How to Structure Professional Learning Communities for Teachers

  • Teachers & Tutors
Amy Dempster

An Interview with Samantha Berg (Middle School Language Teacher) and Carol Spooner (3rd Grade Teacher)

Excerpted from our newsletter: Carroll Connection, Winter 2017. In this edition, we highlighted 4 key belief statements that came from our all-staff meeting held prior to the 2016-17 school year. Read the full edition.

BELIEF STATEMENT #3: We believe teachers are lifelong learners and have the power to change the lives of students by instilling a growth mindset for learning. Read our belief statements.

Q: What is a Professional Learning Community (PLC)?

SAMANTHA: It’s the opportunity for teachers to collaborate in a flexible environment. At Carroll, we use the professional development time on Fridays (Everyone@One) to gather into cross-functional groups. The PLC model supports the collaboration of a broader group of colleagues. So, I’m learning new approaches from colleagues outside of my area of expertise.

CAROL: It’s a group of colleagues with different backgrounds sharing best practices. Each group is teacher-led so it’s very much a collaborative, sharing approach to professional development.

Q: What does a PLC meeting look like?

SAMANTHA: It’s typically 10-12 teachers learning from one another through discussions, observations, goal setting, and goal attainment. In our first meeting, we discussed what we wanted to learn about Orton-Gillingham this year. We use the results of this discussion to guide our agenda. But there is a lot of flexibility to discuss important challenges that crop up in the classroom.

CAROL: It’s different for each meeting but always collaborative. In one meeting, we watched a video of a non-Carroll educator and we compared and contrasted her style with the Carroll School approach. In an upcoming meeting, we’re going to “make and take” something for the classroom so it’ll be a hands-on meeting.

Q: What was a recent discussion topic and how did your group approach it?

SAMANTHA: We recently discussed dilemmas in the classroom - specifically, how to hold students accountable for their work. As a group, we discussed and demonstrated “making thinking visible” practices which is an approach that places emphasis on helping students think, plan, create, question, and engage independently as learners.

CAROL: A recent session focused on multisensory learning techniques, inspired by O-G. Each person was tasked to share a multisensory tool or approach that he or she has employed while working with children. The goal of the session was to generate fresh ideas, either through replication or adaptation. It was a fun and highly engaged session.

Q: Observations are an important part of Carroll’s PLC approach. Can you share more about what that means?

SAMANTHA: Observations give teachers the opportunity to see their colleague’s teaching strategies in action and also open their own classrooms to their colleagues. It’s a great way to see how situations are handled or strategies are employed in real time.

CAROL: An important aspect of the observations is reflection. Every staff member has a notebook that is used throughout the year to make notes and reflect on PLC meetings as well as the in-classroom observations. Notes are a way to track our own professional growth through the year.

Q: As a PLC leader, what is your vision for your group?

SAMANTHA: My hope is that my colleagues will continue to be engaged and interested. Also, I’m looking forward to reflecting on how students are benefitting as teachers grow from the experience. For Carroll teachers, it’s always about helping students become successful learners and good citizens of the world.

CAROL: For me, I want my group to enjoy coming to our meetings and to get something useful out of it. I want them to say at the end of the year that they grew professionally from our PLC and that the students benefit from that growth.

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