how they can be addressed in the PLC. Keep your administrator informed about your work by providing periodic updates – a great way to advocate for your program. Also, identify opportunities where you can invite your administrators to sit in as contributing members of your PLC.
Third, employ your leadership and advocacy skills to develop a PLC culture in your school and with your colleagues. As school counselors, we are all leaders and advocates. You can use community-builders during PLC meetings to help build group cohesion and create the culture.
Finally, regardless of whether you are novice or experienced, find a mentor to support you. Can you identify a colleague, perhaps in another school or in your county or state association, who can contribute to your leadership development? Be open to feedback. Then, move to create an action plan to achieve your goals.
One important caveat: Be cautious about letting other priorities take over your PLC time. We have a practice of two weekly meetings in our department – one focuses on the operational day-to-day tasks of our program and the PLC focuses on unpacking the ASCA National Model and its implementation for the given school year. You might be tempted to do other tasks during your designated PLC meeting, but I encourage you to maintain those boundaries with your time.
In my department, our PLC focuses on digging into the ASCA National Model and the actions we’ll take to implement in our school. Yearly topics in our PLC include reviewing our vision and mission statement. We spend time discussing the annual administrative conference and making sure all school counselors are supported as they meet with our administrator. We spend time looking at data: graduation rate, ineligibility, attendance and discipline data to determine our annual student outcome goal. Then, we monitor that data throughout the year to determine our progress, making adjustments to interventions as needed. We plan for our classroom lessons and small groups. We spend time planning our advisory council meeting and discussing our use of time data and advocacy that may be required. We update our annual calendar events and complete our mindset and behavior report to make sure we are actively and intentionally creating programming that supports students developing these important mindsets and behaviors.
In the four years that I’ve been leading my department’s PLC, we have been able to work on implementing the ASCA National Model and hope to become a RAMP school in the near future. We are so proud of our growth in building a comprehensive school counseling program using a PLC. I hope you are encouraged to explore the PLC approach for supporting your work as a school counselor.
Maureen Q. Ponce, Ph.D., is the president-elect for the Maryland School Counselor Association and the resource counselor at Northwood High School in Silver Spring, Maryland. Contact her at email@example.com and on Twitter @Poncemq