Reclaiming the PLC

How PLCs can put the P-L back in P-L-C.

This blog was co-written by Dr. Mike Stacy, Chief Academic Officer of Woodford County Public Schools in Versailles, KY and Brad Clark. As my prinicipal (many moons ago), Dr. Stacy created professional learning structures that supported collegial, data-based discussions around student growth and effective teacher practice.

The idea of improving schools through the structure of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) was en vogue in 2004.  A decade later, the structure of the PLC remains, but the P-L of the P-L-C is often missing.

Professional Learning Communities that focus on professional learning have the potential to combat barriers to student learning and radically change the learning culture of schools. Teachers and administrators must be diligent in creating a learning culture that values growth for all: students, teachers, and administrators.

So how do we go about building a growth culture within our PLCs?

  • Tinker. A master teacher adapts their practice. They experiment. They fail small so that they can understand causes of student success and diagnose how to optimize meaningful learning experiences in classrooms.

  • Collegial. Foster a professional learning environment within the PLC that uses student work and data as a launching point for self-reflective collegial conversations about effective instructional practice.

  • Blameless. Abandon the “Got Ya” culture that passes blame onto teachers, parents, administrators, students, and circumstances. Every engineer has constraints. Educators, despite variables often outside of our control, are still able to assess problems and implement solutions. As teachers and principals alike shift from problem-based discussions to solutions-based discussions, the accusatorial tone of conversations will give way to a more mindful approach to professional learning.

  • Quality. Agree upon the highest expectations and standards for students. As a community of professionals, develop consistent means for evaluating and measuring the quality of student work.

  • Vulnerability. Be willing to be vulnerable among your peers. Vulnerability is a strength. When teachers and administrators are transparent in self-reflection and practice, they can meet on equal ground without fear of failure hanging over every conversation. If we do not create conditions where growth is a possibility, our learning cultures will never be freed from traditional notions of learning. In turn, neither students or teachers will meet their potential. Administrators at the school and district level will fall short of their potential. Worse still, over the long term the community will suffer.

If administrators and teachers support Professional Learning Communities that place the highest value on a growth mindset, PLCs can be the agent of change for schools. If teacher leaders drive the transformation of PLCs and effective administrators facilitate and support teachers under their supervision, the learning culture that forms will inherently mold and train all learners in the system–both adults and children–to be innovative problem solvers.

What other questions do we need to ask in order to understand the current state of PLCs?

  • Lara

    more qualities

    So true, about the PL often missing in PLCs.  In my opinion, too many schools are doing PLCs rather than being PLCs. Love the list of qualities you provided.  Here are a couple I’d add:

    When we are collegial, we have shared accountability to one another and to our students (“we” rather than “me”, “with” rather than “to” or “for”). Our conversations challenge and raise more questions, moving beyond congenial.

    Questions that drive the PL in the PLC are the questions that matter most to the teachers/students involved, not the questions that have been assigned from outside.

    The Asset Inventory for Collaborative Teams provides feedback to PLCs and can lead to steps for strengthening how the team learns with and from one another.

  • robinreid

    Effective PLCs

    I agree Brad, Adminisrators and teachers need to have a discussion about how to refocus their  Profession Learning Communities.  I love your comment about how PLCs should be used as the agent for change. Working with peers is highly effective.

  • bradclark


    Thanks for the resource to share Lara and your point about shared accountability is one that I have been chewing on a lot lately.  Before we can ask for change, we have to exemplify/model the change/shift in mindset.  If we want more from the PLC we also have to bring our A game to the PLC.

    When we have been a part of a PLC that is an agent of change, it changes us as educators.  I keep trying to replicate that experience. So how de we scale the culture of a high quality PLC?

  • CherylSuliteanu

    lead a horse to water

    This is such an important conversation, and one that I think resonates far and wide.

    The driving question we are working to answer here is how to inspire others to focus on the team effort, rather than the “me” effort.  Truly, my only suggestion is to teach my students how to be part of a team.  My influence over my peers is limited, yet my ability to teach my class of 5th graders the skills needed to be a responsive, committed, and positive team player is what I focus on daily. The communication skills needed to be part of team projects is one of the most difficult, and most relevant to the focus and purpose of PLCs.

    As I teach my students these skills as part of implementing PBL this year, I am now thinking about how to bring the concepts of PBL to an adult level – what if we turn the PLC format into a project based learning-type of format?

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