What Are Professional Learning Communities?
The District

What Are Professional Learning Communities?

Cody Caudill
Jun 24, 2024

Conversations about professional learning communities (PLCs) have intensified in recent years. Over the last two decades, PLCs have grown in popularity and are commonplace in many schools and districts nationwide. But they’ve evolved since their introduction in the early 2000s. The term PLC can be ambiguous, so in this article, we’re breaking down what true professional learning communities are and refuting some misconceptions about them.

What is a professional learning community?

According to Solution Tree, a K12 education professional development company, professional learning communities are a “process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve.” 

In other words, PLCs are groups of educators who use cycles of research, experimentation, and analysis to discover better ways to help students learn. Other names for these teams of educators include professional learning groups or collaborative learning groups.

PLCs come from within an educational community. School or district staff members are the catalysts for starting and sustaining them. Most operate at the district or schoolwide level. You may have teams within PLCs grouped by grade level or content area for more targeted research, discussion groups, or planning.

PLCs can deeply impact the structure and culture of a school or district at the foundational level. They allow educators to share best practices across grade levels and classrooms. They also provide opportunities for educators to brainstorm new and engaging ways to drive student achievement. Schools and districts can use PLC frameworks and ideas to guide instruction across all classrooms, select professional development (PD) offerings, and influence curriculum and resource decisions.

4 Misconceptions about PLCs

Because of the ambiguity and evolution of the term, there are misconceptions about what PLCs are and what they do. PLCs are not:

1. Any group of individuals with an interest in education

Some groups of people who are passionate about education may meet regularly to discuss research or education best practices. These are not PLCs. Simply being interested in the state of education or educational research topics isn’t enough to qualify a group as a PLC. 

To be a PLC, the group must come from within a specific educational community. It’s made up of school or district staff members. Yes, these people all share a common interest in education because it’s part of their jobs! But they’re also working together to better their educational institutions. 

They don’t meet simply to share and gain knowledge. Instead, PLCs focus on setting goals and making decisions that are anchored in bettering student learning and achievement.

2. Administrator-provided professional development courses

School and district administrators may provide professional development (PD) courses or sessions on PLCs to educate teachers about them or provide tips to make them run more effectively. The PD session is not the same as a professional learning community. PD is a tool PLCs can use to learn and evolve, but not the PLC itself.

3. Regularly-scheduled meetings

A professional learning community isn’t a meeting. It’s not defined by a date on the calendar or start and end times on a clock. Meetings and discussions are part of the PLC cycle. Without them, when would members have time to collaborate? But the PLC isn’t the meeting. It’s the community of dedicated educators and the ongoing work that they do both inside and outside of meeting times.

4. Programs that you can purchase

A professional learning community isn’t a program you can buy and implement at your school. It’s not something that comes with step-by-step instructions that you can follow to see immediate results. 

Instead, a PLC is a group committed to creating and sustaining processes that grow and change as staff and students change. You may purchase educational or data-collection tools to help your PLC do its work and operate more efficiently, but the program isn’t the PLC.

Optimize your professional learning community with data-tracking and collaboration tools

Though PLCs are more than just tools and programs, these resources can help make the work easier. When PLC members rely on the right data-tracking and collaboration tools for their research and analysis, they can see the most impactful results. Streamlined, all-in-one tools help you be more efficient and actionable when experimenting and setting best practices.

Formative gives you all 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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