This article on Professional Learning Communities was originally published on EdSurge.
Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) have long supported teachers in their career development, but with the help of technology, they’re now transforming education itself. Research shows that well-developed professional learning communities have a positive impact on both teaching practice and student achievement.
We spoke with educators around the country and discovered seven ways that PLCs are transforming teaching and learning in schools.
1. Common learning goals and objectives
A set of common goals, along with a designated meeting time for focused effort, helps each participant get the most out of a PLC. By setting measurable objectives, educators can use meetings to work together, track progress, and achieve shared teaching goals. Today’s technology makes it easy to collect concrete data and view reports that provide guiding insights.
At Benton School District in Arkansas, teachers meet weekly to discuss common objectives. They have particular goals for students in each grade. “With PLCs, we decide as a team that ‘this’ is really what every student at Benton High School leaving Algebra 1 should know how to do,” says Brandy Beckman, Secondary Math Instructional Facilitator. Uniting around a common goal, teachers share tactics, discuss what is or isn’t working, and trade resources to move students toward their targets.
2. Collaboration between teachers and school leaders
Common goals put teachers and school leaders on the same page. School leaders can keep track of the overall picture while teachers focus on helping students. Often, PLC groups take the lead in creating curriculum, resources, or assessments.
Digital assessment platforms like Edulastic offer an easy way for teachers and administrators to collaborate on the creation of common assessments. professional learning communities then get instant insights across classes to fuel discussion within the group and between leadership and teachers. Faculty at Benton are answering shared questions like, “How can we as a team not just collaborate on the assessment piece, but also on working with students with interventions and enrichments?”
Jenny Parnell, Secondary Literacy Instructional Facilitator at Benton School District believes that the best benefit of the PLCs is the collaborative spirit: bringing together teams of teachers to review data. According to Beckman, shared online workspaces and assessment tools have taken collaboration up a notch.
Digital tools like Google Suite allow for easy sharing and extend the PLC’s ability to work together. This anytime, anywhere access to information speeds up collaboration between meetings.
3. Improved culture and increased teacher retention
The PLC becomes a support for both the emotional and logistical challenges that often overwhelm teachers. Regular group meetings create a space to work through problems with peers and, just as important, celebrate educational victories together. Studies have shown that a culture of support may help retain talented teachers.
In Lafayette, Indiana, Tecumseh Junior High School believes PLCs build tight-knit communities that encourage their teachers’ professional growth. Summer Winrotte, Digital Instructional Coach and Secondary Math Teacher underscores the emotional support the school’s PLCs provide. “We were meeting consistently about six years ago, and it was beneficial,” Winrotte says. “When we went away from that, the building leaders saw a shift, so they’ve been working to get consistent and structured professional learning communities back in to the weekly schedule.” The school recognizes the cultural importance of PLCs and prioritizes them so teachers can continue to collaborate and support one another while working towards student achievement goals.
4. Data-informed instructional decisions
PLCs may level the playing field for all students.
Digital tools designed to return immediate data from assessments, student surveys, and reflections are key to informed PLC discussions. Teachers can have conversations about student progress almost as soon as an assessment or self-reflection is completed. Meetings are more fruitful because technology provides insights and reports that fuel same-day discussions.
Instant reports from Edulastic’s standards-tied assessments help some PLCs track student progress, enabling necessary and timely conversations. “With Edulastic, we can give a test one day and the very next day come together as a PLC group and discuss that data and intervene with those kids immediately, versus two or three weeks down the road when that misconception has already been implanted in their brain,” says Kim Piper, Algebra 1 Teacher at Benton Junior High.
5. Standardized learning for all students
PLCs may level the playing field for all students. At Tecumseh Junior High School, PLC and school leaders collaborate to create common assessments on their “power standards.” Technology makes it easy for teachers to consistently assess student progress with minimal variables. For example, teachers and school leaders can deliver common digital assessments and then work together to identify and remediate students who need support. Independent of the classroom or class period, each student is accounted for and receives the attention needed to succeed.
6. Stronger teacher voice
Regular meetings provide opportunities to track patterns and identify when change may be needed across a school or district. With ready access to concrete data, PLCs can easily make a case for system-wide changes. “If we met once a month we could look at standards together, and if we all agreed that certain standards needed to be changed, we could present to our district.” says Dena Morosin, 4th Grade Teacher in Klamath Falls, Oregon. A districtwide PLC promotes a strong, unified voice when advocating for changes across classrooms.
7. Time savings and lighter workloads with professional learning communities
PLCs encourage teachers to work together in creating common assessments and classroom resources. Under the guidance of the PLC leaders, Tecumseh Junior High PLCs develop assessments over the summer that their groups use to track progress throughout the year. While the initial effort might be time-intensive, teachers save precious time over the course of the school year through common goals, digital collaboration tools, and a shared workload.
PLCs are a powerful way for educators to connect, collaborate, and track common goals. And today, technology is making them more streamlined and effective than ever. “I’m excited with the way some of our PLC teams have been transformed by having access to this kind of data—real-time data—for their students throughout the school year,” Parnell says.
How can PLCs improve teaching and learning in your school?