By Alain Poirier, education consultant and CAR coach, and Amélie Roy, transfer and innovation advisor at the Centre de transfert pour la réussite éducative du Québec (CTREQ).
Working in a learning community (PLC) means collaborating to support learning, focusing on the learning of all students, and tracking outcomes for continuous improvement. Learn about the basics of PLC work and inspiring stories from teachers and professionals in the video "What Does Working in a PLC Mean?" produced for the project CAR: Collaborate, Learn, Succeed.
PLC refers to the way schools operate by creating collaborative teams (e.g., grade, subject, division) of teachers and professionals who work together in a systematic way to support the learning of all students. In a PLC, school staff members engage in an ongoing process of collective inquiry to improve instructional practices and achievement.
PLC is conceived as the organization as a whole (the school or school service center) or the sum of the collaborative teams that comprise it (1,2).
Working in CAP means:
1) Collaborate to support learning,
2) focus on learning for all students and
3) track results for continuous improvement.
Collaborating to support learning
Collaboration is about breaking out of isolation! School staff who work in PLCs work as a team rather than in silos. They share ideas and strategies, build on each other's strengths, and open their doors to help each other. In a PLC, school staff members share responsibility for the success of ALL students, including those outside their classrooms. You hear them say, "What will we do to help OUR students learn?
Collaboration is learned and built. In order to collaborate effectively, school staff members recognize that working together will help them achieve their common goal. They make time for each other, build trust and regularly question their teaching practices. By working together, school staff learn from each other, which allows them to continuously improve and implement the most effective strategies.
Focus on learning for all students
In a PLC, school staff members believe that all students can succeed if they are given sufficient opportunities to learn what is essential to their success. They establish common learning targets that are clearly communicated to students. They use the most effective teaching strategies, which are supported by both research data and evidence of student learning.
Focusing on learning involves having discussions that focus on collectively finding an answer to the following key questions: What do we want our students to learn? How will we know if they have learned? What will we do to help them learn?
Track results for continuous improvement
In a PLC, school staff members collect evidence of learning or observation data on an ongoing basis using common tools (e.g., observation grid). They compile the data collected, for example by creating a class portrait, so that it can be analyzed collectively in a collaborative meeting.
Based on the findings of student progress, teachers and professionals question the most effective teaching strategies and plan future interventions together to help both students who have achieved the targeted learning and those who have not.
In a PLC, school staff members not only monitor student progress, but also measure the achievement of educational project goals and the evolution of their collaborative work in order to continuously improve their team functioning.
Facilitating the cultural transformation from school to PLC
The idea of operating in PLCs is appealing, but it involves a cultural transformation that is often underestimated. Culture refers to everything that defines the school team or unites the individuals on it: climate, interpersonal relationships, leadership, pedagogical and management practices, routines, etc.
All these distinctive elements are bound to change as the transformation to CAP proceeds, which is why it is wise to "cultivate one's garden" upstream, i.e. to prepare oneself well by initiating actions aimed at gradually moving towards a more collaborative culture.
For example, school staff need to reflect together to recognize the value of collaboration, develop a shared understanding of what it means to work in PLCs, and put in place the facilitating conditions. Principals play a crucial role in fostering this collective reflection.
Here are some conditions to put in place to facilitate CAP work:
- Establish a shared mission, vision and values focused on collaboration and success for all students.
- Create a climate of trust and caring in the school.
- Agree on priorities related to student learning and well-being (educational project) to be worked on as a collaborative team.
- Sharing leadership (e.g., developing a team of instructional leaders who assist the principal in facilitating collaborative work in the school, recognizing and using the expertise and strengths of each team member, making instructional decisions collectively).
- Establish a formal structure for collaborative work on teaching-learning by allocating meeting time and resources.
- Take action! Ask yourself the following questions to move forward: Where are we? What are our strengths and challenges? What do we want to achieve first? What will we do to get there? Who/what will we need?
- Dufour, R., Dufour, R., Eaker, R., Many, T. W., & Mattos, M. (2016). Learning by doing (3e ed.). Solution Tree.
- Leclerc, M. (2012). Professional Learning Community: A Guide for School Leaders. Presses de l'Université du Québec.