Defining Professional Learning Communities (PLC)

I wrote this post in 2005 where it is cross posted on Rethinking Learning. I read it and thought it needed to be posted again with a few updates.

A Professional Learning Community (PLC) is comprised of people (teachers, para-professionals, administrators, and other community members) who collectively examine and collaboratively work to improve teaching practice. A PLC can but does not have to be situated in one school or district. With the ability to work online from anywhere at anytime, members of the community can connect, find others with similar interests, study and review existing teaching practice, and do action research to improve teaching and learning.

Being a teacher is challenging work and can be isolating. Many teachers teach the way they were taught which many times tends to be traditional lecture style: the expert or the giver of knowledge. Now with accountability issues, teachers are pressured to meet standards and teach to the test. What I am seeing is more teaching that is prescriptive in nature. In some areas, especially for at-risk students, this style can be  effective in teaching reading but less effective for students to retain deeper concepts. When teachers can interact with other teachers who have similar teaching situations, take the time to test and challenge their ideas, inferences and interpretations, and review and process information with each other, they grow professionally. This learning experience grows exponentially with the expanding exchange of ideas and multiple sources of knowledge from a variety of participants of the PLC.

A PLC can be a powerful professional development opportunity that encourages change and improves professional and personal learning.

Attributes of PLCs: the Five Dimensions
(adapted from source: http://www.teachinflorida.com/teachertoolkit/PLC.htm)

  1. Supportive and Shared Leadership. The collegial and facilitative participation of the administrator shares leadership with his/her staff by facilitating their work.
  2. Share Values and Vision. All PLC members develop a shared vision based on their commitment to the needs of their students and their desire to improve their teaching practice or grow their own skills and learning.
  3. Collective Learning and Application of Learning (Collective Creativity). PLC members move beyond existing procedures and teaching methods to design strategies for improvement based on high standards, latest research, and best practices.
  4. Supportive Conditions. The environment is risk-free so all members are safe and comfortable to collaborate, communicate, learn, make decisions, problem solve, and share their results and products.
  5. Physical Conditions and Human Capacities.
  1. Time to meet and talk
  2. Small size of school or PLC
  3. Physical proximity of staff to one another
  4. Teaching roles that are interdependent
  5. Communication structures
  6. School autonomy
  7. Teacher empowerment

I agree with the first four dimensions for any school. An online PLC can take the fifth dimension beyond the classroom and school walls.

  • PLC members can meet anytime from anywhere.
  • The PLC can be multiple sizes with the support of  eCoaches who guide and facilitate the process.
  • Anybody can be the teacher and learner and eCoach.
  • Communication online is a paradigm shift for teachers and needs to be designed into daily routines.
  • Teacher and Learner empowerment.
  • Learner centered environments.

The PLC as an Organizational Culture

Most learners adopt the organization’s guiding principles. If these principles are top-down decisions without input from all the stakeholders, the members of the organization may implement them without commitment and belief that they will affect positive change. The organization will be more successful if all members are valued and involved in the decisions on the direction of the community right from the beginning.

A sense of relational trust – linking the notions of respect, competence, personal regard, and integrity with academic achievement – also strengthens the community and makes shared decision-making possible. (Gordon – 2002)

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