Big Benefits of Professional Learning Communities
Professional learning communities (PLCs) are formed in schools that are ready to take big strides in improving student learning. The PLC looks at student data, analyzes school systems, and examines all facets of student achievement.
Together, the PLC focuses on the challenges of helping all students learn. Teachers create common outcome statements that show high expectations for student performance. They then research and decide on new teaching practices that will help reach those high levels of student achievement.
While PLCs are set up to help students learn and grow, they also benefit teachers. Let’s take a look at some of the advantages of PLCs in schools.
Better School Community
Teachers have felt isolated in their classrooms for a long time, but in a PLC, they come together with all of their colleagues to discuss teaching efficacy. The vision of PLCs is to create an environment where inquiry happens collaboratively, decisions are made together, and instruction is planned across the whole community.
In a PLC, colleagues visit each other’s classes to observe. Together the visitor and the teacher discuss the observations. At the heart of this process is the desire for all teachers to improve their practices. These observations and discussions also build respect and trust between staff members—qualities that are important in colleagues because of the shared responsibility for student success.
A truly supportive PLC allows teachers to bring challenges and struggles to the group and ask for help. As the problem is discussed, staff members may realize that the problem extends outside of just one classroom and impacts systems used by the whole school. The level of trust that is built allows this problem to be aired and then addressed as a group.
Deeper Teacher Commitment
Teachers in the PLC hold a great deal of responsibility, not just for their students but also for their colleagues. Collaborative teacher groups hold discussions about student achievement and data, model best practices for each other, research and implement new techniques, and accept feedback from peers. This work gives teachers the opportunity to be significant decision-makers in the school.
When teachers have a real say about teaching and learning, they’re treated as the true professionals that they are. This builds their commitment to the profession, to their school, and to their students.
When teachers receive the kind of support that they do from a PLC, they see their own practice grow and evolve. When they realize that their new-found efficacy makes an impact on student learning, they are more likely to stay in the classroom.
In addition to seeing their own skills grow, teachers in PLCs are more committed to the school itself because of their growing relationships with their colleagues. PLC environments have been shown to give teachers more satisfaction, higher morale, and lower rates of absenteeism.
Student Success and Achievement
A guiding question in all PLC schools is “Are students learning what they need to learn?” This question is paramount for schools practicing PLCs because their goal is to improve student achievement. Every teacher is on a team that looks a data to inform them of current student achievement. As a group, they then create goals to improve that level and decide what evidence would show progress toward those goals.
In schools that implement PLC, the learning community helps each teacher understand the data they’re seeing. This data is compared across grades and across grade levels. This comparison helps teachers understand the data that they’re looking at. In addition, when one class’s data shows growth, that teacher can share strategies and ideas with the group. Student data in a PLC is no longer seen as belonging to just one teacher; instead, every teacher is responsible for ensuring every student's’ success.
Professional communities are important ways to empower teachers. Working with colleagues allows teachers to reflect on their own processes and develop their skills. They can receive insight from other teachers as well as provide it. PLCs play to all teachers’ strengths and help them build their practices in new areas. When the PLC focuses on supporting student achievement, it also transforms teaching.
Amanda Ronan is an Austin-based writer. After many years as a teacher, Amanda transitioned out of the classroom and into educational publishing. She wrote and edited English, language arts, reading, and social studies content for grades K-12. Since becoming a full-time writer, Amanda has worked with a diverse set of clients, ranging from functional medicine doctors to design schools to moving companies. She blogs, writes long-form articles, and pens YA and children's fiction. Her first YA series, My Brother is a Robot, is slated for release by Scobre Educational Press in September 2015.