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Professional Learning Community

Professional Learning Community

14 March, 2016

Professional Learning Community is a group of educators that meets regularly, shares expertise, and works collaboratively to enhance teaching skills and the academic performance of students.

  • Schools or teaching faculties that use small-group collaboration as a form of professional development.
  • Shirley Hord, an expert on school leadership, came up with perhaps the most efficient description of the strategy: “The three words explain the concept: Professionals coming together in a group—a community—to learn.”

    Professional learning communities often function as a form of action research—i.e., as a way to continually question, reevaluate, refine, and improve teaching strategies and knowledge.

  • Meetings are goal-driven exchanges facilitated by educators who have been trained to lead professional learning communities. Participation in meetings may be entirely voluntary, and in some schools only a small percentage of the faculty will elect to participate, or it may be a school-wide requirement that all faculty members participate.


  1. To improve the skills and knowledge of educators through collaborative study, expertise exchange, and professional dialogue
  2. To improve the educational aspirations, achievement, and attainment of students through stronger leadership and teaching.

In professional learning communities, teams are often built around shared roles or responsibilities. For example, the teachers in a particular group may all teach the same ninth-grade students or they may all teach science, and these shared attributes allow participants to focus on specific problems and strategies—How do I teach this particular student better? How do I teach this scientific theory more effectively?—rather than on general educational goals or theories. Teachers, for example, will discuss and reflect on their instructional techniques, lesson designs, and assessment practices, while administrators may address leadership questions, strategies, and issues.


  1. Discussing teacher work:Participants collectively review lesson plans or assessments that have been used in a class, and then offer critical feedback and recommendations for improvement.
  2. Discussing student work:Participants look at examples of student work turned in for a class, and then offer recommendations on how lessons or teaching approaches may be modified to enhance the quality of student work.
  3. Discussing student data:Participants analyze student-performance data from a class to identify trends—such as which students are consistently failing or underperforming—and collaboratively develop proactive teaching and support strategies to help students who may be struggling academically.
  4. Discussing professional literature:Participants select a text to read, such as a research study or an article about a specialized instructional technique, and then engage in a structured conversation about the text and how it can help inform or improve their teaching.

Common Features:

  1. Teachers will likely meet regularly—every other week or every month, for example—and work together to improve and diversify their instructional techniques. For example, they may agree to identify and monitor student learning needs in their classes, conduct observationsof their colleagues while they teach and give them constructive feedback, collaboratively develop and refine lessons and instructional techniques, and develop the support strategies they use to help students.
  2. Time for meetings is often scheduled during the school day, and participation in a professional learning community may be an expected teaching responsibility, not an optional activity that competes with out-of-school personal time.
  3. Groups generally work toward common goals and expectations that are agreed upon in advance. Groups may even create mission and vision statementsor a set of shared beliefs and values.
  4. Meeting procedures are commonly guided by norms, or a set of conduct expectations that group members collaboratively develop and agree on. A norm might address meeting logistics (e.g., start meetings on time, stick to the agenda, and end on time)or interactions (listen attentively to colleagues and make sure feedback is respectful and constructive).
  5. Meetings are often coordinated and run by teachers who have been trained in group-facilitation strategies, often by an outside organization or training professional.
  6. Meetings typically follow predetermined agendas that are developed by facilitators in response to group requests or identified teacher or student needs.
  7. Facilitators typically use protocols—a set of parameters and guidelines developed by educators—to structure group conversations and help keep the discussions focused and productive.
  8. Facilitators will ensure that conversations remain respectful, constructive, objective, and goal-oriented, and they may step in and guide the conversation in a more productive direction if it becomes digressive or negative.
  9. Facilitators will also make sure that conversations remain objective and factual, rather than subjective and speculative. For example, group members may be asked to cite student-performance data, specific examples, research findings, or other concrete evidence to support their points, and facilitators may point out assumptions or generalizations.


  1. Teachers may assume more leadership responsibility or feel a greater sense of ownership over a school-improvement process.
  2. Teachers may feel more professionally confident and better equipped to address the learning needs of their students, and they may become more willing to engage in the kind of self-reflection that leads to professional growth and improvement.
  3. The faculty culture may improve, and professional relationships can become stronger and more trusting because the faculty is interacting and communicating more productively.
  4. Teachers may participate in professional collaborations more frequently, such as co-developing and co-teaching interdisciplinary courses.
  5. More instructional innovation may take hold in classrooms and academic programs, and teachers may begin incorporating effective instructional techniques being used by colleagues.
  6. Teachers may begin using more evidence-based approaches to designing lessons and delivering instruction.


  1. A lack of support from the superintendent, principal, or other school leaders could lead to an inadequate investment of time, attention, and resources.
  2. Inadequate training for group facilitators could produce ineffective facilitation, disorganized meetings, and an erosion of confidence in the process.
  3. A lack of clear, explicit goals for group work can lead to unfocused conversations, misspent time, and general confusion about the purpose of the groups.
  4. A dysfunctional school or faculty culture could contribute to tensions, conflicts, factions, and other issues that undermine the potential benefits of professional learning communities.
  5. A lack of observable, measurable faculty progress or student-achievement gains can erode support, motivation, and enthusiasm for the process.
  6. Highly divergent educational philosophies, belief systems, or learning styles can lead to disagreements that undermine the collegiality and sense of shared purpose typically required to make professional learning communities successful.