Building Professional Learning Communities

14 min read
Building Professional Learning Communities

Are you looking to turn your classroom or school into a more collaborative place? As an educator, it is only natural for you to want a healthy environment where students and teachers can strive for a better tomorrow. However, implementing changes in a school can feel like going out for battle. Though it might sound unreal to people struggling, embracing the notion of building professional learning communities is quick, easy, and effective.

Building Professional Learning Communities

Turn your school into a professional learning community (PLC) to create an environment with a collaborative spirit. While building professional learning communities is especially beneficial for better learning, they can also encourage greater trust and a welcoming attitude with a team.

Building professional learning communities can be challenging in its initial stages, but you will soon notice how rewarding the endeavor can be. PLCs are the best way to drive a culture and environment that emphasizes collaboration while promoting student learning. Not to mention, a PLC in your school is bound to drive innovation among teachers.

Professional learning communities can help educators work as a team when developing new lesson plans. They can come forth with more impactful instruction strategies, enhancing the learning experience for students.

Nonetheless, PLCs do not just benefit teachers. A professional learning community can also have many benefits across other industries. Read on if you wish to have a detailed outlook on professional learning communities and how to build them.

What is a Professional Learning Community?

What is a Professional Learning Community

Before building professional learning communities in your school or another industry, it is important to understand a PLC.

In simple words, a professional learning community refers to a group of 3 to 5 people working towards a single goal. They may engage around an issue of their career practice to identify the root causes and look for a solution.

The task of professional learning communities does not end here. They use the found and agreed-upon solutions by practicing them in their professional life or job to assess efficacy. As needed, they may make changes and iterate as well.

Professionals in PLCs begin their teamwork by engaging in an inquiry-based cycle around a specific problem. They identify it by analyzing a set of data that helps find the root cause of the problem.

For example, building professional learning communities is a great idea if students of a particular grade struggle with vocabulary. They can set up a PLC to deal with the issue effectively.

It is very likely an issue that goes un-discussed. Therefore, the PLC would set goals like increasing discussions regarding the matter, allowing teachers to conduct research, share ideas, and implement new solutions. Furthermore, they also assess and iterate as necessary when working towards a goal as a team.

Professional learning communities work through comprehensive inquiry cycles. These involve monitoring to conduct data analysis and adjusting the practice. The inquiry cycle should roughly last between 6 to 9 weeks. Furthermore, these generally depend on the availability of data.

PLCs in Education

PLCs in Education

Professional learning communities are common in education. A PLC in education refers to a group of teachers that work together at the same institute. Usually, these teachers are also teaching the same grades.

They work as a group to cover the issues in specific areas of student learning. PLCs exist at all levels within an education system. It can involve classroom teachers or district leadership unless they are bounded by commonality in their job occupation.

Teachers in professional learning communities come together to build strategies that can help improve student learning. These PLCs especially focus on coming forth with ways that can improve and enhance their students’ learning experience. This way, teachers are more likely to receive the desired results from students.

A professional learning community has regular ongoing discussions that center on specific issues in the classroom. All professionals gather inquiries about the student’s problem that they wish to explore and eliminate. Later on, teachers in professional learning communities share their findings with the group.

Common inquiry questions are:

  • What concepts do we want our students to grasp?
  • How will we find out that the concepts are clear?

Professional learning communities are usually formal, maintained by the school’s administration. The meeting may occur during academics, typically during lunch breaks in school hours. However, these factors largely depend on the school.

PLCs Outside of Education

PLCs Outside of Education

Although PLCs are most common in schools among teachers, they offer the same benefits outside education.

Professionals like nurses and veterinarians also join and participate in professional learning communities to tackle various challenges.

You can easily apply the same principles to any profession to achieve the desired benefits. Professionals can organically form groups and PLCs, managing them similarly to how they work in education fields.

On the other hand, experts can also form professional learning communities to add more online value to their membership sites and courses, etc.

Principles that Guide Professional Learning Communities

PLCs are formal groups that collectively work towards an ultimate goal. Therefore, it is important to have a set of principles to guide a professional learning community correctly. Here are four characteristics of successful professional learning communities.

1.      Shared Ownership

Principles that Guide Professional Learning Communities

As we mentioned earlier, a professional learning community comprises professionals working the same job. This suggests that all participants in a PLC are equal in authority. Since professional learning communities are not passive professional development groups, it is important to have shared ownership.

After all, the PLC participants are not hearing from or working on the instructions of expert(s). Professional learning communities involve equal authority, participation, and teamwork. There must be no hierarchy, and professionals should respectfully share ownership and responsibility.

PLCs should focus on building and maintaining trustful relationships, sharing knowledge, and self-regulation.

2.      Learner-Centered


Professional learning communities need to center around learning. When a PLC is learner-centric, it will likely bring more benefits. On the other hand, poor emphasis on learning can also lead to new issues and consequences within the community.

Teachers or other professionals in the community must be willing to learn new ideas and welcome the thoughts and opinions of other participants. This will help create better student learning experiences. It will also improve teacher career growth and success.

On the other hand, learner-centered professional learning communities also ensure that each participant feels safe during the learning process. Learning opportunities within a PLC must attend to the emotional, cognitive, and social needs of each participating professional.

3.      Anchored


Professional learning communities are set to address common issues within a profession and resolve them. This means that professionals from the same career field and jobs identify problems they face to find solutions. Professions, such as teachers from a school, work toward the same goal.

Anchored here means that a professional learning community is focused on what it wishes to achieve. A group of professionals can’t succeed in a PLC if they do not share the vision.

Each participant must be aware of the purpose behind setting up a professional community. For example, all teachers in a PLC should know that they’re working towards student success and instructional excellence. This could be regarding anything from a chosen curriculum to an instructional model or research.

4.      Symmetrical


Professional learning communities are all about effective learning while finding solutions. So, it is important for the professional teachers, in this case, to design a PLC that is symmetrical to their students’ learning environment.

This suggests that the participants must work as hard as their students to achieve the benefits. As teachers, you must do the same heavy lifting as you expect your students to do. After all, that is the only way teachers and students can enhance the classroom experience.

Each participant should engage in deeper learning and problem-solving methods to create a highly collaborative environment. Teachers in professional learning communities must model the skills and mindset they seek in their students.

How Can Educators Build a Professional Learning Community?

How Can Educators Build a Professional Learning Community

The profession of teaching can be quite isolating at times. After all, you are not meeting new clients each day as a business owner would. Teachers are locked in the same room with familiar faces every day. Although students can be energizing, teaching is a very different profession from others.

While other professionals may find similarities in their job and work routine, teachers seldom relate. Teachers experience a lack of connection daily.

On the other hand, the classroom is home to many challenges for teachers and students. When it comes to learning new information, teachers need to use engaging methods to improve student retention. But, it can be hard to promote a healthy learning environment for several reasons.

One way of dealing with these issues is to build professional learning communities. Learning teams of teachers engage in a
. Professionals learn and improve by analyzing data and setting goals. This helps teachers in learning as individuals and in collaboration with other professionals.

This way, teachers can discover and try new methods to find what works and what doesn’t.

Understand Your Goals

Understand Your Goals

It is nearly impossible for professional learning communities to thrive without specific goals and a defined purpose. Learning communities are specially designed to achieve various goals within a professional community through collaboration.

Although the end goals may differ from industry to industry and profession to profession, all PLCs must have a clear idea of what they want to achieve. Understanding the ultimate goal ensures better usage of time and opportunities.

Professional learning communities cannot succeed if participants remain unclear about what they’re working towards. In the field of education, the goals of teachers in a learning community usually involve:

  • Encouraging student interaction and engagement
  • Improving student focus and concentration
  • Improving student learning
  • Promoting consistency
  • Building a community of educators and other professionals

Make Space for Innovation

Make Space for Innovation

Professional learning communities in the education industry are always looking for new ways and strategies to improve and enhance student learning experiences. Although all areas of a PLC are often strictly aligned, space for creativity, ideas and innovation should always be present.

Each individual in the team must have the liberty and space to come forth with new ideas and innovate for the betterment of all. Some may suggest using printable worksheets, while other teachers might think visual learning works better.

It is hard to determine what strategies are working and which aren’t. Therefore, it is important to give freedom to teachers in professional learning communities to try out new strategies.

Determine Assessments and Learning

Determine Assessments and Learning

What they want their students to learn and how to recognize when students have learned are two fundamental questions in all educational professional learning communities. These questions allow teachers to reach a point where they all understand how learning works for their students.

Furthermore, these fundamental questions also offer a better understanding of using common assessments that can vouch for understanding. A professional learning community can determine assessments and learning by making specific criteria standards.

They must prioritize these standards and unpack them as they work towards the goal. Analyzing these will help teachers decide what important concepts and skills they need to teach their students. These standards help to easily differentiate between concepts that are hard to teach and concepts that are hard to learn.

Bottom Line

Professional learning communities allow professionals from a certain industry to come together and indulge in the process of learning. Most commonly, teachers and educators prefer joining PLCs to resolve learning issues among students.