Teachers and Community Members Practice TLC with PLCs | Edutopia
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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Teachers and Community Members Practice TLC with PLCs

Create a culture of collaboration and constant improvement with professional learning communities.
By Ellen Ullman
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In movies like Dead Poets Society and Dangerous Minds, one heroic teacher single-handedly transforms an entire school system's dysfunctions. It's a nice storyline perpetuated by Hollywood, but far from reality in most schools.

"We need to let go of the idea that heroic individuals will change schools," says Richard DuFour, an education consultant who specializes in creating professional learning communities in schools. "Instead of looking for superheroes, we need to work collectively to help everyone be successful."

PLCs -- groups of educators and community members who work together toward common goals -- are becoming more commonplace in schools as savvy teachers strive for constant improvement in everything from creating lesson plans to changing school culture. They can focus on any subject of interest: technology, improving reading scores, or project learning, for example. A group can be organized by subject, grade level, specialty, or any combination of topics that administrators believe need attention.

It's hard to measure improvements in school culture, but some districts credit PLCs for making important strides toward that goal. The Sanger Unified School District, in Sanger, California, for example, went from being designated as "Needs Improvement" in 2004 to recently celebrating its first-ever Blue Ribbon status after PLCs were put into place. Now, there's close to zero teacher turnover, and student attendance is at 97 percent.

Since PLCs were organized at the district's Jefferson Elementary School, where 60 percent of the students are English-language learners, those students have hit 53 percent proficiency in English language arts, an enormous jump from 3 percent in 2002. In math, only 2 percent of the entire student body now falls below basic proficiency level, down from 68 percent.

For teachers like Nancy Krakowka, a sixth-grade language arts and social studies teacher at Cutchogue East Elementary School, on New York's Long Island, a PLC makes all the difference. "When I started, I was very protective of my curriculum," she says. "But some of my colleagues have better ideas than I do. When you put all these minds together, the end product comes out much better."

Ellen Ullman is a freelance writer and editor in Fairfield, Connecticut, who specializes in education and technology.

Go to "How to Create a Professional Learning Community," "How to Break Down Barriers to Starting PLCs and "How to Use Twitter to Grow Your PLN."

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Comments (16)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

marc gamble's picture

I am puzzled how "working collectively to help everyone be succesful" squares with pay based on who gets the best test scores, as proposed by a recent AFT position, and looming on the horizon in districts nationwide. Can we have our working collectivly cake and eat our competition based pay cake?

Paul D Yu's picture

How do PLCs interact with evaluation frameworks like Framework for Teaching from Charlotte Danielson? A little different perspective to the same question as marc.

Alexander McDonald's picture

Restructuring one's school to function as a professional learning community, as described by the DuFours, makes a difference in student learning. The focus on meeting the needs of every student, and creating systemic approaches to developing curriculum, instruction, assessment, and interventions develops collaborative skills among staff.

I believe these skills extend beyond the school to ultimately influence all actions related to teacher professional growth. Once teachers develop the skills to truly work collaboratively in their schools, they transfer these behaviors to working with teachers in other schools and other districts as well. PLCs are a framework that help guide teacher professional growth, and if supported correctly will impact everyone's learning significantly.


Alexander McDonald's picture

Marc, this post is in response to your comment "...how "working collectively to help everyone be succesful" squares with pay based on who gets the best test scores..."

If test scores are the only measure, then I agree it does not square at all. If it the measure of student achievement is a reflection of the growth that occurs, on average, at a school over the course of the year, then I think it squares quite nicely. I believe that when a staff unequivocably pulls together to work collaboratively, support each other, and meet the needs of all students that great things can be done!

But, if it comes down to how my kids do on this year's test, what incentive is there for my peers to help me? We need to truly all be in this together to make the most impact!


Susan Rogers's picture

I believe PLCs fit into Danielson's Framework for Teaching quite well. In the second edition of her book, you will notice Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities, Component 4d: Participating in a Professional Community. The elements under this component are: relationships with colleagues, involvement in a culture of professional inquiry, service to the school, and participation in school and district projects.

Amram Rede's picture
Amram Rede
education master science teacher from Indonesia

Wow! Smart creation. It's make student confident

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