• Theme: Organising collaborative professional learning
  • Media:Answers to typical questions

Creating an inclusive PLC

All PLCs will look and feel a little different, because each one is made up of individuals who bring different talents, knowledge, roles and interests. In addition each PLC is located in a unique setting and will be influenced by that. If our focus is to create a PLC to support us to teach all learners we must first make sure that the PLC itself is inclusive. This aligns our action with our intention by enabling group members to learn from others who have experiences and insights that are relevant but potentially diverse. 

Thinking about consent

Some schools will create PLCs made up of volunteers, and others will want all colleagues to be part of the group. There will be benefits and drawbacks of both approaches. For example, while volunteers may be actively seeking opportunities for professional learning it is possible that seeking volunteers this is a disincentive for less confident colleagues to participate. If we expect participation (rather than invite it) we may indicate that the PLCs are going to be central to the ongoing work of the school, and this may act as a strong message about the importance of teaching all learners. However if additional workload is placed on colleagues without other workload being lost we may be setting up unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved in the time available. Regardless of how the PLC is set up initially it is critical to treat the professionals participating with respect and to enable them to make indiviudal and collective decisions about the nature of the PLC. This contributes to their engagement by consent.

Pacing the work

In schools we often try to deal with issues that seem most urgent. We worry that we have to solve problems quickly and efficiently. It is important to try to meet the needs of the learners that we have in our current classes. It is also important to create sustainable change, and to develop shared knowledge and understanding over time. PLCs can help to do this.  They provide a schedule for pacing the development of practice. When setting up a PLC it is important that the schedule creates opportunities for a sense of momentum, but not panic or pressure. PLC participants should feel that they gain ‘take-away’ ideas that can be trialled in their own settings. They should also be provided with a space for the resulting decisions and actions to be discussed and reviewed with colleagues over a slower timescale.

The ideal PLC

According to research (van Keulen et al., 2015; Vangrieken et al., 2017), professional learning communities offer many opportunities: they encourage teachers to pass on learning content to each other themselves, they provide a structure that enables school development and, if implemented well, research suggests they have a visible positive impact on classroom practice and thus on the learners' learning.  

Bruns & Bruggink (2016) say it is ideal to start a professional learning community

  • with a group of six to 12 people
  • that is diversely composed, so that there are more opportunities for mutual cross-fertilisation and learning from each other
  • in which you involve both teachers who are at the forefront of innovative practices and colleagues who are more hesitant. Those who say no to everything are better not involved, according to them, because they risk delaying the others. For those colleagues, a performance review or other adjustment initiative seems necessary, rather than participation in a professional learning community or core team where the aim is for everyone to be able to learn freely.

You can create a new professional learning community or embed a pathway in an existing sub-team, working group, subject group, community of practice (COP) or other form of 'teacher community' focused on inclusive competences. To turn a larger school team into a professional learning community, it is best to work in several subteams.

Exchanging experiences and knowledge with colleagues from the wider school team

If you work in a professional learning community, the aim is to share targeted experiences and knowledge with colleagues in the wider school team. For example, you will discuss your goals and experiences with pupils, parents, colleagues and other partners in the school team. For example, you can

  • inform colleagues through staff meetings and other communication channels;
  • find a critical friend in whom you place your trust and who you regularly ask to think critically with you;
  • ask for targeted support in your social network for inclusive actions.

Teachers and other educational professionals get to know their colleagues in the learning community better. Diversity and collaboration become topics about which they talk with each other. This encourages teachers to reflect and engage in personal professional development.