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Back to the Top Teaching Blog
September 23, 2014

Professional Learning Communities (PLC) and How to Use Them

By Meghan Everette
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    Professional Learning Communities (PLC) are not a new idea. The small groups of teachers, versus one large faculty meeting, are used to focus in on student achievement, as well as the teacher behaviors that bring about changes. PLCs look different depending on the group, school, or district that is working together. Whether you are creating a formal group in your school, looking for a community to join, or are a new teacher and don’t know what to expect, there are a couple things to consider when joining in professional learning.

     

    In Person Versus Virtual Learning

    When and how you meet for a PLC can be as varied as the topics you cover. I’ve been a part of several successful PLCs with very different structures. The biggest difference between my groups are where they meet, be it in person or virtually, and how much the meeting is driven by a moderator.

     

    In-person meetings are perhaps the most typical meeting type for a school when structuring learning communities. TeachersA PLC in Action will either elect to join a group from several options or will be placed into a group by grade level, talent, or need for instructional change. The value of a face-to-face meeting is that no emotion is lost in translation and it is easy to show work samples or examples. The drawback to assigned meetings is the time commitment; teachers will either be missing their class or be held after hours in order to meet. Another solution is to carve dedicated time from the instruction schedule. I worked with a school that allotted two 50-minute data meetings each week in lieu of staff meetings. The participants were the grade level teams, accompanied by instructional coaches and administration (when needed).

     

    Virtual groups are quickly growing in education. According to a recent Project Tomorrow and Blackboard Inc. research report, 20 percent of students in teacher prep programs are using Twitter to enhance learning, while EdTech says Tweet Deck showing PLC online communitieseducation dominates Twitter; 2.4 million of the 500 million tweets daily are education related. Twitter chats, when groups “meet” at a given time and a moderator posts questions using a specific hashtag, often see repeat chatters making an online PLC pop up each week.

    Tech tools like Voxer, which allows a group to record messages to one another throughout the day and listen at their leisure, are used for personal contacts as well as book studies and conversations continued from conferences. The benefit of the online groups is the availability and ease. Many of my PLC comrades note that titles and positions just vanish and we can really talk about issues. I also enjoy the broader perspective on issues, connecting with educators throughout the country. The drawback is these groups generally don’t work within the same building on the same issues, so application to your situation might not be seamless.

     

    Topics

    What to talk about is virtually endless. My current school PLC is conducting a book study about project-based learning to apply to our teaching practices. We meet weekly for an hour with a set agenda and the guidance of the curriculum instructor and principal. My Voxer group bounces topics around, but this week we have covered integrating ELA standards, instructional time dedicated to science and social studies, and technology integration problems. An online chat tonight with another group of familiar faces will cover the issues surrounding homework. If you are selecting a group to engage in, you don’t have to be an expert. You are there to learn from each other, so feel free to try something a little outside your comfort zone. If you are lucky enough to be the one selecting a topic, be sure to find research, current articles, and best practices videos to work with. Opinions are great, but having some facts to start with can get things moving.

     

    Collaborative Norms

    Knowing how to act professionally in a group can be a big deal. We all have school friends that we let down our guard Collaborative Normswith, but PLC time is really not the place. It is important to make sure everyone stays positive and focuses on the end goal of student achievement. The Seven Norms of Collaboration have been presented at the start of every formal PLC I’ve participated in. They serve as a foundation for the intentions and behavior of the group as a whole. Online and less formal communities may never state their norms, but in general, there is an understanding that everyone works together to learn something new with open and positive communication. Other PLCs create their own norms of working together. After a leader clearly lays out objectives for the time spent together, group members throw out ideas for how they want the group to act, such as no side conversations or questioning, not complaining. A formal list can be created or just a poster of suggestions can hang. The meaning is all the same; stay positive, participate, and plan together.

     

    How to Get the Most of PLCs

    If you want to get the most out of your PLC, you have to truly be a viable part of the network. Whether you are meeting A Table set for PLC Learningonline occasionally, or formally each week, commit to being there. Put your phone away, shut down the computer, and talk to the professionals around you. I’m likely to feel like I need to check in or complete other tasks. I need to update this or that. Time spent in a PLC is not a waste, but it is only not a waste when you make the most of it. Being zoned out won’t benefit you or the group.

    Speak! Share your ideas and opinions. As long as you are constructive in a positive way, you will be heard. If you are afraid that you will sound abrasive, use “I feel . . . ” statements and try  “I wonder . . . ” when wanting to change other’s ideas. Realize that compromise is key and “different” doesn’t equal “wrong.”

    Focus. Focus on the task at hand. If you are there to talk about math, don’t drag in spelling test problems. If you are PLC Scaffold for PBLlearning a new curriculum, don’t badger and belittle another resource from the past. Keep outside issues just that: outside. You want to make your time together is focused and meaningful. Outside beefs will just drag you down. Someone once told me a person who complains is like a person who throws up in a meeting; the complainer feels better, but everyone else feels sick. A vibrant description. Don’t be that person!

     

    Final Thoughts

    Is your PLC over but you want more? Is the group you are in not the right fit for you? If you have the power to make a move, look for a group that is positive that you can learn from. Search for PLCs that meet virtually (two of my favorites are #satchat Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET and #EdTherapy every other Thursday at 9 p.m. ET). You can get a complete list of education chats happening and find a group that works for you. Not ready to jump on Twitter? No problem! Get a small group of like-minded professionals together, pick a topic, write some questions, and kick off the conversation. Your PLC might be best served at the local coffee shop on Sunday afternoon, who knows? The point is, get involved and keep learning.

    PLC Talk Moves  PLC Notebook

     

    What PLCs have worked well for you?

    What are your favorite education chats to be involved with?

     

     

    Twitter Subscribe to RSS

    Professional Learning Communities (PLC) are not a new idea. The small groups of teachers, versus one large faculty meeting, are used to focus in on student achievement, as well as the teacher behaviors that bring about changes. PLCs look different depending on the group, school, or district that is working together. Whether you are creating a formal group in your school, looking for a community to join, or are a new teacher and don’t know what to expect, there are a couple things to consider when joining in professional learning.

     

    In Person Versus Virtual Learning

    When and how you meet for a PLC can be as varied as the topics you cover. I’ve been a part of several successful PLCs with very different structures. The biggest difference between my groups are where they meet, be it in person or virtually, and how much the meeting is driven by a moderator.

     

    In-person meetings are perhaps the most typical meeting type for a school when structuring learning communities. TeachersA PLC in Action will either elect to join a group from several options or will be placed into a group by grade level, talent, or need for instructional change. The value of a face-to-face meeting is that no emotion is lost in translation and it is easy to show work samples or examples. The drawback to assigned meetings is the time commitment; teachers will either be missing their class or be held after hours in order to meet. Another solution is to carve dedicated time from the instruction schedule. I worked with a school that allotted two 50-minute data meetings each week in lieu of staff meetings. The participants were the grade level teams, accompanied by instructional coaches and administration (when needed).

     

    Virtual groups are quickly growing in education. According to a recent Project Tomorrow and Blackboard Inc. research report, 20 percent of students in teacher prep programs are using Twitter to enhance learning, while EdTech says Tweet Deck showing PLC online communitieseducation dominates Twitter; 2.4 million of the 500 million tweets daily are education related. Twitter chats, when groups “meet” at a given time and a moderator posts questions using a specific hashtag, often see repeat chatters making an online PLC pop up each week.

    Tech tools like Voxer, which allows a group to record messages to one another throughout the day and listen at their leisure, are used for personal contacts as well as book studies and conversations continued from conferences. The benefit of the online groups is the availability and ease. Many of my PLC comrades note that titles and positions just vanish and we can really talk about issues. I also enjoy the broader perspective on issues, connecting with educators throughout the country. The drawback is these groups generally don’t work within the same building on the same issues, so application to your situation might not be seamless.

     

    Topics

    What to talk about is virtually endless. My current school PLC is conducting a book study about project-based learning to apply to our teaching practices. We meet weekly for an hour with a set agenda and the guidance of the curriculum instructor and principal. My Voxer group bounces topics around, but this week we have covered integrating ELA standards, instructional time dedicated to science and social studies, and technology integration problems. An online chat tonight with another group of familiar faces will cover the issues surrounding homework. If you are selecting a group to engage in, you don’t have to be an expert. You are there to learn from each other, so feel free to try something a little outside your comfort zone. If you are lucky enough to be the one selecting a topic, be sure to find research, current articles, and best practices videos to work with. Opinions are great, but having some facts to start with can get things moving.

     

    Collaborative Norms

    Knowing how to act professionally in a group can be a big deal. We all have school friends that we let down our guard Collaborative Normswith, but PLC time is really not the place. It is important to make sure everyone stays positive and focuses on the end goal of student achievement. The Seven Norms of Collaboration have been presented at the start of every formal PLC I’ve participated in. They serve as a foundation for the intentions and behavior of the group as a whole. Online and less formal communities may never state their norms, but in general, there is an understanding that everyone works together to learn something new with open and positive communication. Other PLCs create their own norms of working together. After a leader clearly lays out objectives for the time spent together, group members throw out ideas for how they want the group to act, such as no side conversations or questioning, not complaining. A formal list can be created or just a poster of suggestions can hang. The meaning is all the same; stay positive, participate, and plan together.

     

    How to Get the Most of PLCs

    If you want to get the most out of your PLC, you have to truly be a viable part of the network. Whether you are meeting A Table set for PLC Learningonline occasionally, or formally each week, commit to being there. Put your phone away, shut down the computer, and talk to the professionals around you. I’m likely to feel like I need to check in or complete other tasks. I need to update this or that. Time spent in a PLC is not a waste, but it is only not a waste when you make the most of it. Being zoned out won’t benefit you or the group.

    Speak! Share your ideas and opinions. As long as you are constructive in a positive way, you will be heard. If you are afraid that you will sound abrasive, use “I feel . . . ” statements and try  “I wonder . . . ” when wanting to change other’s ideas. Realize that compromise is key and “different” doesn’t equal “wrong.”

    Focus. Focus on the task at hand. If you are there to talk about math, don’t drag in spelling test problems. If you are PLC Scaffold for PBLlearning a new curriculum, don’t badger and belittle another resource from the past. Keep outside issues just that: outside. You want to make your time together is focused and meaningful. Outside beefs will just drag you down. Someone once told me a person who complains is like a person who throws up in a meeting; the complainer feels better, but everyone else feels sick. A vibrant description. Don’t be that person!

     

    Final Thoughts

    Is your PLC over but you want more? Is the group you are in not the right fit for you? If you have the power to make a move, look for a group that is positive that you can learn from. Search for PLCs that meet virtually (two of my favorites are #satchat Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET and #EdTherapy every other Thursday at 9 p.m. ET). You can get a complete list of education chats happening and find a group that works for you. Not ready to jump on Twitter? No problem! Get a small group of like-minded professionals together, pick a topic, write some questions, and kick off the conversation. Your PLC might be best served at the local coffee shop on Sunday afternoon, who knows? The point is, get involved and keep learning.

    PLC Talk Moves  PLC Notebook

     

    What PLCs have worked well for you?

    What are your favorite education chats to be involved with?

     

     

    Twitter Subscribe to RSS

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