Professional Learning Communities – They’re More Than Just Another Meeting

Author: Mandy Sargent, Region 13 PLC Specialist, Instructional Programs and Initiatives


Many districts and campuses are beginning to label specific planning or collaboration time as “PLC meetings” but by the true meaning of the term a Professional Learning Community is not a meeting at all.  Rather it is a culture that develops within a school to ensure that EVERY student is learning at high levels.

Richard and Rebecca DuFour are two of the leading names in education and as principals they worked to develop very successful schools based on a philosophy and process which has been coined Professional Learning Communities.  Along with their colleague Robert Eaker, they have defined a Professional Learning Community (PLC) as “educators committed to working collaboratively in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve. PLCs operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous, job-embedded learning for educators.” (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker & Many, 2010)

Professional Learning Communities are based on three big ideas:  A focus on learning, building a collaborative culture and a focus on results.  The key to first establishing a PLC is to develop a campus culture and systems that support these three ideas and establishing a shared mission and vision that focus on a collaborative commitment to ensuring ALL students learn.


Focus on Learning

It is often difficult for teachers to shift their focus from an emphasis on “What am I going to teach?” to a fixation on “What are my students learning?”  A collaborative meeting within a PLC focuses less on which activities and worksheets will be used for instruction, and more on what specifically students need to learn, how to know if they have learned it, what to do when they don’t learn it and what to do for those students who already know it.

In a Professional Learning Community you do not hear comments like, “It’s my job to teach and his job to learn” or “I gave her the opportunity but she didn’t take it.”  Instead, teachers work collaboratively to ensure that students cannot fail.  As a school, systems are put into place that ensure additional time and support within the school day as mandatory interventions for students, not merely optional opportunities before and after school that many students cannot or will not attend.


Building a Collaborative Culture

In today’s schools, it is virtually impossible for any single educator to ensure high levels of learning for all students.  Instead, in a PLC campus all staff members agree that each individual is mutually accountable for the mission, vision, values and goals of the campus.  Systems are put in place as a school to allow teams the time and structure to work interdependently and learn from each other.

The backbone to a successful collaborative team is trust.  Without trust, interdependent collaboration will not exist.  To build trust teams need shared experiences, an understanding of the strengths of everyone within their team and shared commitments to one another.  Establishing team norms and holding each other accountable for adhering to the agreed upon norms supports team productivity and strengthens trust.


Focus on Results

Decisions within a Professional Learning Community are made based on the impact on student learning.  Rather than setting goals and measuring success by the intentions of the adults in the building, effectiveness is measured by the level of student learning that occurred as a result of the policies, programs and practices put into place.

Teams within a PLC need easy access to data in order to measure effectiveness.  Sometimes this means creating new data tools to intentionally gather information about specific student learning goals and instructional practices.  Teams use data to inform what is working and what is needed in core instruction, intervention support for students who are struggling and enrichment opportunities for students who have already mastered the intended learning.

In high functioning PLCs collaborative teams clarify what is essential for students to learn, create common assessments for learning, analyze data, and base instructional decisions on that data.  When a campus has become a Professional Learning Community collaborative time is no longer considered “another meeting” but is valued as a sacred time to all those involved.

For more information on Professional Learning Communities, you can visit

Region 13 provides trainings and support on PLCs.



DuFour, DuFour, Eaker & Many (2010). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work.  Solution Tree Press: Bloomington, IN.

the attachments to this post:

PLC_Brochure revised 3-26-13 (2)_1
PLC_Brochure revised 3-26-13 (2)_1

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