The term professional learning community is used in various ways. It can be used to describe every possible action that takes place in the field of education, as long as multiple persons are involved. It can refer to a grade level teaching team, a school committee, a department in a school, a whole school district, a national professional association, and so on. This is probably the most common form of collaboration or team work in all the schools around the world.
In my school we use teams for two different purposes. First, we have teams that organize the everyday life in school. One team that takes care of all the events we have, one team to organize PD events and materials for our teachers (I belong to this team and will write about it more later on), one team to take care of our international collaboration projects with European schools, one team to take care of the emotional well-being of students and personnel, and so on.
Second, we form a team to plan and execute the team-based learning unit that we have every year. We start the forming of the teacher team in the spring. The team usually consists of 5 teachers from different academic fields. One of the goals of the unit is to give the students possibilities to work on cross-curricular topics. The planning of the unit starts with setting the goals and common values. This phase usually takes a lot of time, because the teachers have to familiarize themselves with all the curriculums for the different subjects and then set COMMON goals. Sometimes it helps if the team decides on different roles to help goal setting. Here is one example of a handout you can use:
Richard DuFour in his book Learning by Doing (2006), introduces some principles that should be applied when talking about professional learning communities.
1. The very core of a PLC is the focus and the commitment to the learning of all students. To be able to do this the members of the PLC must have a clear vision what the values and visions of the organization are. The assumption is that if the organization wants to become better in helping the students learn, the teachers must also be learners.
2. Collaborative teams that are working towards a common goal form the PLC. The team members work interdependently to ensure learning for all. Collaboration is a way to get to the results. “In a PLC, collaboration represents a systematic process in which teachers work together interdependently in order to impact their classroom practice in ways that will lead to better results for their students, for their team, and for their school.”
3. The teams are action orientated and engage in collective inquiry. They are interested in both best practices in learning as well as teaching. They understand that the most powerful learning involves action. Learning by doing develops a deeper understanding than just learning by reading or thinking. Teams are also constantly searching for better ways and do not settle for status quo. They implement new ideas and strategies, analyze change and apply knowledge for continuous improvement.
4. Finally, the members of PLC teams understand that their work must be continuously assessed. Ongoing assessment of the concrete results helps the teams to develop and improve.