Rethinking Learning
conversations about the future of teaching and learning
Barbara Bray
be creative, innovate, take risks, unlearn to learn
Oakland, CA

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Defining Professional Learning Communities (PLC)
By Barbara Bray    October 19, 2005 -- 02:34 PM

What is a PLC?

A Professional Learning Community (PLC) is comprised of people (teachers, para-professionals, administrators, and other community members) who collectively examine and collaboratively work to improve teaching practice. A PLC can but does not have to be situated in one school or district. With the ability to work online from anywhere at anytime, members of the community can connect, find others with similar interests, study and review existing teaching practice, and do action research to improve teaching and learning.

Being a teacher is challenging work and can be isolating. Many teachers teach the way they were taught which many times tends to be traditional lecture style: the expert or the giver of knowledge. Now with accountability issues, teachers are pressured to meet standards and teach to the test. What I am seeing is more teaching that is prescriptive in nature. In some areas, especially for at-risk students, this style can be  effective in teaching reading but less effective for students to retain deeper concepts. When teachers can interact with other teachers who have similar teaching situations, take the time to test and challenge their ideas, inferences and interpretations, and review and process information with each other, they grow professionally. This learning experience grows exponentially with the expanding exchange of ideas and multiple sources of knowledge from a variety of particpants of the PLC.

A PLC can be a powerful professional development opportunity that encourages change and improves professional and personal learning.

Attributes of PLCs: the Five Dimensions
(adapted from source:
  1. Supportive and Shared Leadership. The collegial and facilitative participation of the administrator shares leadership with his/her staff by facilitating their work.
  2. Shared Values and Vision. All PLC members develop a shared vision based on their commitment to the needs of their students and their desire to improve their teaching practice or grow their own skills and learning.
  3. Collective Learning and Application of Learning (Collective Creativity). PLC members move beyond existing procedures and teaching methods to design strategies for improvement based on high standards, latest research, and best practices.
  4. Supportive Conditions. The environment is risk-free so all members are safe and comfortable to collaborate, communicate, learn, make decisions, problem solve, and share their results and products.
  5. Physical Conditions and Human Capacities.
    • Time to meet and talk
    • Small size of school or PLC
    • Physical proximity of staff to one another
    • Teaching roles that are interdependent
    • Communication structures
    • School autonomy
    • Teacher empowerment
I agree with the first four dimensions. Online PLCs can take the fifth dimension beyond the classroom and school walls.
    • PLC members can meet anytime.
    • Size of school or PLC does not matter if an eCoach is available to develop and guide the structure.
    • PLC members can be anywhere.
    • Anybody can be the teacher or learner.
    • Communication structures need to be designed since working online is a paradigm shift for many.
    • There is no autonomy - there may not be a physical school or place to learn.
    • Teacher and learner empowerment.
The PLC as an Organizational Culture

Most learners adopt the organizationís guiding principles. If these principals are top-down decisions without input from all the stakeholders, the members of the organization may implement them without commitment and belief that they will affect positive change. The organization will be more successful if all members are valued and involved in the decisions on the direction of the community right from the beginning.

A sense of relational trust -- linking the notions of respect, competence, personal regard, and integrity with academic achievement -- also strengthens the community and makes shared decision-making possible. (Gordon 2002)

Categories: "Community" "Collaboration"

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Comments: Add New Comments
By small Camille LoParrino      October 26, 2005 -- 07:31 PM

I was just reading something about this recently where it said how unbeliveable it is that teachers received computers before they received telephones.  Also, in this modern times of telecommunications, teachers do not even know whatís going on in the rooms next door to them.  .  Letís get on those computers, ladies, and e-pal away, eh?


Reply to Camille LoParrino

By Tina Krenov      April 29, 2009 -- 01:06 PM
At our site, there seems to be an impression that in a PLC environment, NO decisions should be top-down. My personal thought is that some decisions can/must be top-down for a variety of reasons that are sometimes beyond the control of the teacher or even the principal. What do you think?

Reply to Tina Krenov

By Amanda Collins      July 16, 2009 -- 08:14 PM
I have to agree. Sometimes decisions need to be made by the principal in order to make progress. If you collabrate every decision, nothing gets done. I think in a PLC model, too much emphasis can be placed on collabration when you, the PLC leadership team, need to chose which decisions are important enough to include the rest of the staff.

Reply to Amanda Collins

By Socorro Rios      August 4, 2010 -- 06:46 PM
After reading your initial post on your blog, I want to share my opinion about PLC. I think you really are participating in a Profesional Development Community when you are actually learning in a a nurturing environment that encourage faculty collaboration in the effort to develop effective strategies to enhance student learning in our schools. In a learning community, teachers focus on learning rather than teaching, work collaboratively, and hold yourself accountable for results.

Reply to Socorro Rios

By small Deborah Hatchell-Carter      August 7, 2010 -- 07:28 PM


Our PLC  has taken our school from a PI 2 (program improvement year 2)  to a PI 1 school in just one year's time. The implementation of the  PLC approach at our site has shifted the culture of our school for the better. Our teachers are far more collaborative than ever before, since they have been given the time each week to work as a  grade level together. This has strengthened their teaching practice and improved student performance. Teachers have built a common, consistent grade level program, common assessments, and student progress monitoring practices. This has also built distributive leadership school-wide and helped grade level teachers set and meet SMART goals for ELA and Math achievement, as well as accelerated goals for targeted subgroups of students to close our achievement gap. PLC is a very valuable professional development and school reform tool, as our story indicates...IT WORKS...BUT IT TAKES A LOT OF WORK....

Reply to Deborah Hatchell-Carter

By angelica laurencon      August 9, 2010 -- 05:02 AM
Professional learning communities could replace the old and inefficient educational systems in Europe and wordlwide. It's expensive, the contents don't fit any longer to the reality .... and the amazing quantity of knowledge wordlwide available should be translated to those how need it: the deciders of tomorrow.

Reply to angelica laurencon


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