Creating Effective Professional Learning Communities

Let us first know what a PLC is.

What is PLC?

A Professional Learning Community (PLC) is a group of educators who meet regularly, share expertise and work together to improve students’ teaching skills and academic performance. The term also applies to schools or colleges of education that use group work as a form of professional development.

Professional learning communities generally have two broad purposes:

(1) to enhance educators’ skills and knowledge through shared learning, professional knowledge sharing, and professional dialogue, and

(2) to enhance student’s educational aspirations through enhanced leadership and teaching, performance, and achievement.

Professional learning communities often function as a form of action research, i.e, as a way of continually questioning, reassessing, refining, and improving teaching strategies and knowledge. Conferences are purposeful exchanges by educators trained to lead professional learning communities. 

Participation in meetings may be entirely voluntary, with only a small number of teachers opting to attend in some schools, or it may be a school-wide requirement for all teachers to attend. In professional learning communities, teams are often built around shared roles or responsibilities.

While the specific activities and goals of a professional learning community may vary from school to school, here are some examples of collaborative activities that can take place at a conference.

  1. Discussing teacher work
  2. Discussing student work
  3. Discussing student data
  4. Discussing professional literature

Creating Effective Professional Learning Communities

Many teachers work hard to guide students in taking academic risks that help them learn. Could schools also apply this idea to teacher learning? 

The answers can be found in the collaboration enabled in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). PLCs—utilizing “an ongoing process in which educators work together in cycles of collective inquiry and action research to produce better outcomes for the students they serve”—are common and Proven practices that encourage collaboration among faculty serving to improve student achievement.

However, it is possible to get caught up in collaborative work that stifles innovation. This can happen, for example, when PLCs are too focused on shared assessment and a shared understanding of what students are learning, resulting in everything being in common – students receive the same lesson plan in every class. I’ve heard administrators use the term “general experience” when setting teaching expectations. In my opinion, this is too much.

While this stems from a desire to ensure student success through consistency, it stifles innovation, and one of the purposes of PLC is to try new strategies. PLCs are designed for teacher learning, so teams must balance teacher risk-taking and autonomy with shared expectations for student learning. Teachers in the team need to have a clear understanding of the goals so that everyone can safely take risks.

Learning teams are always in a learning cycle: analyzing data, setting goals, learning individually and in groups, implementing and adapting practices to meet the needs of all learners. This process allows teachers to try new teaching methods and discover what works and what doesn’t.

  • Determine general learning and assessment

In PLC, teachers explore basic questions: “What do we want students to learn?” and “How will we know if they have learned it?”These questions are the foundation of any SPS because they require teachers to agree on a common assessment of learning and examining comprehension.

PLC achieves this by prioritizing criteria based on specific criteria, then opening those criteria, analyzing the nouns and verbs in the criteria to understand what skills and concepts students need to learn to be successful. Teachers identify in the standard what is hard to teach and what is hard to learn so they can predict intervention and expansion.

It is important to note that some parts of this process require close coordination among teachers and do not allow for creativity and autonomy that teachers may be used to. For students to be successful, we need some common practices. However, by agreeing as a team on what should be tightly coupled, we can lay the groundwork for teacher autonomy and exploration of the art and practice of teaching.

  • Making Space For Innovation

PLCs are constantly experimenting with new strategies to improve student learning, so there must be room for employees in the team to innovate. The PLC can only be loosely aligned here.

Teachers will never know which courses are best for their students unless they are given the freedom to try new strategies. PLCs can do this by having teachers gather evidence from joint assessments and use data logs to determine which strategies are most effective.

  • Ensuring That Teams Work Effectively

Productive conflict allows us to build better ideas and stronger teams, PLCs should embrace productive conflict and create space for it to innovate. PLCs can do this with clear specifications and protocols to ensure that all voices are heard and that it is safe to participate in this conflict.

PLCs need strong facilitators to engage in conversations that foster learning, risk-taking, and innovation. However, the facilitator or leader of these teams may be torn between championing the idea and managing the complex processes that move the team forward. This can lead to team members having a facilitator who strongly advocates for an idea, rather than having all voices heard, team members may feel uncomfortable speaking out or taking risks. If a facilitator needs advocacy, they should choose another person to facilitate, to further balance the advocacy of new ideas with consensus and integration within the team.

The PLC is the lifeblood of innovation and adventure in the school. When structured well, they can work as teams, constantly learning together, trying to find what works best for the students.

About the article

Professional learning communities often function as a form of action research, i.e, as a way of continually questioning, reassessing, refining, and improving teaching strategies and knowledge. In this article, we have discussed the ways for creating effective PLCs or Professional Learning Communities.

Jack Marque

Digital Marketer with over 15 years of experience. Certified Digital Marketer and Educator by Google, HubSpot, and many other companies. An ex-employee @uber and @zomato

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