Building a Professional Learning Community: It's About the Students

In a Professional Learning Community, many hands make light work
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About This Strategy

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.

Implementation Steps

30 minutes
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Have each PLC group review their assigned desired outcome or goal and indicators of growth and success.

  5. Have each group backwards plan, setting sustainable and measurable targets that reflect both patience as well as ongoing planning and reflection.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. Analyze the efficacy of the PLC purpose, structure, and impact, and adjust on a quarterly basis.

Coach Tips

Cheryl Belknap
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

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.

Tech Tools

GoogleForms

  1. Google Forms are an easy way to gather (form) and aggregate (sheet) information. Response to a Google Form document can be aggregated, sorted, and saved in a Google Sheet
  2. Surveys, in particular, demonstrate a desire to hear the voice of participants, and provide immediate information to those leading an initiative. This information can be used to tweak the process and share back to the community in order to answer questions/concerns, and/or to demonstrate that the leaders in this work are listening.

GoogleDocs

  1. Google Docs are an easy way to disseminate information widely. They can also be set for group editing, and/or group comments/suggestions.
     

Google Calendar

  1. Google Calendar organizes the actions of a community.
  2. It may seem counterintuitive as a planning/reminder device for a regular meeting, but when organizing groups in multiple tasks this tool becomes a must. Using it from the start to "invite" and place meeting times on individual calendars models the use multiple leadership groups will need later. Each calendar invite can also hold links, such as the agenda or materials that participants will need in the course of meetings.

Padlet

  1. Padlet provides a quick way to gather information and thinking, and supports the posting of images, videos, sound clips, links, and information.
  2. Padlet can be used for two purposes.  It can be set so that others can respond by making comments. Padlet can also be used as a web supported online chat, supporting working groups in asynchronous communications and supporting the entire community by providing another means to give feedback, answer each other's questions.

Trello

  1. Trello  is a digital board to organize, track, and communicate tasks.
  2. It can be used by an entire initiative, with threads representing parts of the process and/or used to aggregate, track, assign specific tasks within one larger task. The tool supports commenting, links, setting deadlines, assigning, adding information, and more.

Research