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Professional Learning Communities (PLCs): The Pros Outweigh the Cons

Communities of Practice (CoPs) and  Professional Learning Communitites (PLCs), though similar, do have slight differences.  Both CoP and PLC bring groups of people together to share ideas, but CoPs have been more used in the corporate arena, whereas PLCs have been used more in educational contexts (Bouchard, 2012).  PLCs are groups of educators that come together to collaborate in order to best serve their students.

PLCs support learning in many ways for both teachers and students.  When teachers feel like they have established a sense of community, they are able to collaborate and learn from each other (Graham, 2007 p. 15).  In PLCs, teachers offer solutions to each other, discuss best practices, and develop a mission and vision together for their students (Adams, 2009 p. 31). Also, student data is used as a tool instead of a punishment.  The data informs teachers about who is learning and who is not.  (Adams , 2009 p. 30).  This means that data is used to improve each teachers’ practice and therefore, student learning improves.

PLCs can also support teaching in many ways.  They are basically professional development groups for teachers in which teachers can hold each other accountable for best practices and also share materials between disciplines (Bouchard, 2012).  Since teachers are accountable to their PLCs, it means a higher commitment to effective teaching.

Technology has the capability to change, enhance and detract from these communities.  For example, Cranston (2011) conducted a study and explains that, “The parcipants regarded relational trust as a necessary social condition that allowed teachers to come together and work collaboratively on ideas that could potentially improve teaching to benefit students’ learning” (p. 66).  If most of the collaboration is done in a online format with no in person interaction, that trust could be lost to the detriment of the educator and student.  However, technology would allow for teachers to collaborate with each other no matter where they were.  In this way, technology would enhance the PLC because it would give teachers instant access to each other.  Technology could also enhance the PLC by giving educators easy and quick access to student data.  Overall, even though the technology component might make CoP and PLC more convenient, it would not build a strong sense of community the way that face to face dialogue and collaboration do.

The learning activity I will be implementing for my final project will be planned, created, and edited by a PLC of grade 9 English teachers.  Students will be completing a research essay in which they will be required to conduct advanced searches on their topics and synthesize multiple articles and research to defend their arguments.  They will use the Internet on their laptops to conduct this research and to type their essays.  The culmination of the essay will be a Socratic Seminar in which students will defend their theses with evidence and participate in a dialogue with their classmates.

One question I have regarding PLCs is: Do you think PLCs run better with a clear leader that is chosen ahead of time or when the leadership changes based upon the needs of the group?  One question I have regarding my learning activity is: Can you suggest any creative ways students can use social media to communicate their research findings?

References

Adams, C. (2009).  The power of collaboration. Instructor, 119(1), 28-31.

Bouchard, J. (2012). EDU520  Unit 3 CoP, PLC. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Pg3cx7dW1U&feature=youtu.be.

Cranston, J. (2011). Relational trust: The glue that binds a professional learning community. [Article]. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 57(1), 59-72.

Graham, P. (2007). Improving teacher effectiveness through structured collaboration: A case study of a professional learning community. Research in MIddle Level Education Online, 31(1), 1-17.

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Click here to view a website all about PLCs that is backed by the founders: http://www.allthingsplc.info 

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3 Comments

  1. Jeanne Penta says:

    I do think a PLC will be more organized with a clear and defined leader and I don’ necessarily feel that it would make a difference if the same person leads evey time ir if it changes. Groups need a leader to help prevent chaos and disorder but as long as all are allowed to share and encouraged to participate then it will be successful.

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  2. annaking93 says:

    Selecting a leader could definitely bring clarity to the goals and discussions within a Personal Learning Community. The quality of leaders is of utmost importance, however. For while guidance is crucial for keeping conversations engaging, inspiring, and on track, a dominating leader may prove intimidating for complete participation between group members. I believe care should be taken for leaders to encourage trust and respect among members in order for successful collaboration to take place. I would also be slow to quickly change leaders when a new group need appears; to select leaders that appear most fluent in pressing needs may allow team members to become lax, relying too much on the knowledge of a leader.

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  3. I do believe that selecting a leader ahead of time is important. However, that leader can be chosen based on the needs or interests of the group. Leadership is extremely important to the success of an organization, school, or PLC. The leader should be organized, responsible, be able to keep a group on task, as well as possess good listening skills and have the ability to incorporate the ideas of the group while still being decisive when necessary.

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