Are There Disadvantages of Professional Learning Communities?
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The District

Are There Disadvantages of Professional Learning Communities?

Cody Caudill
Jun 24, 2024

Professional learning communities thrive on collaboration and a common approach to education. Even with a focus on working and improving together, they still have their challenges. In this article, we’re looking at some of the most cited disadvantages of professional learning communities and what your PLC can do to avoid these pitfalls.

  1. Common education fears

  2. Limited higher-level support

  3. Time constraints

  4. Disorganization

  5. Collaboration issues


1. Common education fears

According to a 2020 Edutopia article, some educators are concerned that the collaborative work of PLCs is a detriment to innovation and individuality. They claim that when everything is “common” there’s no room for creative thinking or experimentation. It is possible to have too much groupthink or conformity in any process, group, or organization. But that doesn’t make common assessments or processes the enemy.

PLCs value student learning and commit to continuous improvement. They understand the need for differentiated instruction to make sure all students receive the support they need to learn best. If they find that’s not happening, they adjust. 

Common assessments and best practices are the baseline for analysis. They’re not the end-all-be-all of education. When everyone starts from the same place, it’s easier (and more intuitive) to make adjustments for students who need more support or more challenges. A common approach also makes it easier to identify where you have gaps in your educator PD.

A common approach shouldn’t stifle experimentation or innovation. Instead, it should act as the control group. It provides underlying consistency so it’s safe for members of PLCs to take risks and look for new ways to evolve while anchoring them to a current, successful best practice.

2. Limited higher-level support

School-level PLCs may feel like they need more support from the district to do their work. PLCs may focus on the implemented curriculum that teachers share in the classroom and the attained curriculum that students actually learn. In contrast, the district may focus too heavily on the intended curriculum of what should be taught.

Additionally, districts may push schools to focus on goals that don’t address student learning. Outside factors like student discipline or staff morale may be district goals, even if they’re not PLC goals. To prevent this type of disconnect, make sure both school and district leaders are members of your PLC.

Communication and collaboration are keys to success. Invite district representatives to your PLC meetings. Keep them informed about research and changes you implement. When they’re included in the fold, it’s easier to align priorities and goals rather than having a school vs. district mentality.

3. Time constraints

PLC members may feel they don’t have the time to collaborate to achieve the best results. This could include feeling a time crunch on meetings, when analyzing results, or reviewing research and documentation. PLC work is an ongoing process. It shouldn’t be bound to meeting times. Holding regular meetings and working sessions is helpful to keep cycles on track, but they’re not the only times you can—or should—do PLC work.

It’s critical to make time for regular member meetings. Based on your PLC cycles you can set an appropriate cadence, whether it’s weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly. It’s also helpful to make time to collaborate and discuss PLC work during the school day. You might do this during teacher in-service days or prep periods. If meeting time is part of the school day, it becomes part of the job and not a voluntary after-school activity.

It’s also important that administrators support PLCs and value the time set aside to meet and do this important work. They shouldn’t try to co-opt scheduled PLC meetings and collaboration time to do other work or fulfill other goals. Admins can also provide more resources for educators to support asynchronous collaboration that they can expand on during face-to-face meetings.

4. Disorganization

PLCs can be large and have many members and subteams working together. Without clear goals, members may not use their time, attention, or resources wisely. PLCs need structure to have focused conversations and eliminate confusion about best practices or high-quality teaching methods.

When planning phases aren’t organized, they can lead to a lack of measurable, data-driven progress. If your PLC isn’t seeing positive results, this can lead to lower support, motivation, and enthusiasm to participate. 

A group of strong, level-headed facilitators can keep your meetings, findings, and cycles organized and on track. Electing a group of leaders within your PLC can help you beat disorganization and mitigate any problems that arise.

5. Collaboration issues

If your school or district is new to PLC work, some members may have fears about working collaboratively. A dysfunctional school or faculty culture with cliques could also undermine the collaborative nature of a PLC. 

When working together, even with a like-minded group, there’s always divergent and convergent thinking that happens. It’s natural for viewpoints to clash, especially when you’re working to reach a group-wide conclusion.

Embracing productive conflict and those convergent and divergent ideas can help. When PLCs plan for these idea debates, it creates space for innovation. When you put protocols in place at PLC meetings to make sure everyone feels safe to share their ideas you can achieve the best possible outcomes. Strong PLC facilitators can help guide conversations and moderate debates to promote learning, risk-taking, and innovation.

Use Formative with your professional learning community

When PLCs rely on the right data-tracking and collaboration tools they can eliminate many challenges like disorganization and collaboration issues to see more impactful results. Streamlined, all-in-one tools allow your professional learning community to be more efficient and actionable when experimenting and setting best practices.

Formative gives you the data-collection tools you need for a results-oriented PLC. It allows for easy collaboration and helps you become action-oriented with lesson delivery, assessment, and data analysis all in one place. Formative also provides evidence for effective practice and a space for PLCs to reflect on that effectiveness. Other great features of Formative that help boost your PLC goals include:

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