Professional learning communities (PLCs) are a holistic approach to teacher and school improvement. They focus on the whole person, not just the classroom or school. Learning occurs when you learn to connect with others in your district and collaborate on improving your teaching practice. PLCs are an ongoing process of professional growth that involves teachers engaging in reflective practice within their classrooms, collaborating with other teachers within their schools, and sharing ideas and resources with colleagues across the district.
What is a PLC?
A professional learning community (PLC) is a team of teachers working to improve student achievement. A PLC can be formed in any grade level or subject area and will often meet regularly, such as once per month, to plan and implement professional development.
The goal of a PLC is to create an environment where teachers can collaborate effectively and share resources to help all students learn better.
Critical elements of a PLC
A PLC is a group of teachers, students, parents, and community members who collaborate to improve the school. A PLC comprises people with different roles, but all are committed to creating an excellent education experience for students.
There are many ways that any individual can participate in PLCs:
- Student (elementary) or graduate student (secondary)
The stages of the PLC journey
In the first stage of the PLC journey, teachers come together to identify a real need in their classroom. They share ideas and resources they've tried, discuss options they can take next, and decide which one(s) to use.
The second stage involves teachers implementing their chosen strategy. This might take a week or several months, depending on how much time teachers need for reflection and reflection-in-action (see above).
Finally, in the third stage, data is collected from students' performance before, during, and after implementing an intervention. Data must indicate whether something worked rather than an end goal; this enables educators to reflect on their decision-making process throughout the PLC journey - what worked well? Where did we go wrong? What could we do differently next time around?
The design and development process of a PLC
The process of creating a PLC is not complicated. It is a way of thinking about education and learning that can be applied differently. A PLC is not a particular model. It is simply an approach that focuses on how students learn individually and how teachers collaborate and support each other. How schools can work together to support students' learning at home, and how districts can sustain these efforts across time by planning for professional development activities. That will support teachers' growth in their practice.
The process for developing your local PLCs should consider the following:
- What do you want to accomplish at the local level? What are your goals?
- Who are you working with? What resources do they have available to them? How much time do they have available every week or throughout the year?
- How will you build trust between stakeholders who implement this program (including teachers)?
The following are the most effective principles of a PLC:
Student learning focus
Professional learning communities are built around improving student learning, and keeping this as your focus is essential.
- Student Engagement
- Motivation of Student
- Student Success (including student achievement and attainment)
- Learning Outcomes and Goals for Students
It is a critical component of the PLC model. Instructional leadership is the process of planning, implementing, and evaluating the educational program. It is a shared responsibility between the principal, teachers, and parents.
The instructional leader should:
- Ensure that all students have access to an instructional program that meets their needs
- Promote high student achievement by ensuring that standards-based curriculum guides are aligned with state standards, and established objectives are met
- Develop ways to measure student progress toward achieving school goals
When it comes to adult learning, there are a few essential things to keep in mind:
- Adult learners need to be engaged. The best way to do this is by giving them choice and control over the learning process. For example, if you're working with a group of teachers on a new software program, let them choose how they want to learn more about it. Do they want content presented in bullet points? Or do they prefer training videos? Give your learners options like these so they can find creative ways of absorbing information.
- Adult learners need to feel motivated and supported by their peers. If you're facilitating a professional learning community (PLC) for teachers, ensure that everyone involved is invested in each other's success—including offering constructive feedback when needed! This doesn't mean every comment should be positive; instead, think about what kind of feedback will help someone improve their practice as an educator without being too harsh or hurtful towards them personally (remember: we all make mistakes).
Continuous improvement is one of the essential principles. You should constantly evaluate your efforts and make changes based on what you learn. It would be best to encourage others to do this so everyone can see how their work fits into the larger scheme.
Continuous improvement requires data, which means you must collect it systematically over time to identify trends and make decisions based on those trends rather than relying on individual anecdotes or gut feelings. For example, suppose everyone is collecting data and contributing it back to the group for analysis. In that case, more information will be available for improvements than if only some members collect data while others don't bother (or even sabotage the process).
Systems focus is seeing and understanding the connections between individuals, groups, and systems. It also involves seeing how these connections relate to each other over time. Systems thinking is based on five fundamental principles:
Interconnectedness: There is a connection between all parts
Feedback loops: The effects of any system change can be amplified or diminished because of its impact on other elements in the system
Nonlinearity: Small changes in one area can create significant changes in another
Emergence: New properties arise out of complex interactions between many agents
Redundancy: We can remove many parts without having a significant impact on overall performance
The Professional Learning Community is a team effort. It's a shared responsibility. Everyone is accountable for their work and has a role to play. No one can point fingers or blame others if the PLC doesn't work out as planned—because we all have our roles to play in making this project successful.
The group achieves collective efficacy when they have a shared belief in the group's ability to work together to accomplish its goals. In addition, the group members have confidence that they will be successful and have the capacity to learn.
Privileged time is the time and space for PLCs to meet. It's an opportunity for the group to get to know each other, develop trust and learn how they want their school culture to look.
Privileged time may include:
- A place where PLC members can meet regularly, such as a classroom after school or during lunchtime.
- Activities such as getting-to-know-you activities, learning about each others' schools or cultures and having fun together (e.g., going on a field trip).
Evidence-based practice is a core principle in our field. It is the foundation of our actions, which means that our efforts are based on research and evaluation. Evidence-based practice means we must use data to guide decisions about how we work with students, teachers, parents, and families.
We can't teach without assessing; therefore, assessment must be at the heart of everything we do in schools. We must evaluate our programs to ensure they are effective for all students and maximize learning outcomes for all learners.
Integrated regional support
As a teacher or administrator, you may wonder why being part of a PLC is important. What are the benefits, and how can you know if your PLC is working?
Here are three reasons why being part of a PLC is beneficial:
- Teachers can share their expertise and ideas with other teachers in the region. This allows them to build new relationships that will help them grow as educators.
- Teachers can have conversations about current events happening at school, which helps improve instruction, collaboration between colleagues, and student learning outcomes across all grade levels within an institution or school district.
- Teachers have access to literacy resources that can be accessed individually or collaboratively by staff members within their PLCs – allowing each person who needs assistance with specific concepts access 24/7 via technology (such as live video chat).
PLCs are a learning journey, and everyone needs support along the way. The more we can understand each other's needs and provide that support, the more effective we will be as educators.