Chapter Three

Creating Effective PLCs

Basic Meeting Structure

Once a PLC has been formed, it is important for the members to begin meeting regularly. Over time, you should encourage the members to set their own schedule and begin open door policies, where the PLC members feel open to chat even if not in a formal meeting. However, the first few meetings may require some extra attention and help from the administration level.

It is important to determine how often you will meet, where, and when. Two recommended frequency patterns are:

  • Meet once a month and three daylong gatherings every year.
  • Meet twice a month.

In both cases, your group will not exhaust all there is to talk about in monthly meetings. Increasing the number of meetings by holding meetings twice a month, or holding longer gatherings throughout the year, gives teachers more time to reflect and process the work of their students. After a few months, teachers may begin leaving their doors open and meeting informally throughout the day. 


Your group will need time in between sessions to read, reflect, try things in their classroom, and collect student evidence. If your teachers can adapt quickly, meeting every two weeks may make more sense. This also gives you the option to use the first session to review readings and complete content-based activities, while the second session is used to discuss classroom activities and the resulting student work.

Choosing between the two patterns will ultimately depend on the availability of your teachers. It’s important to carve out enough time for learning teams to meet and work through their issues regularly. Find meeting time by hiring substitutes to come in to cover entire grades. Help your teachers add PLCs to their schedules by getting others in the school, such as the librarian or music teacher, to pitch in. Also try to guarantee designated time: include time dedicated to PLCs in your teacher’s contracts.

After a few months, teachers may begin leaving their doors open and meeting informally throughout the day.

It is extremely important to meet regularly, and also to work in between meetings. PLCs are working groups in which teachers work collaboratively to reflect on their practice. They will be continually examining evidence about the relationship between teacher practices and student outcomes. Successful PLCs require teachers to take the time to meet for discussion and to work between meetings to read informational pieces, reflect on them, try things in the classroom, and collect evidence about the results. Meeting without anything substantial to discuss is pointless. Reading and changing teaching practices in the classroom without taking the time to reflect, share and learn from them is also pointless. Successful PLCs require both.

Attendance

Members of each PLC should be given an explicit expectation that everyone should commit to attending all sessions. Without this commitment, it will be difficult to maintain the continuity of content within the PLC. It will also be very difficult to create a group atmosphere that encourages open discussion.

Roles

At least one facilitator should be decided within each group. At each meeting, any other co-operative role should be assigned – such as the person taking notes – for the current meetings. In addition, any work that must be done before the following meeting should be clearly assigned. The roles that should be assigned in each PLC include:

  • Logistical facilitator – This role should remain consistent throughout the length of the PLC. They remind members before each meeting, set agendas, reserve space, collect any materials needed (copies of readings, for example), and see to other logistics as needed.
  • Meeting facilitator – This may be the same person as the logistical facilitator or another individual. They keep meetings moving, and monitor participation for adherence to ground rules.
  • Discussion leader – This role should rotate within various session activities, and be mutually agreed on before the next meeting. This person is responsible for bringing the questions that they want to discuss to the group based on particular practice that they used in their classroom. The discussion leader should also provide appropriate reflections and student work to fuel the discussion, report on what they did, and call on their partner or observer to explain what they saw. Every group member should have this responsibility at least once during the year.
  • Recorder – This can be a permanent role, or it can change from meeting to meeting. This person takes notes on the discussion and provides these notes to PLC members after the meeting.

Creating effective agendas

Each meeting should have a clear structure and purpose, and address the most pressing instructional challenges. Once assigned, the logistical facilitator will be in charge of creating each meeting’s agenda. This sample meeting agenda can be modified for the needs of your school and each PLCs’ unique requirements:  

Agenda Item Details
Introduction

(facilitator responsible)

  • Review of roles and expectations (as needed).
  • Review agenda for the day.
Previous Topic

Homework

  • Discussion of readings (all responsible).
  • Sharing and reflecting on classroom experiences and reviewing student work (one or more responsible for preparing).
New Topic
  • Introduction of new topic (facilitator responsible).
  • Identify what to read and reflect on before next meeting.
  • Make commitments about classroom activities all will try and who will be responsible for presenting at the next meeting.
  • If pairs are not permanent features of your group, identify who will work with whom for classroom trials.
Wrap-Up
  • What did I learn? (facilitator leads)
Set the agenda for the next meeting
  • What do I want to learn next time? (facilitator leads)

 

Getting the Most Out of Your PLCs

The effectiveness of each PLC in improving the level of instruction within your school or district will largely depend on the members and meeting structure, but also on how the members interact with each other during each meeting.

Creating a great PLC environment within your school or district requires a fundamental shift in culture.

Transforming your school to effectively support professional learning communities doesn’t happen overnight. However, the following tips will help you make this process faster and smoother and understand the importance of paying attention to the cultural development of your school or district.

 

Chapter FourEstablishing the Right Culture

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