“I’m interested in developing professional learning communities in my school. I’m excited about the philosophy, but I’m wondering how hard it would be to implement this program school-wide.”
Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) have been around for more than twenty years. Today there are many definitions of what PLCs actually are and how they operate.
A Little Background
At the beginning the basic idea of PLCs was to shift the focus in schools from teaching to learning. Teachers would work collaboratively to improve instruction. Intervention, rather than remediation, would help students who were having difficulty.
As a principal, I was once part of an early initiative to implement a PLC program in my school district. Teachers were trained in three waves over the year with follow-up training scheduled in subsequent years. The district began the initiative with a state grant, but when the grant ended, it was difficult to find funding in the annual budget to continue training. As a result, while we saw residual benefits for students from teacher collaboration, a general commitment to the program was hard to sustain.
Over the years a simpler and perhaps more manageable definition of PLCs has emerged. Today it more often refers to groups of teachers who work together to study new developments in education, review data, implement best practices, and give one another feedback and support. Of course, teachers must have a degree of autonomy to make instructional decisions. They also have to have time to meet.
To me the beauty of today’s PLCs is that you can start small. Begin with teachers who are invested in learning more about their craft, implementing new ideas, and supporting one another’s efforts. Teachers can form their own professional learning communities, and there may be several groups in a school that coalesce around the idea of collaboration to improve instruction. Studies indicate that when PLCs work they not only increase student achievement, but also improve teacher morale. Researchers caution, however, that unless teachers buy into the ideas and the goals and strategies are clear, some will see PLCs as “just another meeting.”
Writing in EdWeek Teacher, Rick DuFour, one of the originators of the PLC movement, notes that PLCs are still viable if done right. There are literally dozens of books to help you navigate this initiative if you choose to proceed. One is DuFour’s Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work.
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