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Professional Learning Communities and Collaboration

Professional Learning Communities and Collaboration

Author: Trisha Fyfe

In this lesson you will learn about the history and purpose of the professional learning community (PLC).

In this lesson, you will evaluate how the PLC supports collboration for the purpose of continuous school improvement and increased student achievement.

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Welcome. I'm Trisha Fyfe. And in today's video lesson, I'm going to be talking about the topic of professional learning communities and collaboration. As we learn about this topic, we work towards several learning objectives. And we'll use these questions to guide our learning in today's video lesson. What is a professional learning community, or a PLC? And how can we effectively use PLCs is in our teaching to support collaboration for the purpose of school improvement and increasing student achievement?

Let's talk about a history of professional learning communities. And you can see here on this timeline that it dates all the way back to the 1960s. PLCs have been around since the '60s, but became popular as improvement structures for schools in the '80s and '90s. In 1989, Susan Rosenholtz studied 78 different schools. And she determined that culture, and collaboration, and a focus on student achievement led to academic gains. And it was these factors that influenced these 78 schools.

In 1993, Judith and Milbrey looked at organizations that were the most effective when they demonstrated the tenants of a PLC. And those tenants of a PLC included the following. These communities had shared norms and shared beliefs. These PLCs collaborated and respected one another. And they practiced in reflective practices. They also used cycles of continuous improvement and professional growth.

In 1995, Fred and Gary looked at 1,200 different schools. And their findings were that these schools included structures. They had systems in place that helped teachers to have common commitments with one another and shared visions. And their values were shared. It was a very collaborative culture that was found in each of these schools. And the student learning was a responsibility that all of the teachers and instructors took on. So it was a shared responsibility.

In 1995 also, these individuals looked at schools that demonstrated high student achievement. And the findings were that because of these schools and the fact that they had high student achievement, this afforded teachers opportunities to reflect in dialogue and collaboration, and use good reflective practices together. There was also findings that teachers had shared commitments to both student learning and sharing best practices with one another.

In 1998, Professional Learning Communities That Work, Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement was written by Richard DuFour and Robert Eaker. And according to Professional Learning Communities at Work, when a school functions as a PLC, its members have the following in common. They have a shared mission that they pursue collectively. Their vision, values, and goals all match up. And they work together.

They work interdependently in teams that are collaborative and focused on the learning of their student. These schools engage in ongoing collective inquiry. They are always thinking about best practices in the current reality of student achievement and the prevailing practices of the school. So they're always reflecting and applying new and better ideas.

They're demonstrating an action orientation and experimentation method. So they're not afraid to experiment into those best practices that could help them. They participate in systematic processes to promote improvement that's continuous over time. And they maintain an unrelenting focus on the results. They're always having their eye on the end result, how to make it better, how to reflect, and how to work together.

You can see that there are individuals and groups of individuals that have studied PLCs and the positive effects. And most of these are from colleges and universities, so those that are really interested in education and the effect of PLCs in our classrooms. So let's talk a moment about what professional learning communities, or PLCs, are. What is this idea?

Rick DuFour had three big ideas when it came to professional learning communities that ensure that all students have the opportunity to learn. According to DuFour, in addition to being systematic and school-wide, the professional learning community's response to students who experience difficulty is timely. The school quickly identifies students who need additional time and support.

It's based on intervention rather than remediation. The plan provides students with help as soon as they experience difficulty, rather than relying on summer school, retention, and remedial courses. And it's directive. Instead of inviting students to seek additional help, the systematic plan requires students to devote extra time and receive additional assistance until they have mastered the necessary concepts.

Let's talk about the professional learning community and what the culture of collaboration looks like. What is that? Let's first talk about collaboration for school improvement. How can we use a PLC to collaborate for this? It's important for us to set goals together in our PLC, and review the progress towards the goals, and adjust accordingly.

It's extremely important for our groups and our PLCs to celebrate success along the way and remove barriers to success along the way. So look at what is hindering our student achievement levels and figure out how to fix that along the way. We need to make sure that our groups are focusing on results.

We can look at this quote by Cassie Erkens, "What gets measured, gets done." This is an important thing to keep in mind. We need to measure in order to get things done. And that is focusing on the results. We need to make sure that we are hardworking and committed to our schools, and our students, and each other.

One thing to note is that the PLC is something that you do. It's a purposeful commitment to collaboration and a culture that focuses on the important things, students and their achievement. Sometimes people say that they've been doing PLCs for a long time. But this misses the point of these communities and what those three big ideas are.

So how can you institute a PLC in your school? Well, it's important to work as a team, work together to create a shared mission, and visions, and goals for your team. What are your goals that you want to see in your schools, and in your students, and in your communities in school?

It's important for you to use goal setting methods within your PLCs. And using SMART goals is just one strategy for this. And it's important for you to regularly collaborate with members of your PLC, so get together on a regular basis to look at your goals and objectives, review those, reflect on those, and change those if needed.

Let's talk about what we learned today. We discussed the questions, what is a professional learning community, or a PLC? And how can we effectively use PLCs in our teaching to support collaboration for the purpose of school improvement and increasing student achievement? We took a look at the history of PLCs from the 1960s all the way through current, and some main influences on PLCs and their development.

We looked at what a PLC is, and those three big ideas, making sure that your communities are providing the response to students who are having difficult times, and that responses timely, based on intervention not remediation, and is directive. We also talked about the culture of collaboration, and how important it is when you're looking at school improvement to set goals, and review, and adjust accordingly. And we talked briefly about how you can start the process of instituting PLCs in your school, working as a team, using SMART goal strategies, so that you're achieving improvement is continuous, and developing regular meeting opportunities for your PLCs.

Now that you've learned about the PLC and what these ideas are, let's reflect. Have you experienced PLCs in your career or educational experiences to this point? What are the benefits of using PLCs?

Thanks for joining me today in discussing the lesson, professional learning communities and collaboration. I hope you found value in this video lesson. And I hope you're able to apply these ideas, and resources, and tools about PLCs to your own teaching. As you reflect on this new information and how it can be applied, you may want to explore the additional resources section that accompanies this video presentation. This is where you'll find links to resources chosen to help you deepen your learning and explore ways to apply your newly acquired skill set.

Notes on “Professional Learning Communities and Collaboration”


(00:00- 00:30) Intro/Objectives

(00:31- 04:13) History of PLCs

(04:14- 05:10) “Big Ideas” of PLCs

(05:11- 06:33) Culture of Collaboration

(06:34- 07:11) Instituting a PLC in Your School

(07:12- 08:18) Recap

(08:19- 08:57) Reflection 

Additional Resources

All Things PLC

This is a collaborative website with shared resources from Solution Tree. The resources, articles, and posts are based upon the Professional Learning Community model. It is a great shared learning site for teachers.

Collaboration through Professional Learning Communities: Sanger Unified School District

This article focuses on the Professional Learning Community and collaboration as modeled by one school district. Educators can use the PLC structures highlighted by Sanger as they engage in exploring a PLC model for their district.

10 Steps to Creating a PLC Culture

This blog entry by Greg Kushnir provides 10 easy action steps to begin to build a PLC culture in your school.