Professional Learning Communities

The teachers here at Education Oasis have recently been discussing professional learning (formerly known as professional development). We’ve noted that during the past decade there has been a lot of talk about professional learning communities (PLCs). Indeed, PLCs are often the primary component of school districts’ staff development plans.

School-based learning teams have the potential to increase student learning and achievement as well as empower teachers. They also have the potential to be a huge waste of time and devolve into gripe sessions. In our conversations with one another and with teachers across the United States, we noted three factors common to PLCs that worked.

PLCs work best when they are formed and grow organically based on the needs of those in the learning community. As one teacher noted, “It’s difficult to plan with a colleague who is there because he is forced to be and has no intention of contributing to the process.” (We were surprised how often this sentiment was expressed.) “Top down” mandates rarely work unless there is “bottom-up” buy-in.

PLCs work when the group has clearly defined goals. It’s not enough to be told by a principal, “You need to meet as a team and talk about the benchmark test data.” The most successful learning teams have an agenda with a specific goal in mind that has been agreed upon by the members ahead of time. For example: “We will meet to create an authentic, common formative assessment for Common Core State Standard ______.” Or, “We will meet to examine student work on _____ and discuss teaching strategies to help students who have not mastered _____.”

PLCs promote teacher growth and thus student growth when they focus on the “learning” aspect. One comment from teachers that we heard over and over was, “I don’t feel as if our group engaged in any deep learning.” Some questions we ask ourselves in our own PLCs are: Does our group engage in shared inquiry? Are we willing to take risks and try new approaches, new ideas? If not, why not? Successful communities spend time thinking not only about their students’ learning but their learning as well

There is a plethora of books, articles, and online resources about PLCs. Here are two online sources we recommend:

For a brief primer about PLCs, visit edglossary.org

For a list of articles about PLCs visit Solution Tree’s All Things PLC site.