Understanding Professional Learning Communities

Professional learning communities (PLCs) are all the rage in education reform. Yet, despite some excitement, there is still a fair amount of debate about what PLCs are and how they can help educators. 

Therefore, in this article, I will help you to understand exactly what PLCs are and how they can benefit teachers. I’ll also provide an overview of some tips for successful professional communities.

What are Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)?

Professional learning communities (PLCs) are an organization-wide initiative that focuses on improving teaching and learning. In other words, it’s a collaborative effort between teachers and administrators to improve educational practices across the education system. 

PLC’s differ greatly among teachers, depending on profession and personal focus, but they will all have some kind of training component. 

Takeaway: PLCs help teachers set high expectations for their students and themselves, so everyone can meet them. The main focus of learning communities is for teachers to ‘lead, share and improve’ their teaching practices.

SEE: Why are teachers important?

How Do Professional Learning Communities Work?

Professional learning communities (PLCs) are a school-based approach to teacher collaboration. In a PLC, teachers gather to problem solve, identify their own needs and research solutions, plan for professional growth, and collaborate with colleagues to improve their practice. 

The process involves sharing ideas, responding to one another’s work, and learning from others who are involved in similar projects. PLCs are a great way to get peer feedback and make connections to colleagues facing the same challenges as you. It’s also a great way to meet new people, build your personal brand, and expand your knowledge within the industry.

The end result? Teachers who are making an impact on student learning in meaningful and ongoing ways.

SEE: Collaborative learning

What are the Benefits of Professional Learning Communities?

1. PLCs offer learning opportunities for educators

The professional learning community is the place where teachers learn and share best teaching practices first-hand. 

Teachers who participate in this program are provided with a safe, and supportive environment. Therefore,  they can discuss critical issues in their schools in-depth, providing valuable experiences that will impact their teaching.

SEE: What is teaching?

2. Sharing knowledge with other members of the team and getting support

A professional learning community, or PLC, is a targeted collection of teachers working to improve student outcomes in their subject area. The most common example of a PLC is a group of teachers who meet regularly to analyze students’ work. 

They discuss how to progress students more effectively, and orchestrate group teaching sessions with students. As part of this process, teachers devise individualized plans for each student to support his or her learning.

3. Socializing with colleagues and the chance to develop new skills and interests

PLCs provide teachers with the chance to try out new teaching practices and learn from their peers, as well as develop leadership roles. In general, what better way to improve employee retention than by allowing them the chance to be themselves at work. 

A good professional learning community is a sure way to make your employees happy and productive. Professional networks are great for socializing and many people think that they are the best way to learn outside of work. Furthermore, it leads to more exploration of interests and higher self-development.

SEE: Skills to learn

4. Gives teachers a venue for planning and implementing professional development activities

Teachers who form professional learning communities collaborate regularly to improve their practice and knowledge of a shared content area. Teachers form these groups for professional development, but the process also helps them develop their personal and team skills. 

The focus of PLCs is usually to enhance student achievement by enabling teachers to use best practices in the classroom. It also helps to access materials and resources that they would not typically have access to and implement research-based strategies. 

And in return, it provides those professionals who have been successful with teaching strategies and instructional ideas an opportunity to share that success with other staff members.

SEE: Qualities of a good teacher

5. PLCs encourages critical thinking

PLCs are organized groups that share, discuss, and focus on a theme related to teaching and learning. It can be for teachers or for administrators, or both groups. 

They encourage critical thinking about the teaching/learning process and best practices. Planning meetings may generate ideas that teachers from PLCs can use to improve instruction in their classrooms.

SEE: What Is Your Role In Your Community?

Tips for Successful Professional Learning Communities 

Professional learning communities are used around the globe. They can be based on a single school or an entire district. PLCs can be large, or small. Some live for a year or two, others for decades. What makes a PLC successful? The following tips will begin to answer that question…

1. Determine common learning and assessments

Professional learning communities come in all shapes and sizes. From their inception to their design, much can be learned from other educators who have tried or are currently trying PLCs. PLCs are not easy to create, but with a plan and the right resources, they are sure to deliver results. 

The success of professional learning communities is strongly tied to their ability to establish common learning and assessments. Ensure unity among the teachers where everyone has the same shared vision for PLCs.

2. Make it easy for educators to contribute

Professional learning communities are an essential element in self-directed professional development. The most successful PLCs make it easy for educators to share and collaborate, but not all of them do.  

Having a one-size-fits-all PD approach doesn’t work for an entire professional learning community. PLCs are more likely to succeed when educators take responsibility for what they are working on. This could be designing a new lesson plan or project, or by taking back new ideas to the classroom.

3. Keep things simple

Try to keep it simple; the simpler, the better. When you make things too complicated, people don’t want to do them. Think of ways to make your ideas inviting, relevant and meaningful to your audience. The most important element of an effective PLC is not necessarily using technology, but rather using a certain type of thinking. 

4. It’s always helpful to have a plan/schedule

Being organized is an essential part of successful professional learning communities. Preparing is a key component of the PLC process. One of the top things to consider is the schedule of the PLCs. Set the time and place, and decide who will lead each session. Many teaching strategies can be used to improve your planning and create engaging lesson plans.

Start planning even months before your planned launch date. Identify the key stakeholders in your project and why they need to be involved. Share with them the goals and objectives of your project to gain their support. 

I always suggest having a plan or schedule laid out before you begin your program. This doesn’t need to be very long but will show your audience you have planned and are organized.

5. Focus on the results you want to get

The biggest mistake people make when planning PLCs is not focusing enough on what they want to get out of it. While it’s understandable, since you’ll likely be at it for a short time, even just a few minutes spent thinking about this will help you get better results.

The key to a successful PLC is to put the focus first on the results you want to achieve, then select activities that advance that goal. A well-functioning PLC will improve instruction, support collaboration, build community, and advance professional growth.

6. Invite students/teachers who have a stake in the learning community

Some of the most successful professional learning communities I have witnessed were led by teachers who had a stake in the process. Invite a representative from the department to participate in the planning of your next professional learning community. 

A participant who will be impacted by the change you are making will feel more engaged in the process and more enthusiastic about the outcome. This can be as simple as taking someone from each grade level or discipline and allowing them to give their input. 

Encourage your representatives to bring additional experts or guests to share information with those in attendance. Ideas generated in collaborative sessions are likely better than those conceived independently because the participants feel that they are in control.

7. Be realistic and make it fun

Let’s not mislead ourselves. Professional learning communities take time and effort. However, they can be both fun and creative. Be active in planning and brainstorming to create the right environment for you or your colleagues. 

Having a facilitator to help guide the conversation and keep it on track is equally important. It is important not to get discouraged if things do not work out on the first try; have some fun instead. 

When Is it Appropriate to Use Professional Learning Communities?

PLCs are a great way to set learning goals, track learners’ progress, and reflect on each other. By definition, PLCs promote collaboration across the complex network of stakeholders to utilize online resources for teaching and learning in a school, college, or university. This can be at the departmental level, faculty level, or across an entire institution.

Professional learning communities are ideal in cases where:

  • Teachers have a specific set of skills that need to be taught using teamwork or collaborative problem-solving
  • There is a need for the acquisition of new knowledge and skills that require concentration, analysis, and research skills that can only be attained by actively participating
  • Teachers can support each other in different areas of their classroom or teaching practice
  • Teachers gain leadership skills and experience
  • You want to improve employee engagement

PLC’s are an innovation in the workplace that has been used for everything from helping teachers collaborate to improving patient outcomes in the healthcare system. A PLC has multiple functions and is applicable in a variety of ways, but the main purpose is to help develop leaders and teams through collaboration. 

SEE: Important training for employees

What Makes a Good Professional Learning Community?

At its simplest, professional learning communities are an ongoing cadre of individuals who routinely get together to discuss and share ideas about teaching, learning, and leadership.

Besides, PLCs are more than a group of teachers who gather together in their spare time to chat and plan. A good professional learning community has parents, administrators, principals, and other staff involved as well. 

A good professional learning community is also a safe space. Having an open forum to talk about the needs of students without fearing repercussions helps everyone understand each other’s perspectives.

FAQs

Are professional learning communities worth it?

Yes. Professional learning communities are an important advance in how our schools are led and how teachers learn. Educators who participate tend to make long-term gains in student achievement. Students benefit, too, as teachers use what they have learned to help their students do better on standardized tests. 

Why PLCs are important to professional growth?

Professional learning communities (PLCs) are professional development groups that focus on a specific curriculum or cluster of standards. PLCs serve teachers, leaders, and content experts in schools with a few classrooms and educators who collaborate throughout the year.

In short, PLCs support professional growth beyond our traditional classrooms. Student learning is enhanced and accelerated with these partnerships, which makes the entire learning environment more effective.

Do members of a professional learning community always work in the same place?

No. The fact that they meet regularly doesn’t mean they work in the same place. They do not also have to be physically present at all times. They can arrange to meet virtually if their schedules allow.

SEE: Best webinar platforms

Conclusion 

Professional learning communities are a great idea. They are very appealing to teachers, and if they’re implemented properly, they can be an incredibly powerful learning tool. The idea of PLCs is not new. There are many others sharing content and ideas, socializing with other educators, and participating in professional development. 

Furthermore, PLCs have been helpful, whether to share best practices or to connect with peers. Keep in mind that using best practices isn’t a one-way street. Participating and contributing your expertise can make it easier for you and others to get the most out of it. Plus, you’re getting professional development credit for your participation, so benefits abound.

Since professional learning communities involve both teachers and administrators, it might be worthwhile to also read the article on educational administration. This is because it helps to foster good relationships with teachers, students, parents, and the community at large. 

Thanks for reading.