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History of Professional Learning Communities

History of Professional Learning Communities

Author: Gino Sangiuliano

In this lesson, students explore the history and importance of professional learning communities.

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Source: Sync Arrows, Pixabay,; Cookies, Pixabay,; Globe, Clker,; Thinking Person, Clker,

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Hi, and welcome to this lesson. My name is Gino Sangiuliano. And in this video, we will take a look at the history and importance of Professional Learning Communities, often referred to as PLCs. Although there are many practices that support site-based management, professional learning communities are the most common organized teams that work within the confines of a school or district and help to sustain site-based management systems. Let's go ahead and get started.

I come from a large Italian family. And in some ways, my family was my first PLC. Holidays are always a big deal and made even bigger by food. I think about growing up and all my aunts coming over to bake hundreds of cookies for the guests. They didn't just follow a recipe. Instead, they added a little of this and a little of that along the way to make something good even better, all the while chatting about what they were doing.

They even asked us kids what we thought about it. Their essential questions were along the lines of are they too sweet or not sweet enough? Did we overbake them? Too much icing or not enough? What color sprinkles should we add? It's not all that different from what educators do every day.

Let's begin by defining what a PLC is. PLCs are groups of teachers and administrators who are organized for the purpose of instructional and school improvement. It's important to note that PLCs support site-based management systems. However, not all site-based management systems can call themselves PLCs. In fact, many don't follow all the protocols and tenets of professional learning communities.

A larger PLC may have within it many professional learning or problem solving groups, for instance, school improvement teams, collaborative teams, data teams, grade level teams, content area teams, critical friend groups, response to intervention teams, all of which operate as a community of practice with a shared vision, mission, norms, and goals. The purpose of PLCs usually satisfy the following-- they aim to improve instructional pedagogy and content knowledge through collaboration and shared purpose and also to improve the educational achievement and experience for students.

In the 1960s as an offshoot of site-based management, PLCs were born. However, it wasn't until the late 1980s and early '90s that they became more widely used and research-based as a result of DuFour's work. With the help of his wife Rebecca and Richard Eaker, DuFour's methods can be found in schools everywhere. His work has been expanded upon by other notable researchers, including Mark Van Clay, Perry Soldwell, and Thomas Many.

Like site-based management systems, PLCs are typically designed for school reform or improvement, but through a very systematic and sustainable approach. PLCs are generally not reactive or look for quick fixes, but rather, they create structures for continuous improvement within input from various stakeholders who become vested in the process of implementing long-range improvement strategies.

PLCs typically engage in action research to define problems of practice, set goals, evaluate the attainment of the goals, and refine the actions to achieve continuous improvement. And example might be a school who are struggling with math instruction. The process might begin by analyzing the data and using it to create goals. Then based on pre-assessments, they might research various math programs, offer professional development, and conduct walkthroughs, all the while reflecting on their actions. The purpose of such a process is to improve teaching strategies and student achievement, as well as the school culture and environment.

Professional learning communities focus on answering essential questions about teaching and learning, in particular, these. What do we want students to know and be able to do? How will we get them there? How will we know if they are there? What will we do if they are not there?

Some PLCs choose to add a fifth question-- what will we do if they are already there. By framing decisions around these key questions, PLCs can improve instructional practices, increase achievement, and support continuous school improvement efforts through shared decision making and collaboration.

As an educator, working in a PLC is extremely rewarding and truly elevates the profession, because they are led by teachers and administrators. Although some schools require staff members to participate on at least one PLC, there are usually many opportunities for voluntary participation as well. PLCs have quickly become part of the fabric of learning institutes.

Depending on many factors such as grade level, district beliefs, or specific needs and purposes, teams can be made up of entirely teachers or include administrators, community members, parents, even students. Ultimately, however, they are mission driven. For the most part, the school improvement team is the one that smaller PLC teams such as grade level, content, response to intervention, or data teams report to in order to provide the data necessary to inform decisions around continuous improvement efforts and initiatives and goals.

The school improvement team is the one most closely aligned to site-based management systems and is the one that reports to the district and sometimes even your state's department of education. Let's review what was covered in this lesson. First, we defined what a professional learning community is and listed some examples.

Next, we looked at the history PLCs and introduce Richard DuFour and others. Then we talked about the importance of PLCs, particularly when it comes to problem solving and school improvement. We followed that up with some essential questions and ended by discussing participation and purpose.

Here's today's food for thought. Take the essential questions that were shared in this video and use them to plan a future lesson. For more information on how to apply what you learned in this video, please view the additional resources section that accompany this presentation. The additional resources section includes links useful for applications of the course material, including a brief description of each resource.

Thanks so much for watching. We'll see you next time.

Notes on "History of Professional Learning Communities"

(00:00-00:26) Intro

(00:27-01:08) My First PLC

(01:09-02:21) Definition of PLC

(02:22-02:52) History of PLC

(02:53-03:57) Importance of PLC

(03:58-04:37) Essential Question

(04:38-05:49) Participation and Purpose

(05:50-06:45) Summary/Food For Thought

Additional Resources

History of PLC

This page on the All Things PLC website outlines the history and important movements of the Professional Learning Community.​

Professional Learning Communities: What Are They And Why Are They Important?

This article provides a high level overview of the PLC and how it is connected to shared leadership.