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Professional Learning Community: Definition & Model

Instructor: Derek Hughes

Derek has a Masters of Science degree in Teaching, Learning & Curriculum.

Teachers work together provide the best education for their students. Often they are organized into professional learning communities (PLCs) to help facilitate this process. This lesson will introduce PLCs and how they are implemented in schools.

Professional Learning Communities Defined

As teachers, a strategy we often use is placing our students into groups to collaborate to solve a problem or answer a question. Working together is an incredibly important skill we want our students to learn. Hopefully, it is a skill that you learned during your time in school, because collaboration is a key part of being an educator.

Often, to facilitate this kind of collaboration among teachers, schools will organize them into professional learning communities, or PLCs. These are groups of professional educators who meet regularly to reflect upon and discuss their instruction and student work. The organization and goals of these groups may vary and will be discussed more in depth below.

Organization of PLCs

Mrs. Jackson is the principal of a kindergarten through 8th grade elementary school. During a professional development conference she attended, she heard about a new model for improving schools and fostering a community of collaboration. These were referred to as professional learning communities. She knew she wanted to use this model in her school and set off to learn more about it.

The first thing Mrs. Jackson needed to learn was how to organize her teachers into PLCs. She understood their purpose, but wasn't sure how to effectively implement the model. Her research led her to understand that there are a wide variety of ways to organize PLCs.

The first method she learned about was organizing teachers into grade groups. She liked this method because her teachers already met with their grade partners to plan every week, so this would fit in nicely with the pre-existing structure of the school. By organizing PLCs in this way, teachers can work and reflect upon teaching with teachers who are working with the same age group of students. The teachers are also all following the same curriculum, so there is a foundation for their discussions.

Another method Mrs. Jackson discovered was organizing teachers into larger groups, with several grades in the same group. For example, all kindergarten through 2nd grade teachers would be part of a single PLC. Through this method, teachers can see and reflect upon a progression of learning by the same group of students, as they move up the grades. Additionally, teachers can learn more about individual students from their previous teachers.

Finally, Mrs. Jackson also discovered that PLCs are often organized according to subject taught. This method is more useful for higher grades in which students learn different subjects from different teachers, and teachers are specialized to a single subject area. This can be a useful way to organize teachers because they can meet with others who are experts in the same subject area and reflect on best practices for instruction in that specific area.

Goals of PLCs

After deciding how she wanted to organize her PLCs, Mrs. Jackson had to define the focus and purpose of the groups. She knew that PLCs were intended to help teachers improve instruction and collaborate to better serve students, but she needed a more concrete set of goals in order to implement the model in her school. After some research and deliberation, Mrs. Jackson came up with 4 specific goals:

  1. PLCs will discuss and reflect on instruction and strategies
  2. PLCs will discuss and reflect on student learning
  3. PLCs will evaluate student data to drive instruction
  4. PLCs will research, discuss, and reflect on best practices in teaching

Mrs. Jackson learned that PLCs help teachers reflect on classroom practices and talk about them with other professionals. Teachers discuss specific examples of activities and strategies they use in their classroom, reflect on these strategies, and solicit feedback from other teachers in an effort to improve their teaching.

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