“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.” ~ Phil Collins
The best teachers are also perpetual students because they understand that nobody knows everything. While professional development may be a requirement for states and school districts, it’s also an opportunity for teachers to come together in professional learning communities in education.
At Alludo, we specialize in creating a dynamic online learning environment that we tailor to school districts’ needs while still providing teachers with a voice and a choice in what they learn. Our model supports the creation of professional learning communities (PLCs) that focus on district goals as well as personal learning networks (PLNs) that support teacher collaboration and sharing of information.
A professional learning community in education can be created in a variety of formats. In this article, we’ll explain what PLCs are, how they support teachers, and give you three professional learning community examples to consider for your school district.
Table of Contents
- What is a Professional Learning Community in Education
- How Does a Professional Learning Community Support Teachers?
- How Can Educators Build Professional Learning Communities?
- 3 Sample Models of Professional Learning Communities in Education
- Alludo's Take
- Support Teachers in Your District with Professional Learning Communities
What is a Professional Learning Community in Education
Let’s start by defining what a professional learning community in education is and what it is intended to do. The Glossary of Education Reform defines a PLC like this:
“A group of educators that meets regularly, shares expertise, and works collaboratively to improve teaching skills and the academic performance of students.”
PLCs may be referred to by a variety of other names, including collaborative learning communities and communities of practice. Smaller groups that collaborate for educational purposes may be called professional learning groups or critical friends groups. These smaller groups should be differentiated from communities that encompass larger groups.
Professional learning communities have two main purposes:
- To improve the knowledge and skills of educators through collaboration, the exchange of ideas, and professional dialogue.
- To improve the educational aspirations and achievement of students through skilled teaching and strong leadership.
Within any professional learning community, smaller communities may form to encourage collaboration that’s focused on different groups. For example, teachers may be grouped by grade level, subject, or specific challenges that arise in the classroom. Another option is to group teachers based on the students they teach, particularly for things like Social Emotional Learning.
Ideally, an effective PLC should focus on a specific shared goal and arrive at solutions through discussion, collaboration, and innovation. PLCs are most likely to be successful when they are targeted in this manner.
A professional learning community may be used as part of a larger system of professional development where teachers can come together to form groups as they see fit and to address ongoing challenges they face in the classroom.
How Does a Professional Learning Community Support Teachers
Before we talk about how educators can form supportive professional learning communities, we should reveal three important ways in which professional learning communities provide teachers with the support and community they need to connect with their students and improve student outcomes.
#1 PLCs Allow Teachers to Innovate and Share Ideas
The first thing about PLCs is that they allow and encourage teachers to share best practices that work in the classroom and directly benefit students.
Every great teacher makes student outcomes a priority but it isn’t always easy to share information. With the right PLC structure, teachers can share what they’ve learned from experience, including which teaching methods and instructional practices are most effective in engaging students.
PLCs also encourage teachers to reflect on their own classroom experiences while benefiting from the experiences of others. They can swap ideas and brainstorm new ways to connect with their students, boost engagement, and improve outcomes including grades and test scores.
#2 PLCs Build Strong Relationships Between Teachers
While it’s certainly important for educators at every level to feel supported by school administrators, peer support is essential for teacher satisfaction. The right peer support system can revitalize teachers, prevent burnout, and improve student outcomes.
PLCs encourage teachers to meet with one another regularly and share their experiences, thoughts, and ideas. With regular meetings, teachers can build strong connections. These may include mentor/mentee relationships as well as collegial relationships that make teachers feel supported and connected to one another.
Strong relationships do more than make teachers feel good. They also encourage teachers to share information about students and classroom challenges. Instead of feeling frustrated and isolated, teachers feel bolstered by a robust community of their peers who are there to help them.
#3 Keep Teachers Abreast of New Research and Technologies
Finally, PLCs keep teachers abreast of new developments in educational research as well as new technologies. Used properly, technology and social media can bring a new dimension to any professional learning community, giving teachers within districts and around the world a way to stay connected and learn from one another.
Today’s students are all digital natives and it’s essential for teachers to find ways to embrace technology and use it to connect with their students. PLCs give teachers an easy way to share information about new tools they can use in the classroom.
How can Educators Build Professional Learning Communities?
To be effective, any professional learning community must be created by the teachers in the community and designed to meet their specific needs and goals.
There are two questions that educators must ask themselves before forming a PLC. The first is, What do we want our students to learn? The second is, How will we know whether they have learned it?
The only way to answer these queries is by looking at data and using the data to set goals. For example, teachers should identify specific challenges. By asking what subjects or concepts are difficult for students to learn, they can begin to move in the direction of a design for a new PLC.
One of the things that can be challenging about forming a PLC is that teachers won’t have the same autonomy they might have in a classroom. Because they need to be working together, there must be ground rules and a solid framework within which the PLC functions.
Any goals should be clearly defined and there should be a review system in place to ensure that progress is being made. Unrealistic or unattainable goals will need to be reworked and redefined to ensure the success of the PLC.
Make Space for Innovation
While structure is essential in any PLC, it is equally as important to allow individual teachers the freedom they need to innovate in the classroom.
Innovations may be tested individually and reported back to the group. For example, a teacher may want to try a new technology in the classroom. They can do so and then report their findings back to the group. Technology that improves student learning and outcomes can then be taught and used by everyone in the group with additional measurements to determine its usefulness.
The idea is to encourage innovation within an experimental framework that allows for individual freedom while still benefiting the PLC and school district as a whole.
Ensure Team Efficiency
PLCs are effective when community members work together toward a common goal. The challenge is finding a balance that allows individual members to share ideas while still working as a group.
Teachers should be encouraged to introduce new ideas. However, the introduction of ideas should be constructive and geared toward productive conflict that allows all voices to be heard in any ongoing debate.
The presence of strong teacher leadership to ensure that conversations are collaborative and conflict is productive is a must. In their absence, there may be an imbalance of power that leaves some community members feeling left out of the conversation.
3 Sample Models of Professional Learning
There are several ways to form professional learning communities in education. There’s no one “correct” method that applies to all situations, but here are three examples that you may want to consider.
#1: Collaboration through Online Tools
One of the most important elements of a professional learning community is providing teachers with the means to collaborate and share information. Given the wide use of classroom technology and online tools, the first way to form a PLC is to use online tools such as Basecamp or Blackboard to encourage collaboration and sharing.
Collaboration must be easy if a PLC is to be effective. One of the key benefits of the asynchronous online professional development system we develop at Alludo is that it eliminates teacher travel and respects teachers’ time. Online collaboration allows teachers to connect on a schedule that works for them.
Using educational technology designed for information sharing makes it possible for teachers to pool their resources, share research, talk about ideas, and broadcast better results to their entire PLC team.
#2: Bringing in an External "Change Facilitator"
Teachers who work in the same school or district are likely to have a lot in common. What they may not have is an unbiased view of the system or the ability to see issues as clearly as someone objective would be able to.
It’s for that reason that some PLCs bring in an external facilitator to familiarize themselves with the school’s teachers and staff and assess the PLC’s operations in pursuit of school and district goals.
A skilled facilitator can look at the big picture, helping PLCs identify potential blindspots and bring their efforts to improve education into alignment. That’s something that may be particularly useful early in the process when a PLC framework is being put into place.
At the same time, facilitators can validate teachers’ feelings about leadership, support, and other macro issues that impact teacher satisfaction as well as student outcomes.
#3: Emphasizing Shared Staff-Wide Beliefs and Behaviors
The third example of a professional learning community that could benefit teachers, students, and school districts is one that encourages the sharing of staff-wide beliefs and behaviors. Here are some examples of what we mean:
- Teachers receive respect for their efforts in the classroom.
- Teachers feel free to openly share failures, mistakes, and doubts related to their work.
- Colleagues come together to agree on shared values.
- Disagreements are productive and foster new dialogue and ideas.
- Administrators are supportive of “dispersed leadership” that gives teachers the confidence to try new strategies to improve student learning.
For this type of PLC to work, teachers must share a commitment to school improvement and view the improvement of student outcomes as a team effort. They must also embrace the idea that knowledge comes from experience, have a willingness to share experiences, and understand that ongoing learning is essential to their jobs as teachers.
At Alludo, we have created a platform that encourages teachers to create communities and collaborate with one another. Our professional learning catalog contains thousands of microlearning activities that can support the creation and performance of PLCs of all sizes.
We have designed learning environments for school districts across the United States. Each environment is unique, built with feedback from the community it serves and driven by the educators within that community. We believe that giving teachers a voice and a choice in what they learn and how they learn it is the best way to encourage collaboration and drive student achievement.
While our platform itself supports collaboration, we didn’t stop there. Our catalog includes a broad array of topics and activities that support collaboration and communication. Teachers in the learning communities we design can easily share their experiences, engage in friendly competition, and collaborate with one another using our new Message Boards feature to the benefit of their students.
Support Teachers in Your District with Professional Learning Communities
Professional learning communities provide educators with the opportunity to share their experiences, discuss their struggles and challenges, and brainstorm new ways to connect with their students and improve student outcomes. It’s essential for school districts to encourage PLCs because they ensure that teachers feel supported and appreciated.
Are you looking for a platform to enable the formation of PLCs in your school district? Alludo is here to help! Click here to schedule a demo of our collaborative platform today.
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