Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What is a Professional Learning Community (PLC)?

This is an article I shared with my staff as we began our journey this year of formalizing our PLCs.  Obviously it is based off the work of DuFours :).  

PLC, MCA, RtI, CFA - it seems like you cannot hear about education these days without hearing an acronym.  Very rarely does anyone explain what the letters mean.  Hopefully this article will shed some light on how professional learning communities (PLCs) function at Lincoln Elementary School.

Jim Collins (author of Good to Great) found that great organizations “simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle, or concept that unifies and guides everything.”  The most exciting characteristic of a PLC is that it simplifies the complexities of the work of schools to three big ideas:

1.       Big Idea #1 - The fundamental purpose of the school is to ensure that all students learn rather than to see that all students are taught – an enormous distinction.  If the emphasis is on learning members of a PLC will concentrate their effort and energy on four critical questions thus ensuring learning for all:
a.      What is it we want students to learn – by unit, grade level, and course of instruction?
b.      How will we know when each student has learned – this is, acquired the knowledge or skills deemed essential?
c.       How will we respond when students experience difficulty in their learning?
d.      How will we enrich and extend the learning for students who are already proficient?
2.       Big Idea #2 – Educators that work as a PLC recognize that they must work together to achieve their collective purpose of learning for all.  They strive to promote a collaborative culture.  The powerful collaboration that characterizes PLCs is a systematic process in which teachers work interdependently to analyze and improve their classroom instruction in order to improve results for students.
3.       Big Idea #3 – PLCs judge their effectiveness on results rather than intentions.  They strive to find the evidence of student learning and use that evidence to inform and improve their instructional strategies.  Common formative assessments (assessments used to inform instruction and not assign a grade) are used so teachers can compare their students within their classrooms and with student in other classrooms.  Individual teachers can call on their PLC team members to reflect on areas of concern.

The following are examples of activities teachers participating in a PLC may be involved in:
·         identifying essential outcomes
·         creating common formative assessments based on essential outcomes
·         examining student progress on formative and or summative assessments
·         identifying students who are in need of additional time and support
·         identifying specific instructional strategies designed for specifically identified students
·         reviewing data over time

The professional learning community model is a powerful way of working together that can affect the practices of a team and school.  It requires school staff to focus on learning rather that teaching, work collaboratively on matters related to student learning, and hold itself accountable for the result that each student is learning.

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