Professional Learning Communities: What's in It for Me?

December 1, 2017 Douglas Petrick

What is a PLC? Depending whom you ask, or what you read, you will get a few different interpretations. Regardless of the description, there is one common thread within the functioning mechanism for a Professional Learning Community—collaboration. Members of the PLC use experience and discussion to develop a more intelligent approach to teaching students.

PLC’s are more than an initiative du jour. They’re a powerful way for you to discuss best practices for teachers in the classroom. They needn’t be formal. Envision three to five teachers meeting once a month for a ten-minute session discussing one specific aspect of their teaching. Here, the quality of the collaboration, not the quantity of the collaboration, is critical. As you get more comfortable within your Professional Learning Community, then your group can modify the parameters of each session as needed. In the end, a PLC can be a valuable experience that enhances what you already do well for your chosen craft.

Working within a PLC provides different perspectives about why you do what you do. From a teaching viewpoint, a Professional Learning Community guides each member to think clearly and explain his or her point of view. Think about it like you are “vetting” decisions about teaching through the PLC collaborative process. As a coach of high school athletes, I’ve learned much from informal discussions with my coaching peers related to best practices. In essence, this group is a Coaching Professional Learning Community.


Utilize your Professional Learning Community and fuel your creative energies by following the five tips below. Whether you’re knee-deep in a Professional Learning Community or this is your first time around the block, these collaborative principles will help you navigate the road to enriching your educational work.

Create a Professional Learning Community With a Slightly Diverse Cross-Section of Members to Benefit All Stakeholders

Model diversity. Each member of your PLC has a commonality, but each should bring a slightly different perspective to the table. Diversity in the PLC ensures each decision you make and discussion you have is seen through different lenses to benefit the entire collective.

Plan With a Specific End Goal in Mind and Keep All the Stakeholders Focused on a Common Target Throughout the Process

Create an explicit goal and keep your Professional Learning Community on track. There’s nothing more discouraging than sitting in a meeting and thinking “what’s the point of this?” Focus on the specificity of the goal, and communicate more about the process to the PLC. How many steps will it take to achieve the goal? Is this goal for one subset of students? How do you classify the achievement of the goal? It’s easier to identify the steps toward success when the focus of the goal is pinpointed. Here’s an example: One very general goal we have each year for the high school cross country team is to “get better.” A more specific objective is for our athletes to be able to run the last 1600-meter segment of the 5k cross-country high school distance, which is aerobic, as the fastest portion of the race. Detail within that target then leads us to discuss building the aerobic engine, getting athletes used to running faster during the last third of a workout, improving general strength, and developing speed throughout the season.

Leave With Actionable Items Between Collaboration Sessions to Stress Individual Accountability

Formulate actionable items within your Professional Learning Committee and create a seamless flow in between cooperative gatherings. When each member of the team leaves a session with a few actionable items, it adds to personal accountability. Simply put, this provides each member of the PLC to take an active role in the process and sets the table for the next step.

Consider the Opposing Viewpoint and Facilitate Meaningful Dialogue Within Your Professional Learning Community

Perspective is a powerful tool when thinking through a solution. Consider the antithesis of the obvious answer when problem-solving. Look outside of the box, work through your view and the opposing view, and be receptive to arguments presented by members of your PLC. Listening and communicating in a respectful manner cuts through any personal agendas to formulate better solutions.

Identify Best Practices for Educational Delivery Within the Professional Learning Community to Improve the Culture in the Classroom

Since teaching content in the classroom is just half the battle, focus on best practices for content delivery. Zooming in on instructional strategies within your Professional Learning Community identifies the most effective techniques. No matter the subject area or class level you teach, proper delivery of material pulls students into a lesson to improve the culture of the classroom.

Are you a part of a formal or informal Professional Learning Community? What tips do you have in regards to collaborating with your peers? I’d love to hear about your interactions and tips for educator collaborations. Post a comment in the space below, and I will be sure to connect with you.

Want to learn more about PLCs? Listen to my Wiley Network Podcast here.

Doug Petrick holds an Architectural Engineering degree from Pennsylvania State University and a Masters of Arts in Teaching from California University of Pennsylvania. He is currently a high school Physics teacher at Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh. Doug will be regularly contributing to a series for educators on Wiley Network offering practical advice and instructional strategies.

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