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What Makes An Effective PLC? 4 PLC Best Practices To Implement

Written by
February 26th, 2018

While many PLCs are successful, others are struggling to deliver on the promise of improved student outcomes. 

If you’re …

  1. Faced with a PLC that needs a little TLC; or 
  2. You’re forming a new PLC and want to do it right

… here are some PLC best practices to put you on the path to success.

Table of Contents

  • What Is a PLC in Schools?
  • 4 PLC Programming Best Practices
  • Best Practice Group PLC #1: Use Norms to Manage Human Dynamics
  • Best Practice Group PLC #2: Let Data Drive Your Work
  • Best Practice Group PLC #3: Create Common Assessments to Drive Faster Results
  • Best Practice Group PLC #4: Take an Inquiry Stance for Continuous Improvement
  • Put Your PLC on the Right Path

What is a PLC in Schools?

While the term professional learning community (PLC) has been around since the 1960s, the concept’s tipping point arguably occurred in 1998 with the publication of Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement by Drs. Richard DuFour and Robert Eaker.

According to All Things PLC, this breakout book was the first to explain how and why educators working collaboratively with a focus on learning can increase student performance.

Since the book’s release, DuFour and Eaker, along with Rebecca DuFour, have continued to popularize the idea of PLCs across the country. While many PLCs are successful, others are struggling to deliver on the promise of improved student outcomes.

4 PLC Programming Best Practices

PLCs often serve two broader purposes — To improve: 

  1. The skills and knowledge of educators through collaborative study, expertise exchange, and professional dialogue; and 
  2. The educational aspirations, achievement, and success of students through stronger leadership and teaching.

While the specific activities and goals of a professional learning community may vary widely from school to school or district to district, keep these four PLC best practices in mind as you build or work to enhance your PLC.

Best Practice Group PLC #1: Use Norms to Manage Human Dynamics

Anytime you bring a group of people together, personality problems can impede your progress.

One person may dominate discussions and effectively “take over” the group.

Trust may become an issue if team members aren’t willing to admit mistakes or if they refuse to share successful methods with others. Dynamics also shift as people move in and out of the group.

Successful teams within PLCs operate with—and regularly revisit—norms that define how team members should:

    • Communicate;
    • Make decisions; and
    • Respectfully disagree with each other.

These should be written down and agreed to by every member of a team within a PLC.

An educators examines data with his team exhibiting PLC best practices

Best Practice Group PLC #2: Let Data Drive Your Work

A key factor in most struggling PLCs is a lack of data that can drive discussions and inform objective decision making.

At minimum, you need:

    • A robust data platform that provides insights into academic growth and other whole child data at the student, classroom, school, and district levels; along with
    • Insights into teacher performance and school climate.

Without good data that’s easy to access through comprehensive reporting capabilities, PLC team meetings can quickly devolve into gripe sessions that divert attention from the work at hand.

With good data, teams can accomplish great things.

Best Practice Group PLC #3: Create Common Assessments to Drive Faster Results

Some of the most critical data points a PLC can analyze are results from common assessments—what Rick DuFour has called the “lynchpin” of the PLC process.

District 27J in Brighton, Colorado began using common assessments in the 2016-17 school year.

Unfortunately, using Google to manage the data from these assessments proved unmanageable, and the district moved to DnA the following year.

Karla Reider, Instructional Specialist for Assessment and Data, says that educators are “really excited about the progress we’re making. And we are very pleased with the level of support we get from Illuminate as we deepen our commitment to let data drive our decision-making on behalf of our students.”

What Makes An Effective PLC?

With data from common formative assessments, PLC team members can gain clear visibility into how students in any grade level are performing from classroom to classroom and from school to school across the district.

This can and should lead to important discussions about what teaching methods and strategies are making the biggest impact.

These conversations can range from:

      1. General teaching style (e.g., lectures versus hands-on activities); to
      2. Very specific information about how teachers phrase particular concepts.

Discussions about successful teaching methods and strategies are especially important for first-year teachers and experienced teachers who switch grade levels.

Of course, it’s important to frame these conversations without hurting anyone’s feelings.

If a PLC team is following norms and is committed to real collaboration, discussions about teacher effectiveness can be conducted in the spirit of wanting to support all teachers as they learn, grow, and succeed together.

Best Practice Group PLC #4: Take an Inquiry Stance for Continuous Improvement

Data is necessary for student and teacher success, but it’s really nothing in and of itself. Educators must reflect on the data and take action to get any kind of meaningful results. In the K-12 educational context, engaged inquiry keeps educators focused on key challenges and makes positive, innovative change more likely.

Educators can use the Inquiry Cycle to provide more equitable outcomes for all students. The Inquiry Cycle is a conceptual framework that outlines five steps for successful reflection and action:

    1. Step 1: Assess Your Current Reality – Collect good data and determine what they’re really telling you.
    2. Step 2: Understand Root Causes – Investigate the reasons your data look the way they do.
    3. Step 3: Adopt a Theory of Improvement – What strategies and tactics can improve student outcomes?
    4. Step 4: Set Measurable Goals – Develop concrete metrics and targets, including specific learning outcomes for each student, based on your theories.
    5. Step 5: Plan for Action – Identify who is responsible for achieving goals, how they will do it, and by when.

Put Your PLC on the Right Path

Forming PLCs can dramatically improve student outcomes and make work more rewarding for educators.

By collecting good data and analyzing it using the Inquiry Cycle, you can minimize the distractions of human group dynamics and put your time and energy exactly where it belongs—toward helping all students succeed.

To learn how Illuminate Education can support your PLC needs, reach out.

*****

Illuminate Education equips educators to take a data-driven approach to serving the whole child. Our solution combines comprehensive assessment, MTSS management and collaboration, and real-time dashboard tools, and puts them in the hands of educators. As a result, educators can monitor learning and growth, identify academic and social-emotional behavioral needs, and align targeted supports in order to accelerate learning for each student. 

Ready to discover your one-stop shop for your district’s educational needs? Let’s talk.

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1 Comment

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