Establishing Goals and Roles for Professional Learning Communities (PLC)

Facilitate the instructional community in identifying the most pressing goals and defining their role within the school's structure
15 teachers like this strategy

About This Strategy

This strategy is at the heart of building an effective learning community, but so often its objective feels out of reach. Often, the goals and roles of a PLC are hidden behind giant, complex organizational charts. It doesn't have to be this way. Instead, this strategy provides a simplified process to organize an effective PLC structure. Facilitate the creation of an effective PLC by letting the community do the work of identifying the most pressing, attainable goals and finding their own role within the school's structure. 

Implementation Steps

30 minutes
  1. Establish the immediate purpose for the creation of a PLC, regardless of whether this is the first time organizing a PLC or a revision of an ongoing PLC effort. This critical step is what makes the PLC relevant and valuable.

  2. Announce the PLC initiative, and its purpose, to the entire school. Share what the process will look like, and emphasize to the community that this is their work and that they will be asked to participate and will get regular updates on progress.

  3. Establish a working group by inviting the community into the process of establishing goals and initial roles for a PLC. This group's purpose is to make strategic decisions regarding how to move forward, and to identify possible key participants. The more open you are about creating this working group, the more buy-in you will get from the faculty. By encouraging everyone to see a possibility for their own role in this work, you draw on the talent, energy and goodwill of the entire community.

  4. Meet with the working group in order to:

    • establish norms

    • agree on a level of commitment going forward and assign any specific roles in the group

    • collaboratively create a timetable and assignments

    • set a time for the next meeting.

  5. Use a variety of tools, such as surveys and meetings, to gather the community's thinking about what is most needed for student success.

  6. Have the working group use this information to transform the outcomes and indicators expressed by the staff survey or meetings into actionable objectives for the PLC(s).

    • For example, if teachers identified student engagement as an area for growth, a desired outcome might be to build opportunities and systems into classrooms that empower students to take ownership and agency over their learning process. An indicator of progress is that students will be able to identify what they are learning and why.

    • When choosing outcomes and indicators, the working group might have to weigh the information they receive. They can ask themselves, "What is most critical?" or "What would need to be done first in order to reach another desired outcome?"

  7. Share the draft of desired outcomes with the faculty, along with the data and information used to inform this work. Take questions about how these were created and why. Update everyone on what stage the PLC initiative is in (you are currently defining the goals the PLC groups will be addressing).  Update the community as to what is coming next.

  8. Have the working group organize an inventory to identify strengths, key structures, and exemplary individuals already in place. Building on current school strengths and existing expertise is a critical step, because it signals to the greater school community that they are already agents of positive change, as well as acknowledging the hard work that has gone before. More information on inventorying faculty knowledge and skills can be found in Creating a Distributed Leadership Model: Meet Demands by Sharing the Load in the BetterLesson lab.

  9. Update the community on where the process stands, and what is coming next. See the strategy "Building a Professional Learning Community: It's About the Students" in the BetterLesson Lab for next steps.

Coach Tips

Cheryl Belknap
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

Creating effective PLCs is not the work of a day or a week, nor should it be only the work of school leadership. The creation of PLCs should be a collaborative, sustained effort.  It will require patience and honesty. 

Consider using 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 meetings. 

Set aside the time for this work, and protect it no matter how tempting it is. Unless it is an emergency, do not take time back from the PLC initiative 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 shared 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.
  2. Google Calendar
  3. Google Calendar organizes the actions of a community.
  4. It may seem counter-intuitive 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 is 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 and 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.

Additional Reading

See the articles below for related reading about the impact of PLCs.