A PLC would not exist if not for its members. Selecting members that work well together is a crucial step in the successful creation of professional learning communities.
PLCs typically have four to six members. This number can be flexible to suit the needs of your school, but it needs to be large enough to bring a diversity of perspectives and experiences to the table. It also needs to be small enough to allow specific discussions of each member’s work.
Include an even number of participants if possible, as this makes it easier for members of the PLC to work in pairs. Working in pairs between sessions decreases the amount to be discussed during a full group meeting and increases the opportunities for teachers to work towards the shared goals of the PLC. For example, two teachers can try the same strategy in their classrooms, observe each other, and reflect on the strategy in the context of two different teachers and two different groups of students.
Who to Include in a PLC?
It’s pretty obvious that teachers should be involved in a PLC. These teachers should be supported from all levels of the school system, and it may even be appropriate to include administrators within the PLC itself.
In some cases, it may also be appropriate to include school community members beyond teachers and administrators. Consider including parents, students, and other members of the community when appropriate. The objective of this is to align everyone’s interest and expertise with the school’s vision and goals.
Consider including parents, students, and other community members in a PLC.
In some cases, cross-role communities can provide significantly more value than teacher communities. For example, if a group is considering replacing suspension with community service, the community may provide some ideas. For situations such as this, in which a large group is involved, smaller groups of 4-6 members should be formed to gather feedback. This can then be delivered back to the larger group. Try to ensure a diversity of opinions within each smaller group rather than having one group of teachers and one of parents, for example.
Successfully implementing PLCs also requires support from all levels of the school system. Administrators have an important role to play in this. They should effectively enable teachers to participate in PLCS, and should also be involved in PLCs themselves. This can be a group of other administrators, or include an administrator in each teacher PLC. Find out what works best for your school.
How to Find Members
Professional development within your institution is likely mandatory for all teachers. PLCs, on the other hand, should be something that members join voluntarily. However, a strong incentive to join may be necessary to find others who are interested in committing to an PLC.
The easiest way to find members for your PLCs is to simply ask people. Your school or district may already have groups that meet regularly. PLCs can be formed by creating smaller groups within an already existing group of people who have a mutual interest in investigating particular teaching strategies.
Principals and other district administrators may already have a good idea of who may be interested. Ask your colleagues if any of them are interested in joining a PLC, and if they have any suggestions for others that you should contact. Administrators will also be important for help with PLC logistics such as time, space and other resources. Administrators should know whether it is possible to arrange for release time or other contractual benefits for participation in the PLC and how to best accomplish this. It’s a good idea to get them involved early in the process.
Principals and other district administrators may already have a good idea of who may be interested.
A second method to finding members is to make announcements or distribute flyers. Make an informational announcement at the next faculty meeting or other gathering to start recruiting. This announcement should include:
- The goal for the PLCs
- Why it is important
- What you expect participants to do during the PLCs
- What you expect the benefits will be
Make sure to communicate your excitement and interest in creating professional learning communities. Provide as many details as possible, ensuring that it is clear that some details will be determined collaboratively during the first meeting.
Distribute a handout with a summary of the information and a method for teachers and administrators to indicate their interest. This handout can also be delivered to school mailboxes for those who were not present at the meeting.
Finally, consider holding an open house or assembly style meeting to explore PLCs as an option within your school. Poll some of your colleagues to determine a suitable time and contact the appropriate administrator to arrange a location. Invite people to the meeting by either inviting people in person, through the announcement and handouts mentioned above, or an email invitation. Indicate that this will be an informational meeting only. Introduce the goal of the PLCs and the topic of differentiated instruction so that members of your school community can make an informed decision on whether or not they would like to participate. Allow some time after the meeting, typically a week, for those who would like to participate in a PLC to respond indicating their interest.
Figuring out who will work well together may seem like a daunting task. You want to include a diversity of opinion within each professional learning community, but don’t want to have a teacher singled out.
Most people prefer forming their own groups, and some research has indicated that these groups are more productive. However, other research shows that these groups enjoy the experience of working together, but don’t always get a lot done. Groups should be formed in a way that furthers the learning goals of the professional learning community. With a PLC, diversity within teaching styles is very important. Keep this in mind when determining how your PLCs will be organized.
You have several options when deciding who to include in each professional learning community. You can let teachers choose their own groups, select groups yourself, or some combination of the two. How you select groups will largely depend on the unique situation in your school or district.
PLC Group Selection Methods
|Members Choose Own Groups:
Hold a meeting with everyone who is interested in participating in a PLC, and have them create groups by the end of the meeting.
|These groups likely already exist within your school or district.
||Diversity within each PLC may be limited.
|Groups Selected for Members:
Assign each PLC member to a group yourself. Announce group members either at a meeting or through email.
|You have more control over the effectiveness of the group dynamic by ensuring diversity of participants.
||Personal conflicts may exist within the group that you are unaware of. This, or a more reserved personality, might prevent teachers opening up early on about teaching strategies.
Consider having your teachers select a partner that they’d like to work with, and then arrange these partners amongst professional learning communities. Announce final group members at either a meeting or through email.
|Teachers are more likely to open up, given the presence of at least one person who they trust within the group.
||This may lead to slightly decreased diversity within the PLC.
Chapter ThreeCreating Effective PLCs