Thursday, February 20, 2014

Which L is in your PLC?

School improvement means people improvement, and to make this a reality, a lot of schools are implementing professional learning communities. Administrators believe that if they put everybody in a room together on a regular basis then learning will improve. But here's the deal. Being in a room with a bunch of people makes you no more a PLC than sitting in a garage makes you a car.

PLCs require a lot more than sitting in a room for a set period of time on a regular basis. 

If a school implements professional learning communities without a thorough understanding of what they are and how they successfully function, then that school might as well go ahead and sign off on their plan for failure. Without a thorough understanding of how to create a culture of collaboration and a focus on learning based on relevant results, schools and teams call themselves a PLC, but the L won't stand for learning. 

Which L is in your PLC

The center point of a PLC must be learning, but if the L doesn't represent learning, then a community of professionals can't exist. Here are 4 examples to illustrate my point.

If all people do in a PLC is listen, then they're not really learning.  Listening leads to disengagement which undermines professionalism.  Sure, we have to listen to one another, but if one person does all the talking, and the other people are forced to spend the majority of their time listening, then they're not really a community of learners.  

Complaining kills a PLC, and whining wilts away the will of a team. Teams need to have time to vent, but teams that spend most of their time complaining about their working conditions or the kids transform from a learning community into a lamenting committee. They aren't really focused on learning how to better meet the needs of all kids because they are focused on their own comfort. 

Labor is an important part of a PLC, but this isn't the type of work that I'm talking about. I'm talking about substituting a labor of learning for mindless work that has little impact on kids. Forcing teams to replace learning with  bureaucratic paperwork and forms that don't make a hill of beans difference in the success or failure of a kid is insane.  Converting PLCs into paperwork assembly lines strips away professional dignity. Teams need meaningful work that focuses on getting better not working for the sake of working. 

In some PLCs, people are wasting away. With every meeting, they become duller and more ineffective. The passion for their profession slowly wilts away like a plant desperate for water. Because a toxic environment exists, professionalism dies in a sespool of despair. 

Learning includes Teachers & Leaders

Learning requires multiple people listening, lots of laboring about the right things, and using failure to drive improvement. Taking instructional ideas and figuring out how to make them stronger, more effective, and more efficient is what a PLC does. Systematically identifying kids who are struggling and coming up with surefire ways to make them learn is what a PLC does. 

Learning is not pretty and it's rarely right the first time, but one thing is certain. Every day that a PLC focuses on learning for themselves is one more step closer to each member reaching the pinnacle of their profession. And with each new strategy learned together, a team inches closer to becoming a close-knit community. 


  1. John Outstanding Post. If we, regardless of title don't embrace learning as our priority, then the alternative is what you describe.

    1. I couldn't have said it any better. I like the idea of embracing learning. Thanks for the comment and the read. All the best.

  2. Effective way (What does the "L" stand for?) of focusing on a common PLC problem. The second from last paragraph is an excellent synopsis of true PLC work.

    1. Rick, thanks for stopping by and sharing your feedback. I appreciate your ideas as it helps me better articulate my thoughts. Have a great day.

  3. John, I run a PLC Self-Help group in a Detroit suburb - any problem if I email this article to them - The article is of value, but I am new to Twitter and have yet to establish a following.