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Professional Learning Communities

What is a PLC?


Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) shift the focus of school reform from restructuring to reculturing (Louis, 2006). A PLC is an ongoing process used to establish a schoolwide culture that develops teacher leadership explicitly focused on building and sustaining school improvement efforts. Generally, PLCs are composed of teachers, although administrators and support staff routinely participate (Bolam, McMahon, Stoll, Thomas, & Wallace, 2005; Huffman, 2000). In some schools, PLCs are extended to community members and students, as appropriate (Stoll, Bolam, McMahon, Wallace, & Thomas, 2006; Stoll & Louis, 2007). Through participation in PLCs, teachers enhance their leadership capacity while they work as members of ongoing, high-performing, collaborative teams that focus on improving student learning (Rentfro, 2007).

This Information Brief presents an overview of PLCs. It summarizes recent relevant literature on the following topics:

  • What is a PLC?

  • What are the defining elements of a PLC?

  • What does the literature and emerging research tell us about the benefits of PLCs?

  • How have schools used the PLC approach in the context of improving student achievement?

  • What supports are necessary to develop and sustain a PLC?

Definition of a PLC

Although there is no universal definition of a PLC (Stoll et al., 2006; Williams, Brien, Sprague, & Sullivan, 2008), the following definitions offer a range of ways to describe a PLC:

  • An ongoing process through which teachers and administrators work collaboratively to seek and share learning and to act on their learning, their goal being to enhance their effectiveness as professionals for students’ benefit (Hord, 1997)

  • A school culture that recognizes and capitalizes on the collective strengths and talents of the staff (Protheroe, 2008).

  • A strategy to increase student achievement by creating a collaborative school culture focused on learning (Feger & Arruda, 2008).

  • Team members who regularly collaborate toward continued improvement in meeting learner needs through a shared curricular-focused vision (Reichstetter, 2006).

  • A group of people sharing and critically interrogating their practice in an ongoing, reflective, collaborative, inclusive learning-oriented and growth-promoting way (McREL, 2003).

  • Educators committed to working collaboratively in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2006).

  • An inclusive group of people, motivated by a shared learning vision, who support and work with each other to inquire on their practice and together learn new and better approaches to enhance student learning (Stoll, Bolam, McMahon, Thomas, Wallace, Greenwood et al., 2005).

While these definitions capture the spirit of PLCs, they are only a starting point for understanding them.

What makes a PLC difficult to define is that it is not a prescription, a new program, a model, or an innovation to be implemented. Rather, a PLC is an infrastructure or a way of working together that results in continuous school improvement (Hord, 1997).

Next page: Defining elements of a PLC