Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are a powerful way for instructors to connect, collaborate, set common learning goals, and upgrade their skills to enhance student learning. Teaching and learning is the fundamental mission of educational institutions and researchers have documented that the right levels of continuous and job-embedded professional learning opportunities will improve the quality of teaching and learning. Without debate, instructors and their classroom practice are one of the most significant influences on student learning and success. Therefore, faculty professional development needs to be a professional community of scholars working together to maximize each other’s success. The questions then become why and how the implementation of Professional Learning Communities impact Higher Education.
- PLCs focus on subject knowledge, curriculum, and student learning
- PLCs share a vision and sense of purpose
- PLCs share common learning goals
- PLCs are data-driven and results-oriented
- PLCs are committed to continuous improvement
- PLCs are action-oriented and share collective responsibility for student learning
- PLCs improve the knowledge of instructors through the exchange of ideas, dialogue, and collective inquiry
- PLCs are more effective than individual champions in ensuring that institutional changes are sustainable
As Morrow (2010) stated, “I like to think of the professional learning community as a classroom for teachers, or it’s a place where teachers go to learn.”
When executed properly and consistently, faculty professional development has the potential to expand faculty effectiveness and lead to academic transformation. Through the use of Professional Learning Communities, the development of our institution’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) is an effort to enhance faculty professional development capacity and to systematically assess student learning outcomes. The Quality Enhancement Plan is a requirement of The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) which is the body for the accreditation of degree-granting higher education.
In alignment with best practices and accreditation standards, the principles of effective Professional Learning Communities are closely aligned and support any institution’s Quality Enhancement Plan.
As a part of our institution’s Quality Enhancement Plan, we have developed a comprehensive professional development plan focused on improving student learning outcomes through the implementation of Professional Learning Communities. As a result of this plan, faculty will engage in 70 hours of professional development beginning January – June 2023. As DuFour intended, during our Professional Learning Communities, we will continue to ask ourselves the following questions:
- What do we want students to learn?
- How do we measure student learning?
- What do we do when students do not learn?
- What do we do when students are learning?
As Fullan (1993) states, “You cannot have students as continuous learners and effective collaborators, without educators having the same characteristics.” At our institution, we will continue to adopt this perspective because the focus of the collaboration will be on classroom practices which can lead to improved student learning. To that end, Fullan (2007) summarizes, “With barely, a fifty percent graduation rate in many postsecondary institutions, Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) represent a winning high-yield strategy for student success.”
Dr. Dimple J. Martin is the director of the Quality Enhancement Plan at Miles College. Martin is a former early childhood education lecturer at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, a former assistant professor of early childhood education, and a faculty professional development coordinator at Miles College.
DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & DuFour, R. (2006). On common ground: The power of professional learning communities. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
DuFour, R. (2010). Raising the bar and closing the gap whatever it takes. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Fullan, M. (2011). Change leader: Learning to do what matters most. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Morrow, J.R. (2010). Teachers’ perceptions of professional learning communities as opportunities for promoting professional growth. Published doctoral dissertation. Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina.
Mullen, C., (2016). A view of professional learning communities through three frames: Leadership, Organization, and Culture. McGill Journal of Education.