Increase The Professional Learning Community To Impact Student Learning

In order to understand what and why the Professional Learning Community (PLC) focus will be, it is important to go through a process in order to understand the logic models, premises, or assumptions embedded in the focus. The PLC may ask itself:

  • How are context, environment, and culture different from how things are now?
  • What will we do to implement what we learn in our PLC?
  • What will be our challenges in terms of implementing what we learn in our PLC? How will we address these challenges?
  • What indicators will show us that our learning in the PLC is making a difference in our students’ learning?
  • Who needs to be involved in our PLC process? How will everyone be involved?

Here are some stages that might help you to think through your planning:

1) Planning with your PLC. We are about results, not intentions. Ideas for what to focus on may come from standards, test scores, examples of student work, school issues (grades, attendance, etc).

  • What do we want the students to learn?
  • How will we know that they know it?
  • What will we do if they don’t?
  • What will we do if they do?
  • We are setting visible, measurable, provable results in the performance of student

2) Requires a shared culture of beliefs and values

  • A focus on the characteristics of High Performing Team will help your PLC to operate effectively
  • You might want to share your experience
  • The work takes place in a collaborative culture

3) Who do you need to talk to? Plan and arrange those conversations (maybe send an email)

  • Do you need to work on buy-in from your principal? You might mention:

–           Knowing-doing gap

–           Learning by doing

–           Using action research techniques to create a positive change in student achievement

–           Wanting to help one another grow as professionals in order to increase the effectiveness of the school

–           Think about what resources about PLCs you might want to provide your principal to help him/her learn about the value of PLCs

  • Who in the building will help you (be on your side)?

–           How can you elicit their help and create buy-in for supporting you?

–           How can you share your vision with this person?

–           How can you create a support system?

  • How are you going to get your team to buy in?

–           How will this benefit them?

–           Where are your common beliefs?

–           How will this meet their needs?

–           What will they value about the experience of working in a PLC?

–           What do they value about working together (maybe ask this question in your opening email and ask each member to bring their list to the first meeting. Everyone can share. As they do, chart the responses to create one long list. What shared values do we have as a team? What does our team value?)

–           Tell your story and why you are passionate about this

4) What will your initial meeting look like?

  • Look at all the resources in this document. What you need to share with your team about each of the topics below?
  • Ask group members to reflect on the characteristic and how they believe it will impact the PLC.
  • Create agreements for how the group will work together. These can be shared values for teamwork, group norms, etc. You might take the High Performing Teams Pyramid and say, “What do we need from one another in order to have trust? What will it look like? What will it sound like? Work your way up the pyramid. You might look into some
  • Logistics:

–           Where and when the PLC will meet.

–           Who will lead – will the leader rotate

–           Do we want to assign a few meeting roles or assign everyone a role.

  • To establish a focus of what your PLC wants to work on. If this open to the team, consider making a web. In the middle is a statement – Ways to improve reading comprehension. Put everyone’s ideas around the web. Draw any connections between the ideas. Remember that it is about the process of everyone sharing ideas and hearing ideas. Look for connections between ideas. Have people explain why and what they would be looking for in relation to their idea.

The group may select a focus related to the Framework for Effective Teaching or to an instructional practice the team wants to learn/practice or an issue affecting the school (attendance). No matter what the focus is, connect it to student learning and outcomes.

  • One you know what you are going to focus on, RESEARCH what is important about the strategy. Everyone on the team brings something to build the groups knowledge (articles, books, etc)
  • Through reading, ask open ended questions

Learning in a PLC occurs when the members ask themselves questions:

  1. What are we learning from this?
  2. Why is this learning important to us?
  3. Why does it matter?
  4. What are we going to do about what we are learning?
  • Through conversation, find the idea that the team will Buy into
  • Create a plan for meeting the goal, delivering formative assessments to progress monitor, and expected outcomes
  • Plan on time to use a Rubric or Evaluation tool to assess the group’s growth.
  • Design the structure the team wants to use

Experience has taught us that working as a part of a team is powerful, yet at times it can be extremely difficult. Trust allows colleagues to have difficult conversations with one another as they collaboratively work together. The goal of the PLC is to allow teachers to take a risk and try something new, to experiment with new strategies or ways of thinking. In order for this to occur, the environment of the PLC needs to be one that is accepting of the members’ need to question and challenge one another’s thoughts and ideas.

We are moving into an era in teaching where the idea of the autonomous teachers has come to an end. When groups of people collaborate, eventually they run into conflict about professional beliefs and practices.

Sometimes PLCs have conflict because the goals the members are trying to achieve require the members to create a change in their practices. This is hard when you have developed a comfortable routine over the years that you must abandon for practices that are new to you. Creating new ways of teaching can be stressful. This upheaval can cause people to react with discomfort and fear.

We know that we need conflict. We understand that our PLC can generate “heat as well as light” when we peer into each other’s’ classrooms and instruction. We also know that we need this conflict to change and grow. So, let’s use our leadership to reframe conflict as an opportunity to learn and as a part of healthy work relationships. Let’s get excited when there is conflict. It is a sign that we are truly doing the work our PLC set out to do.

Knowing that conflict is a part of working together is a step in managing conflict and maintaining a positive frame. Another tool for PLCs is to take time to build strong relationships among the group members. The better group member know one another, the more likely it is that they will persevere through times when there is conflict. Having strong relationships will also allow the group members to feel safe to disagree and question one another.

One great way to get to know one another is by getting to know yourself. The more we are aware of our own personality and leadership styles, the better we can self monitor how we intentionally interact with others. By knowing the personality and leadership styles of my group members, I can also better understand and interpret the comments they make and their actions.

For example, imagine we had a meeting to select the instructional strategy the group wants to try. We have a discussion and almost everyone gives their input. The group reaches consensus and leaves feeling positive about its accomplishment. Then, the next time we meet, one of the member want to discuss the decision further and questions whether it is the right direction. What do we do?

This is where it is important that I know my group members. If one of my group members is very reflective and needs time to process before making a decision, then I can be intentional about making sure that s/he receives that time. We can still discuss our opinion, but then we might wait to vote until the next day so that everyone has the time they need to think about the topic.

Taking personality tests and sharing the results with the group is a fun way to build trust, relationships, and group cohesion. Think about:

  • How you will be able to adapt your own work style with that of others?
  • How can you work more effectively with people on your team?
  • What challenges might your teams face based on the different leadership styles?

High performing teams have five components. Trust is the foundation on which all the work of the PLC will take place. Within this work, there will be Productive Conflict as the members push one another to deeply understand and fulfill the groups purpose. However, change will not truly take place unless the members are Committed to the success of the team. They must also be willing to being accountable and  holding one another to a high level of excellence in their work. Finally, all of the work must have a targeted Focus on Results.

Commitment is a drive to have a strong, clearly defined focus. A team with strong commitment does not allow ambiguity in their focus. They understand that without a strong focus, productive conflict cannot take place. Furthermore, ambiguity can interfere with trust. After all, how can the team trust one another to support the team’s goal 100% if they don’t understand the goal.

When we take commitment a step further, we have accountability. Once the team has set a course, it is accountability that will make sure they reach their goal. The team must hold themselves accountable to the agreed upon course of action. Probably one of the most difficult aspects of accountability is an agreement to hold one another accountable to the behaviors that benefit the group and allow it to move forward. This means that all group members must call attention to any behavior that may interfere with the group’s progress. True accountability only occurs when members push one another to consistently exhibit the highest level of professionalism and improve their practices each and every day. The most powerful form of accountability is peer to peer.


Jeff C. Palmer is a teacher, success coach, trainer, Certified Master of Web Copywriting and founder of Jeff is a prolific writer, Senior Research Associate and Infopreneur having written many eBooks, articles and special reports.



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