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Collaborating in a Professional Learning Community

Instructor: Deborah Schell

Deborah teaches college Accounting and has a master's degree in Educational Technology.

Working in a professional learning community (PLC) impacts the teachers in the group, their peers and students. In this lesson, you will learn how a PLC can contribute to growth for all three groups.

What Is a Professional Learning Community?

Let's meet Ms. I. Count who teaches math at a local high school. She has noticed that her students are having difficulty grasping analytic geometry, especially slope of a line and how to solve problems using linear relations. Through conversation, she learned that other math teachers in her school have noticed the same issue. The teachers decide to form a professional learning community to address this problem.

A professional learning community (PLC) consists of educators who meet to share knowledge to improve their own pedagogy as well as student achievement. To be successful, PLCs must be provided with time to meet and share their expertise. For example, school scheduling could be arranged such that all educators who teach a particular grade have the same period available every day to meet. Alternatively, PLC time could be part of staff and department meetings so that educators have sufficient opportunities to collaborate.

The key to an effective PLC is collaboration, as it provides an opportunity to share one's own knowledge and expertise and learn what other colleagues are doing in their classrooms. This approach facilitates personal growth as well as student understanding.

Collaboration, Cooperation and Coordination

Teacher collaboration is essential to an effective PLC but it should not be confused with cooperation and coordination. Cooperation involves working as part of a team and could include sharing resources.

For example, when the PLC met, Ms. Count shared the details of an activity that she starts the analytic geometry unit with to get students ready for the topic. The other members of the group really liked the activity and some thought they might use it with their classes but ultimately, each member of the group still has autonomy to decide if they want to use the resource or not.

Coordination involves planning and communicating with the members of the PLC. An example of coordination could involve ensuring that there is a schedule for the graphing calculators that are needed for investigating slope of a line so that all classes have access to them when required. While coordination helps with efficiency, it doesn't facilitate teacher or student growth.

While cooperation and coordination involve decision-making by individual teachers, collaboration is about creating a link with your colleagues and creating new ways of doing things that will benefit students in all classes.

Steps in the PLC Process

Effective PLC work requires a step-by-step process including:

  • Determining scope
  • Sharing current practices
  • Planning
  • Creating common student assessments
  • Analyzing student learning
  • Changing instruction to meet the needs of the student
  • Reflection

The first three stages (determining scope, sharing current practices, and planning) include determining what PLC members would like to accomplish and involves teacher cooperation.

Through meetings, Ms. Count's group may conclude that analytic geometry, and in particular, slope of a line, is a problem that they would like to address. They may share how they scaffold the unit and the types of investigations they complete in their classrooms. They may determine that there is a benefit to identifying questions highlighting key concepts for the unit and developing a homework sheet for all classes.

The next two stages (creating common student assessments and analyzing student learning) involve coordination. The PLC group could develop a common assessment for calculating the slope of a line and identifying x and y-intercepts. The group may also decide to grade the student work collaboratively. By analyzing student performance on the common assessment, teachers could pinpoint concepts that are well understood by students and those requiring additional review. Common grading will also lead to consistency in how student work is assessed.

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