Professional Learning Communities

The following modules provides tools and information that can help establish and/or strengthen  Professional Learning Teams in schools and help educators who are committed to this process stay on track throughout the course of the year. The information in this module derives from the following books:

Bailey, K., & Jakicic, C. (2012). Common formative assessment: A toolkit for professional learning communities at WorkTM. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

DuFour, R. (2006). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work. Bloomington, Ind.: Solution Tree.

DuFour, R., & Fullan, M. (2013). Cultures built to last systemic PLCs at work. Bloomington, Ind.: Solution Tree Press.

DuFour, R., & Marzano, R. (2011). Leaders of Learning: How District, School, and Classroom Leaders Improve Student Achievement. Solution Tree Press.


Professional Learning Communities: Challenge

View the movie below and then proceed to the Initial Thought section

The Challenge

Research has shown a system can only be as good as the people within it (DeFour, 2006). The only way we are going to improve schools, districts, and student learning is by improving the quality of instruction that all students receive. This module sets out to help build the capacity of the people within the school by establishing the foundations for successful PLCs.

This module is designed to facilitate learning and leadership in the following areas of the North Carolina Professional Teaching Standards and Teacher Leader Model Standards. 


  1. I. Teachers demonstrate Leadership
    • Ib. Teachers demonstrate leadership in school
    • Ic. Teachers lead the teaching profession
  2. V. Teachers reflect on their practice
    • Vb. Teachers link professional growth to their professional goals
    • Vc. Teachers function effectively in a complex, dynamic environment

I. Foster a collaborative culture to support educator development and student learning.
III. Promoting professional learning for continuous improvement.
V. Promoting the use of assessments and data for school and district improvement.
VII. Advocating for student learning and profession. 

Initial Thoughts

Professional Learning Team - Thought Questions


Please jot down your initial thoughts to the Challenge questions:  

What is a Professional Learning Community?

Why do we need to collaborate on instruction?

What are the benefits of using a learning team process?

How can PLCs make a difference for our students ?  

When you are ready, proceed to the Perspectives & Resources section.

Perspectives and Resources



After completing the Perspectives & Resources section and reviewing the accompanying Activities, the learner will be able to:

  • Explain what a Professional Learning Team is
  • Identify DeFour's 3 Big Ideas of PLCs
  • Understand the roles of teams within a PLC
  • Make connections to what collaborative teams might look like in your place of work

What is a Professional Learning Community?

What is a Professional Learning Community?

" A PLC is an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve" DeFour, 2010, p.4. 

Professional Learning Communities are characterized and guided by three big ideas:

  1. A focus on Learning
  2. A culture of collaboration
  3. A focus on results

Big Idea 1 - A focus on learning


Schools that have successful PLCs are focused on learning and will stop at nothing to promote high level of learning for all students. It is assumed that all members of the learning community will collaboratively examine and change instructional practices for the benefit of all student. Roles extend beyond individual classrooms and into the community as a whole. All members take collective responsibility for the learning of all students. 

Big Idea 2 - A Culture of collaboration

As stated, "In a PLC, there is a collective commitment to all students in the school" (Bailey & Jakicic, 2012, p. 2). The "mine" and "your" mentality switches to a "our" mentality. Effort is diverted from an isolation model to a more directed approach. In an effective PLT model, teams use collaboration to (1) define what students need to know and do, (2) monitor their progress, and (3) respond when students aren't learning skills and concepts. Instructional practices are shared for the benefit of all students. 

Big Idea 3 - A focus on results

The act of sharing strategies and discussing best practices isn’t enough.  PLCs need to collect, analyze, and respond to data throughout the process. According to Bailey and Jakicic (2012), “it’s about what students have learned, not what teachers have taught” (p.4).  The continuous emphasis on student learning results is the drive for professional learning communities. 

The Role of Teams in PLC

The Roles of Teams in PLC

DeFour and Eaker (2008), state "the engine behind school improvement in a professional learning community is the team – grade-level teams, departmental teams, or cross-departmental teams”(as cited in Bailey and Jakicic, 2012, p. 5).

Simply put, the goal of PLTs is to improve on student learning. It is the commitment of the teams to examine and adjust their practice for the mutual benefit of all students and the team. 

The Nuts and Bolts

Before teams can move forward and create highly effective professional learning communities, the following need to be established:

  1. Time to collaborate – Collaboration must be frequent and ongoing. To build consistency and clarity, time needs to be set aside so that teams can meet and collaborate throughout the instructional day.
    • Example: restructuring of instructional day, designate common periods, conducting early start or late out schedules, and / or allotting specific periods of the week.  
  2. Clarity of Purpose and Commitment – It is vital that all members are aware that the fundamental purpose of the team is to affirm the mission of improving students learning. Having a clear mission helps guide teams actions and provides focus. All members must be accountable and held to high expectations for the success of the mission.
  3. A Clear Picture of the Process – A plan needs to be put in place to ensure evidence is collected along the way. The following is an example of how a team might go about this.
    • Plan: Identify power stands or essential outcomes. Create a plan for instruction and establish SMART goals.
    • Do: Execute the plan. Instructional plan is implemented and data is gathered along the way.
    • Study: Evaluate the results. Identify common patterns between students, classrooms and teachers.
    • Act: Take action. Establish interventions and support for students who had difficulties obtaining/learning the targeted skill or objective.
  4. Norms for Working Together – Norms must be agreed upon and reviewed more than once throughout the year. Norms are the fundamental building block for how teams are to function. Personal preferences and assumptions must be put aside for the benefit of the team. 
    1. Examples
      • We will be fully present at the meeting
      • We will be involved to our individual level of comfort
      • We will keep confidential our discussions
      • We will be responsible for examining all points of view
      • We will invite and welcome the contributions of every member 
      • We will base our decisions on data...
  5. A Commitment and Process for Examining Results – All team members must be comfortable working with data collectively. Protocols must be put in place to guide team members in analyzing assessment results, reviewing student’s work, and guiding lesson studies. 
  6. Development of Purposeful Product – Highly effective professional learning communities have evidence to show for their collaborative time together. The evidence is purposeful and is goal driven.  

Where Do We Start

Prepare for Efficient and Focused Meetings 

  • Define Roles - Roles may include, facilitator, timekeeper, recorder...
  • Have a Clear Agenda -Agenda’s should be a clear, easy-to-read document that lays out the agenda for a meeting in a way that those attending the meeting can follow. Agenda’s can help keep meetings focused and no longer than is absolutely necessary to accomplish desired goals, thereby transforming meetings into a productive use of your teams’ time.
  • Take Minutes - Minutes represent the actions of the team, and are considered legal documents. Minutes provide structure. Minutes help drive a plan of action for your team. They provide clarity for the how, when, why, and by whom decisions were made. Minutes record decisions, which make them a useful review document when it comes time to measure progress.

Celebrate Success

  • Recognition of our professional learning community success motivates us to persist with the tasks and challenges of moving forward with program improvement. DuFour (2010) tells us recognition of success and/or celebrations lets team members know their work is appreciated and valued.


Wrap Up

Initial Thought Questions

Now that you have completed the perspectives and resources section, take some time now to review your responses to the initial thought questions from slide one. 

1.     What is a Professional Learning Community?

2.     Why do we need to collaborate on instruction?

3.     Why should we use a learning team process?

4.     How can this make a difference for our students?

Module Review

Tips for Moving Forward:

  1. Time for team collaboration is vital; teams need to find ways of using existing time more effectively.
  2. An atmosphere of trust must be created: emphasis must be placed on the dignity and respect of all stakeholders.
  3. Norms must be established and abided by
  4. Disagreements will arise and must be dealt with immediately (to the best of everyone’s ability).
  5. Team members must be willing to share tools such as supporting research, templates, exemplars, worksheets, and timelines to assist them in each step of the process.
  6. Procedures must be put in place: define roles, utilize agendas, take minutes, be organized…
  7. Foster an ongoing effort to build confidence
  8. All team members must be held accountable for the learning of all students
  9. Success must be celebrated
  10. It is assumed that all members of the team will work together to examine and change instructional practices for the betterment of high levels of learning.
  11. Team members must shift their thinking from on “teaching” mindset to a “learning” mindset.
  12. Creating a successful PLCs is a long term process




Take some time now to answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper. After the questions, share the responses with your team and/ or professional development coordinator. If you have trouble answering any of the questions, go back and review the Perspectives & Resources pages in this Module. 

  1. What is a Professional Learning Community (PLC)?
  2. What are Defour's three “Big Ideas” that help guide PLCs?
  3. What are some benefits of PLCs, and how can they support student growth?
  4. What are acceptable PLC norms, and how can they be implemented and/ or used within your PLC throughout the course of the year?
  5. Schools that are successful focus on _________?
  6. What are three reasons PLCs use collaboration?
  7. What is the purpose for gathering and analyzing  data, and how can data be used successful within your PLCs?
  8. What is the main goal of PLCs?
  9. The engine behind school improvement in a professional learning community is the _________.    
  10. What are the six foundational structures and process when establishing a PLC?
  11. Why are PLCs important for student and teacher learning?
  12. Successful PLCs have three elements in common: what are they and how can they be applied to your school?