Professional Learning Communities in education – a hot topic but do they really work?
Professional Learning Communities in education (PLC) are organized groups of teachers that have the goal of bettering instruction and student performance.
Pioneered by Rick Dufour, author of Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement, PLCs seek to address three questions:
– What is it we expect students to learn?
– How will we know when they have learned it?
– How will we respond and what will we do when they don’t learn?
How does this look in a real school? And what are the results of Professional Learning Communities in education?
The Adams Middle School in Westland, Michigan, has shifted from a traditional school to one that is committed to being a model PLC within the past several years as a response to below-average testing scores on district and state tests. Teachers are given one hour per week to meet with their learning team, which at Adams is determined by discipline. The teachers work to identify areas of strengths and weaknesses, best practices, and to give and receive advice from others in a safe, respectful setting.
While these are teacher-centered, administrations need to be as fully committed. Adams’s principal, David Ingham, restructured the schedule to carve out an hour a week for teachers to meet. Eighth grade teacher, Susanna Smelcer, says, “This gives us a set time when we can share what’s working and explore what’s not working with each other.”
By focusing on the above questions and working together, Adams Middle School turned their scores around. All areas showed “significant and steady increases.” Another interesting note: students saw continuous improvement in test scores between sixth and eighth grades, which does not typically happen in middle school.
Adams is only one of the schools across the country that has seen positive results with the implementation of PLCs. Of schools that reported operating as Professional Learning Communities in education for 2.5 years or more, 90.6% saw increases in standardized math scores over a three year periods. 81.3% saw increases of between five and twenty-six points in English/language arts scores.
Studies of three elementary schools showed that students from minority and low-income families, who typically had less than fifty percent proficiency rates on state tests, were able to increase their test scores to achieve seventy-five percent proficiency rates. That is a huge statistical increase. In common in each of these schools was the commitment to working collaboratively as a PLC.
In addition to improved student performance, Professional Learning Communities in education give teachers much-needed support. Isolation is a common problem among teachers and is a major factor in teacher attrition rates; having a community in which to discuss problems and solutions can be tremendously helpful. Schools with PLCs often see less teacher absenteeism, higher morale, stronger commitment to the school’s mission, and greater job satisfaction.
Studies have shown that teachers need to focus on improving teaching and learning in order for PLCs to work effectively. Teacher morale is a positive side effect, which can in turn lead to higher achievement, but the focus needs to be on the students.
Visit All Things PLC to learn more about schools that have built successful Professional Learning Communities in education.