Professional learning communities (PLCs) are an approach to school improvement where groups of teachers work collaboratively at the school level to improve student outcomes.
Professional learning community (PLC) schools start from a simple idea: students learn more when their teachers work together.
Building a PLC is a proven way for schools to increase student learning by creating a culture that is:
- focussed on continuous improvement by linking the learning needs of students with the professional learning and practice of teachers
- committed to professionalism
- fuelled by collaborative expertise.
The 10 principles of effective PLCs
Found in all effective PLCs are 10 principles that bring together the best available research on school improvement:
Student learning focus: School improvement starts with an unwavering focus on student learning.
Collective responsibility: For every child to achieve, every adult must take responsibility for their learning.
Instructional leadership: Effective school leaders focus on teaching and learning.
Collective efficacy: Teachers make better instructional decisions together.
Adult learning: Teachers learn best with others, on the job.
Privileged time: Effective schools provide time and forums for teacher conversations about student learning.
Continuous improvement: Effective teams improve through recurring cycles of diagnosing student learning needs, and planning, implementing and evaluating teaching responses to them.
Evidence driven: Effective professional learning and practice are evidence-based and data-driven.
System focus: The most effective school leaders contribute to the success of other schools.
Integrated regional support: Schools in improving systems are supported by teams of experts who know the communities they work in.
What makes a PLC work?
Evidence from best practice research suggests that for a culture of collaborative professionalism to take root in a school, its leader must commit to all 10 principles of effective PLCs.
Principals of PLC schools show this commitment by:
- making PLC implementation a school improvement priority
- establishing effective professional learning team structures across the school
- allocating time for teachers to collaborate and work in professional learning teams
- appointing PLC instructional leaders to lead professional learning teams
- releasing PLC instructional leaders to build their capacity to lead teams effectively, including using a consistent and structured cycle of evidence-based curriculum planning.
Instructional leaders are classroom-based learning specialists who work directly with teachers to improve classroom practice. They are released from classroom duties to:
- lead teams of teachers and build their capacity to use collaborative practices that will have a positive impact on learning outcomes
- develop and embed a shared team vision and commitment to ambitious goals and targets for student and teacher learning
- focus their teams on using an inquiry cycle to measure the impact of their teaching and identify areas for professional learning
- support their teams to collect and analyse multiple sources of data to assess learning impact and build capacity in curriculum and assessment, and instructional and pedagogical content practices
- drive a culture of trust, quality relationships and individual and collective accountability
- build a shared understanding of outstanding teaching and a collective commitment to achieving it, using an inquiry approach embedded in the day-to-day work of every teacher
- develop and embed rigorous systems and processes to support a range of collaborative strategies that focus the work of PLCs
- evaluate impact and differentiate support to ensure all teachers are continuously improving their classroom practices
- build self-awareness and leadership skills that build collective efficacy through a culture of high expectations for all
- deepen understanding of how to implement effective classroom observation and feedback
- increase understanding of how student perception surveys can contribute to improving the quality of teaching.
Effective PLCs use data about the impact of PLC implementation on teacher practice and student perception to track progress and identify areas for improvement.
Best practice networks
PLC leaders work with other PLC schools in their geographic area to share effective practice and solve common problems. Over time these networks of 'middle leaders' will bring together common school improvement priorities.
PLCs and FISO
Creating a culture of working collaboratively to continuously improve teaching and learning is at the heart of the Framework for Improving Student Outcomes (FISO).
The FISO Framework is used by all Victorian government schools to focus their efforts on key areas known to have the greatest impact on school improvement. For more information, read:
Framework for Improving Student Outcomes
Victorian PLC initiative
Over the next four years, more than 800 government schools will receive intensive implementation support that includes a comprehensive program of professional learning and expert advice from regionally-based teams.
These teams, made up of experienced educators including a dedicated PLC regional manager, advise, coach and train school and instructional leaders in all aspects of PLC implementation, including:
- budget and resource prioritisation
- meeting facilitation
- inquiry-based improvement
- curriculum and assessment
- data interpretation and analysis.
Victorian PLC schools have access to a continuous stream of data about the impact of PLC implementation on teacher practice and student perception.
To learn more about how the PLC initiative is transforming Victorian schools, read:
How PLCs are working in schools.
Tools for PLC schools
PLC Maturity Matrix
The PLC Maturity Matrix is designed to help schools track their own progress toward becoming effective PLC.
For each key element of an effective PLC, the Maturity Matrix provides indicative statements so that a school can self-assess its level of progress and set developmental goals.
Evaluate the impact of your teaching
evaluate the impact of your teaching toolkit is for leading teachers and schools implementing a PLC.
PLC guide: implementing FISO with precision, collaboration and inquiry
Implement FISO at your school through your PLC.
The PLC guide will help your PLC use the FISO improvement cycle to make changes to curriculum, pedagogy and assessment.
The guide is designed for:
- school leaders
- instructional leaders (middle leaders who will run PLCs)
The PLC Online Professional Learning Modules
Implement the Victorian PLC approach in your school. The
PLC Online Modules will support the implementation of the Victorian PLC approach by teaching participants about the necessary changes to mindsets, knowledge, behaviours, practices, structures, curriculum, assessment and pedagogy and how to lead and sustain change in their own contexts.
The PLC Online Modules is designed for instructional leaders (middle leaders who will run PLCs).
The Victorian PLC initiative is available to Victorian government schools.
For further information about the benefits and expectations for participating schools, read:
Learn about the Victorian PLC initiative(edumail login required).
To learn more about getting involved, contact PLC via firstname.lastname@example.org.