By Teachers, For Teachers
A PLC is a commonly used term in the teaching profession that refers to a professional learning community. As the name implies, a PLC is a specific group in education where teachers and administrators can learn from each other. A PLC differs in the details from one school to another. However, the overall purpose remains the same -- to improve student achievement by improving the knowledge and skills of teachers. A professional learning community may exist on a volunteer basis, or it may be a requirement for every faculty member.
A PLC is most often created based on a particular subject course or grade level. It can also be implemented to find a solution to a specific educational issue or concern. Suggested ideas may include conversation around the following questions: What is our plan to increase reading levels or math proficiency? What can be done to maintain a better home to school connection? or How can we increase attendance? The makeup of the PLC may also differ based on the question at hand or who the topic most closely affects. Examples may include lower grades, resource teachers, or teachers with students receiveing special education services. Each professional learning community designates a set meeting time (either once a week, biweekly, or once a month) before or after school, and location (usually in the school building) to collaborate and communicate about the proposed theme.
Professional learning communities are referred to by a variety of names depending on the school, district, or region where they are hosted. These groups support peer teaching and learning, and they all follow the same principles. Some PLCs invite teachers to join a community that closely matches their interests. An easy, effective way to gauge interest and preference is to conduct a survey. Asking teachers to make their own suggestions for a PLC increases engagement and helps make future planning easier. Some schools require faculty and staff members to attend at least one PLC. In this instance, the school has a designated time and place to meet and the groupings are assigned by the principal, assistant principal, or instructional coach.
It is certainly possible that a school does not have a professional learning community to belong to. If this happens to be the case and there is not a PLC to join, a teacher should take the initiative and create his or her PLC that may be of interest to their colleagues. Teachers know what they want and need in terms of support and professional development. Some of the most effective PLCs have been structured and implemented by classroom teachers. Even reading and math specialists have started their own professional learning communities within their own schools. Choosing a book or articles to address the most challenging aspects of teaching reading or match at the elementary or secondary level can increase active participation. A final option is to join or develop a PLC online, connecting with teachers beyond your grade level, school, or even district. Web-based educational platforms like Teachers Connect have brought the concept of a professional learning community online so that teachers can feel comfortable asking and answering questions they may not feel comfortable asking in front of colleagues. This option provides flexibility for an educator’s schedule, since they can participate any time of day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. They have specific communities that anyone can join, including literacy, self-care, or mindfulness. Teachers do not have to be invited to Teachers Connect; they can simply join the group of educators to engage in conversation, then select a group that is most relevant to their interests or needs. Finally, professional book clubs are also a popular PLC option, both online and offline.
Professional learning communities were originally designed to support teachers to continue expanding upon their expertise. Teachers are lifelong learners, so the PLC is an educational extension for the professionals outside of the classroom to grow as an educator every day in the classroom. It is important to remember that in a PLC setting, everyone is learning, so each person’s voice is valuable. In this setting, everyone is on the same team and there is no hierarchy among the staff. The principal, a classroom teacher, and instructional assistant are all on an equal playing field in the small group. Everyone brings his or her own skill set, knowledge, and expertise to the conversation.
One of the most advantageous professional learning communities seen in schools at the elementary or secondary level is a cross-grade level or crosscurricular PLC. The cross-grade level PLC gives teachers the opportunity to find out what their students learned in the previous year and what they will be learning the following year. Teachers often become so laser-focused on the “Right now” that they forget where the children came from or what will happen in a student’s educational career beyond this one school year. This type of meeting gives teachers a perspective on the academic continuum from one grade to the next as well as background information on a child’s personal story. Crosscurricular PLCs really help teachers with planning, specifically learning how to coordinate science and math lessons or integrate history and English units. Teaching reading across the content is another great example of a crosscurricular PLC. Whether online or in-person, the common components are evident in a PLC. When a teacher can grow and learn through discussion, questioning, research, strategy, action, and reflection, they are taking advantage of a professional learning community. In education, we learn the most by sharing and teaching others, which is clearly defined by a PLC.