Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)

Paminder Kohli - PYP Head | 17th January, 2018 Back to Blog

Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are an approach to school improvement where groups of teachers work collaboratively at the school level to improve student learning outcomes. Called “the most powerful professional development and change strategy available,” PLCs lead to reliable growth in student learning. It starts from a simple idea: students learn more when their teachers work together. Various researchers have noted that the use of professional learning communities offers an effective, learning-focused process that can foster improvement in teaching and learning.

The core mission of PLC is that formal education is not simply to ensure that students are taught but to ensure that they learn. This simple shift—from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning-has profound implications for school improvement initiatives. PLCs entail whole-staff involvement in a process of intensive reflection upon instructional practices and desired student learning outcomes, as well as monitoring of outcomes to ensure success. It enables teachers to continually learn from one another through shared planning, and in-depth critical examination of what does and doesn’t work to enhance student achievement. Research indicates that there is a strong correlation between the use of effective PLCs in schools and improved teacher learning and instruction and student learning.

Implementing and sustaining effective professional learning community process involves teachers establish a clear structure and purpose of meetings, use authentic student products for analyzing student work to determine if students are showing progress toward meeting the learning expectations, provide support in terms of adequate schedule time to meet in PLCs. Teachers reflect on school practices that can help all students achieve at high levels and indicators that could be used to assess our progress.

Some beliefs and behaviors that support the implementation of effective PLCs include:

  • » A commitment to improvement. A view that improvement is a team effort for which everyone is responsible.
  • » Fostering an atmosphere of trust and creating a culture of learning.
  • » Agreement on broad educational values, and acceptance of disagreements that foster new dialogue, and
  • » Supervision of the work of PLCs by providing support and feedback.

In RBKIA PLC implementation is a school improvement priority and time is allocated for teachers to collaborate and work in professional learning teams. The goal is to plan and reflect upon teaching, student learning and classroom practice.

RBKIA mission statement states “RBKIA provides an enriching and stimulating environment in which each child will grow to his/ her maximum potential” and the staff takes this statement as a commitment to ensure the success of each student. In PYP teacher groups are organized grade wise and teachers meet with their grade partners every week to focus on transdisciplinary planning, discuss learning expectations for students, select instructional strategies and develop a common unit plan incorporating the selected strategies. Teachers implement the planned unit and record successes and challenges. Teams then review and analyze student work and apply insights gained from a meeting to improve their instructional approach. Teams share good practices and learn from each other. Students receive the interventions and support they need in time and communication with parents has also improved through grade-level team planning.

While the benefits of teacher collaboration within a professional learning community (PLCs) are many, finding time for collaboration may be a challenge. Our school has structured a longer school day for teachers every Friday to allow them a two hour block of time to work together in professional development and curriculum-planning sessions.

As the school moves forward, every professional in the building must engage in a constructive dialogue, reflect on and improve instructional practices, and learn how to become more effective in the classroom to improve student learning. As we continue on our PLC journey, we continue to grow as educators and help all students learn!

Cowan, Joyner, & Beckwith, 2012; Harris & Jones, 2010; Hord & Tobia, 2012; Resnick, 2010; The Wallace Foundation, 2012.