[Professional Development] 5 Tips to Start Your PLC on the Right Foot

Thursday, August 18, 2016 -- Scott Sterling

Professional Learning Communities have become a staple of modern education, but there tends to be a lack of cohesion when it comes to what a PLC actually is. For some, it’s a grade level or subject area team meeting. For others, it’s based in online forums. There isn’t a right or wrong way for PLCs to function, but there are some tried-and-true strategies to make them more beneficial.

1. Avoid the echo chamber

Grouping too many like-minded educators in a single PLC means less professional growth for everyone involved. When everyone agrees with what is being said, no one will be challenged to meaningfully grow and evolve their practice.

So, make sure your PLC groupings are as diverse as possible. If you already have grade level or subject area meetings, make PLCs a place for teachers who normally wouldn’t work together to collaborate. Try creating PLC groupings based on shared interests, partnering with a neighboring school or district, or even by simply drawing straws—whatever works.

2. Establish norms, then let the teachers go

Just like a classroom lesson, to be effective PLCs need uniform procedures and goals. In the first meeting or two, administrators should sit in and model expectations for the practice. It’s also helpful to guide the group to isolate one aspect of their craft that they would like to improve, and put a plan in place for receiving periodic updates. Then, trust the group to get the job done!

3. Make observation an integral part of the community

Even with the best intentions, teachers are often too busy during a lesson to notice everything that’s going on in the classroom. So, make sure that your PLC format prioritizes observation and allows for regular observations to be undertaken by the entire group. This may mean some juggling of schedules to stagger planning periods, but it’s worth it because of the potential for increased growth within the group. If scheduling is simply too hard to facilitate, have teachers take videos of their lessons to give everyone an opportunity to observe at their leisure.

4. Rotate leadership roles

PLCs are meant to be a collegial exercise, not a hierarchical structure. Although it’s best practice to give everyone specific jobs during a meeting (facilitator, recorder, snack provider, etc.), those jobs should rotate with each meeting. Otherwise you risk having the opposite of an echo chamber—a lecture.

5. Use data as evidence

Regular observations are one effective way to help members of your PLC remain objective about their progress. The other is to make sure data is used at every turn. Data can help teachers decide where they need to improve in their practice as well as provide evidence of improvement to help them figure out when they’re on the right track.

Professional Learning Communities are just one of many approaches to help educators connect and grow. Looking for additional ideas? Check out this post on personalized strategies for professional development!