Professional Learning Communities

Establishing a Collaborative Team

Working in thriving learning communities is something I value, appreciate and have a strong desire to cultivate wherever I go. There are a variety of definitions of a Professional Learning Community (PLC) out there, however this resonated most strongly for me:

“requires the school staff to focus on learning rather than teaching, work collaboratively on matters related to learning, and hold itself accountable for the kind of results that fuel continual improvement“.

Richard DuFour, 2004

The vision of a Professional Learning Community (PLC) continues to evolve and transform, especially given the huge growth in online interactions and experiences that the pandemic forced us to engage with. It got me thinking about what is at the core of a PLC and what future possibilities might unfold.

Following on from my reflections on ‘feedback to feedforward’ in ‘Thank you for your feedback – Feeling feedback’ I began to peel back some of the layers of how PLCs can ‘feel’ and how we can collect data to inform our design process in any given context. Below is a suggested framework identifying the core elements based on the 8 design principles of Elinor Ostrom.

Core Elements of PLCs

1. Vision & Purpose

  • As a whole group, articulate a clear vision & purpose for the work of smaller collaborative teams.
  • Set overarching goals and define the purpose together, both individual and collective.

3. Data Teams

  • Based on the diverse data points collated about individual strengths and interests, co-create sub-teams with a specific focus.
  • Provide some choice, autonomy and transparency of the process of forming sub-teams.
  • Prioritize diversity in teams to leverage and benefit from increased learning opportunities from others.

2. Reflect & Understand

  • As a whole group use a number of different protocols to engage in dialogue and reflect collaboratively.
  • Enable a phase of getting the whole group to learn about, and from, one another to uncover strengths together.

4. Co Crafting Norms

As sub-teams form they then:

  • Set clear boundaries for collaborative work.
  • Identify resources needed.
  • Write their own beliefs & values statement about the ‘why’ & ‘how’ of the collaboration.
  • Co-create shared understandings.
  • Agree on conflict resolution practices – acknowledge that collaboration will involve conflict and set the tone for proactive resolution.

5. Set Indicators

Next, sub-teams:

  • Develop success criteria for the collaborative process.
  • Articulate both ‘how’ the process will look and ‘what’ outcomes are set.
  • Sub-teams share their Belief & Values statement, mission and indicators of success with peer teams to gather ‘feedback to feedforward.’

Making Connections

The work of PLCs must be founded in:

  1. Facilitation of emotional connections
  2. Supporting team members in making the connection visible between their personal ‘why’ and that of the collaborative team.
  3. Creating a space for dissonance – develop a protocol to facilitate dialogue when conflict arises.
  4. Choice and autonomy.


Further Reading

The Effects of Networked Professional Learning Communities by Katz & Earl

This book by Elena Aguilar and Lori Cohen is truly fantastic and is shaping my thinking about how to evolve PLCs in any context.