The definition of a professional learning community (PLC) varies from district to state. For this strategy, we are defining a PLC as a faculty group organized for continuous improvement and professional learning around specific initiatives, goals, and teaching/learning structures that require ongoing data analysis such as RTI. The keys to a successful professional learning community are clarity of purpose and autonomy. Therefore, it is important to identify, engage, and empower key faculty members and define the goals of any PLC. This strategy outlines the work of a new, or ongoing, PLC.
Create a list of the school or district initiatives, organized by desired outcome, to circulate to the faculty, and ask them to rank them by their interest (see the Establishing Goals and Roles in the BetterLesson Lab for a PLC strategy for more information). You may also already have done an inventory of faculty strengths and interests; if so, you should use this information in addition to the faculty initiative interest rankings to create PLC groupings.
In determining the groups, provide choice whenever possible. If possible, encourage groups to create their own leadership structure. It is a solid practice to make the PLC creation process as transparent as possible. For example, you can give teachers the opportunity to choose or opt into specific PLCs during a faculty meeting.
Have PLC groups establish norms (to learn more about setting norms, consult the "Norms: The Secret Sauce to Productive Meetings" strategy in the BetterLesson Lab). If possible, give PLCs time to create norms and complete the following step during a faculty meeting so that the entire community is on hand to participate and support one another.
Have each PLC group review their assigned desired outcome or goal and indicators of growth and success.
Have each group backwards plan, setting sustainable and measurable targets that reflect both patience as well as ongoing planning and reflection.
Ensure that district/school leadership sets the structure and logistics for PLCs to operate and protects their working time. A weekly meeting structure is ideal, as well as a recurring schedule (i.e. once a month) to share PLC work with the entire faculty.
Implement the PLC meeting structure. As PLCs continue to meet, use best practices to support their efficacy. For example:
To create clear and specific agendas, consult the Creating a Distributed Leadership Model: Meet Demands by Sharing the Load strategy
To seek PLC feedback, consult the Seeking Authentic Feedback to Improve Practice strategy
To ensure progress is being made, encourage PLCs to use measurement and data analysis to stay on their tightly-focused outcome track.
Analyze the efficacy of the PLC purpose, structure, and impact, and adjust on a quarterly basis.
Go slow to go fast. Creating effective PLCs is not the work of a day or a week.
PLCs should not be only the work of school leadership. In order to have the faculty group act as a community, it must be treated as a community. A community operates collaboratively. It will require patience and honesty. It is sustained by the efforts of all, not just the leadership.
Take the time to investigate tech tools that support speedy collaboration and communication. These are not a substitute for face-to-face work, but they do provide the means to keep up the momentum in between PLC meeting times.
Set aside the time for PLCs to meet, and protect it no matter how tempting it is to use the time for something else. Unless it is an emergency, do not take time back from the community to meet ordinary, pressing, school-related demands.