Professional Learning Communities

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is a professional learning community (PLC)?
A PLC is a school culture focused around student learning. It is made up of collaborative teams working interdependently to achieve a common goal for which members are mutually accountable.

2. What do PLCs collaborate about?
PLCs collaborate about these 4 ideas:
  • What is it we (the school and individual teachers) expect students to learn?
  • How will we know when they learned it?
  • How will we respond when they don't learn?
  • How will we respond when they already know it?

3. How can collaborative team members learn together to improve student learning?
  • Clarify essential common outcomes (skills, concepts, dispositions) per semester by course or content area.
  • Develop multiple common formative assessments per year for each course or content area.
  • Establish a specific target or benchmark score that is sufficiently rigorous to assure success on high stakes assessment.
  • Analyze results.
  • Identify and implement improvement strategies.

4. What are the keys to effective collaborative teams?
  • Embed collaboration in routine practices of the school with the FOCUS ON STUDENT LEARNING.
  • Schedule time for collaboration into the school day and school calendar.
  • Focus teams on critical questions.
  • Make products of collaboration explicit.
  • Establish team norms to guide collaboration.
  • Pursue specific and measurable team performance goals.
  • Provide teams with frequent access to relevant information.
  • Allow teams to learn together in order to better solve student learning issues.

5. On what basis are teams formed?
The fundamental question for creating teams is: Do the people on this team have a shared responsibility for responding to the critical questions in ways that enhance the learning of their students?
The basis for a team may be:
  • Grade level
  • Subject area
  • Interdisciplinary
  • Vertical between grade levels
  • Similar responsibilities

6. We keep talking about norms. What are norms and why are they important?
Norms are collaborative agreements between team members which guide how the team performs together. The norms of a team determine whether it functions as a high-performing team or becomes simply a loose collection of people working together. Norms help to clarify expectations, promote open dialogue, and serve as a powerful tool for holding members accountable.

7. What's the difference between a group of us just getting together and instead forming a real collaborative team?
Structure and focus on student learning!
A collaborative team has structure built into it which allows team members to focus on student learning and stay on task. These structures include:
• Setting norms
• Building an agenda and keeping to it
• Team members taking on specific roles (timekeeper; recorder; facilitator; leader; data specialist; coach)
• Setting SMART goals
• Creating action plans to achieve goals

8. What are the BIG IDEAS of a PLC?
a. We accept learning as the fundamental purpose of our school and therefore are willing to examine all practices in light of their impact on learning.
b. We are committed to working together to achieve our collective purpose. We cultivate a collaborative culture through development of high-performing teams.
c. We assess our effectiveness on the basis of results rather than intentions. Individuals, teams, and schools seek relevant data and information and use that information to promote continuous improvement. We identify students who need more time and support for learning. We identify strategies to improve upon both our INDIVIDUAL and COLLECTIVE ability to teach each essential skill and concept.

9. Where can I find further information?
The website All Things PLC offers information, free resources, research, tools, and support for implementing and fostering effective PLCs.