A new wave of online learning communities helps address the challenges of revised priorities, distracting social media, and out-of-reach education conferences. They can give new and experienced teachers a way to connect to high-quality resources and educator colleagues around the world.
Professional learning communities (PLCs) are groups of educators that share resources and expertise, and they may work collaboratively to support the work, growth, and spirit of educators. Traditionally, PLCs are localized in your school or district. But increasingly, learning communities leverage tech to include educators around the globe. These connections can be formal, such as a paid membership to a professional organization; informal connections, such as people you meet at a conference or follow on social media; or something in between.
Why Teachers Need a PLC
While the reasons for expanding your PLC might vary depending on where you are in your career, they all center on key principles about self-directed personal and professional growth.
Innovation and support: We all get stuck in a rut sometimes or just haven’t quite figured out how to get past pedagogical challenges. PLCs can provide fresh lesson ideas and give you strategies for implementing new curriculum. They can be that source of inspiration and lift you up when times are tough.
Context and perspective: While it’s convenient and comfortable to ask advice from someone down the hall or in the lunchroom, we can all benefit from learning from educators outside of our building. A good PLC often provides that shift of perspective we need to see challenges in new ways and observe how fellow teachers have solved similar problems in other places. Good ideas can come from anywhere, and when we turn to people from different locations or school cultures, they can help us see new possibilities.
The connections I’ve made with educators around the world have helped me see my work from new angles and inspire me with their creative solutions and novel approaches to teaching.
Look outside your area of expertise
There’s much to gain from leaning on content-area experts—they know your curriculum, face similar challenges, and can help you resolve current problems. However, in my experience, it’s been helpful to create an interdisciplinary PLC with educators in math, science, arts, language, and social studies.
It’s important to keep in mind that there’s always overlap in project-based learning, student-centered classrooms, assessment, tech integration, and finding new ways to engage students and parents. So why wouldn’t we rely on a larger hive mind of talent to help us improve our teaching? Breaking down subject-area silos also helps make connections to other content areas in our own lessons, and by doing so it helps students see their learning in a wider context.
What to look for in a PLC
1. High-quality resources. It can take a while to find a PLC that meets your needs, especially online, where the quality of resources can vary widely. When looking for teaching resources, it’s helpful if they are vetted by trusted experts. Many formal PLCs either have done this themselves through editors and teams of content-area experts or rely on educational leaders like teachers or administrators with a track record of sharing high-quality resources. PLCs developed by tech companies may privilege their own apps and services, but they often share high-quality teaching and learning resources that are device agnostic, usually for free.
2. Training and certification. Many formal PLCs often provide certifications, badging, and other forms of recognition. Getting recognized by a regional, national, or international organization not only helps your professional growth but also tells administrators, parents, and your students that your professional learning is meaningful, rigorous, and backed by a respected organization. Many of these trainings and certifications can count toward your professional growth hours.
3. Community. Often, the best resources we have access to are people. Engaging in dialogue with other educators, through comment threads on posts, webinars, or professional development cohorts, creates a meaningful human connection, and professional relationships formed this way can last much longer than the initial collaboration. Some of the best PLCs allow members to post their own content or questions and reply to posts made by others to encourage ongoing dialogue.
HELPFUL PLCs for educators
Adobe Education is centered on creativity and innovation and provides resources and certifications to teachers for free. Most lessons and resources focus on Adobe apps such as Creative Cloud and Express (formerly Spark), but many are universal in nature, such as goal setting, and are subject-specific resources for social studies, math, and humanities. Join the Adobe Education PLC, Adobe Creative Educator, to join conversations, access training, and earn certifications.
Apple Education Community is the next step in the evolution of the Apple Teacher Learning Center, offering training, certifications, and a new community forum where educators can post content, ask questions, share stories, and engage with others about topics of their choice. Great user-generated content is posted all the time, including ideas about hybrid teaching in higher ed, how to create animations to show the water cycle, and a powerful resource called The Importance of Book Covers.
Look for helpful content created by Apple Professional Learning in topics like edtech, creativity, leadership, and coaching. An Apple ID (free) is needed to sign in to the Community and post to the Forum, but anyone can view the content.
The Journalism Education Association is one of the top scholastic journalism organizations in the country. Their paid membership provides a variety of benefits for journalism teachers and those who embrace inquiry-based learning at the secondary level. Look for great lesson plans and teaching resources, professional development opportunities (including earning a master’s degree in journalism education), and contests and conferences for students. The email listserv is an active place for discussions and advice, and many members share success stories and lesson ideas there.
One of the most trusted brands, National Geographic Education, has a treasure trove of content, including lessons, free courses for teachers, certifications, grants, and more. Their content isn’t just for science and social studies—it extends across all subject areas, including arts and language arts. Some of my favorite resources are their online courses for teachers: “Teaching Geo Inquiry” and “Storytelling for Impact.”