A professional learning community, at its best, is a collaborative, cohesive group of experienced teachers tasked with improving student and teacher growth. The purpose is to share expertise, develop a vision for student improvement and practice accountability.
Effective PLCs need disciplined, nurturing leaders to align priorities and set the pace for results-driven instruction. Below are tips for education leaders as they build and refine PLCs.
- Define your role
Before taking steps to build an effective cohort, define your role in the group. Do you see yourself as a member/facilitator, observer/supervisor or supporter/expert? Your decision will affect the tenor of professional learning community meetings and the choice of roles your members assign themselves. The structure you decide on should lay the foundation for the team to thrive.
2. Establish a firm timeline
Your initial professional learning community meeting should establish a firm timeline for subsequent sessions. Without it, other initiatives may interfere, causing the momentum to slide and leading to the group’s demise. Insist on dedicated meeting times to maintain the vitality of the work.
3. Set aligned goals
One of the essential tasks of the professional learning community is to set goals that align with the district/school mission, vision and initiatives. These tasks include carefully reviewing practices and trends to look for potential problems that need a targeted focus. Let team members share their expertise and insight and develop a course of action for improvement. This collaborative approach sets the pace for project buy-in and success.
4. Specific learning outcomes
Once the goals are established, create the learning outcomes. Results-oriented PLCs contribute to learning accomplishments. So often, educators remain in data analysis cycles and discussions of student deficiencies without a clear vision and direction. Instead, encourage them to spend time concentrating on student achievement results. As a leader, guide discussions to ensure a focus on specific learning solutions. Having clear metrics will avoid confusion and strengthen the direction of the group.
5. Metrics for progress monitoring
With learning outcomes firmly established, continue to define the metrics needed to monitor progress. Make sure your metrics are detailed. A broad metric such as “monitor the quality of class discussions” can lead to confusion and inaccurate data. Will you measure the quality of class discussions, the frequency of homework completion or on-task behavior during class? Precise monitoring leads to specific data. The evidence can then be used to make needed adjustments in instruction.
6. Offer support and resources
As a leader, your job is to offer support and provide the necessary resources, so teachers can stay on task and accomplish their goals promptly. Frequent check-ins and simple surveys help keep the communication channels open and the work running smoothly.
7. Create a productive atmosphere
Group dynamics can make or break the strength of a professional learning community. Pressure to lead the group to positive learning outcomes can sometimes lead to a sense of powerlessness. Resist the temptation to over-manage. Highly functioning PLCs work best in a safe and supportive atmosphere free of judgment.
Allow your group to:
- Have a voice and identify their own needs
- Examine progress with no judgment
- Reflect on what’s working and what needs adjusting
8. Celebrate success
Meeting regularly, sharing expertise and enhancing student achievement is a significant endeavor worth the time and effort. The work requires dedication, persistence and a shared vision for student progress. Just as we celebrate student success, teachers must spotlight their collective accomplishments and enjoy the fruits of their labor. The results reflect student growth and improved teacher practice.
PLCs that are staffed by dedicated educators provide a vital source of instructional improvement for schools and districts. Solutions stemming from this work benefit students, teachers and the community. Skilled leaders are the glue that assembles effective PLC teams. And that good work has a profound impact on school efficacy and student success.