Guest Author

Each All Things PLC blog post author has been personally invited to contribute by the All Things PLC committee. All contributing experts have firsthand experience successfully implementing the PLC at Work™ process.

Maria Venegas, special education teacher, Roosevelt Middle School

Professional Learning Communities That Work in the Classroom

While reading Professional Learning Communities at Work™, I considerably marked up the margins with check marks and the letter U; the check marks meant “this is so important” and the Us symbolized that the ideas, as I saw them, were important because they were actually universal truths. Concepts like curiosity, practice, cooperation, support, reflection, and growth that first appeared in the introduction said to me that this book provided elements that are ageless and timeless. I knew that what was being explored could be meaningful for anyone, in any circumstance, and in any environment.

For me, this meant my role as a sixth- and eighth-grade special education teacher working with adult peers at a middle school. And yet, I also immediately saw the implications for students as well. It seemed to me that if at the heart of PLCs was collaborative learning to move toward a collective dream that was student-centered, then it was imperative to bring the children into that dream from the beginning. Therefore, in designing the foundation for learning at a middle school that was just starting to embrace the PLC framework, I decided to take action that would start from the heart. That is, my students and I would co-create our PLC as the foundation for learning within the classroom environment as I was concurrently building a PLC with my colleagues.

I was determined to engage in this endeavor based on the common understanding in teaching that learning environments require key components to help ensure a willingness to participate fully. Practices need to be established immediately that are purposeful and transparent so that students feel safe to participate with new material and with one another. This is true not only for students making a developmental leap from elementary to middle school, but also for students familiar with a culture that would be changing due to decisions made within the larger PLC and PLC teams.

In order to move more gracefully with the fundamental shifts as they approached, I believed that working collectively on PLC elements like missions, visions, values, and goals would give the students an ability to see where they fit in as members of the larger PLC and the confidence to face unforeseen experiences that would come their way throughout the year as their teachers experimented. As the ebb and flow of new approaches would enter their world, students would be able to see how the larger design of their school was accepting of their ideas. Since their strengths, desires, and needs were being validated and captured, they could trust in contributing to other PLC aspects that could intensify their growth and their school’s growth.

In the short two-and-a-half months that the classroom PLCs have been active, we have weaved in other components conducive to inquiry, efficacy, accomplishment, motivation, and joy including the establishment of team agreements and collective commitments, and addressing the four PLC questions (slightly modified for student purposes). On a daily basis, we explore our formative and summative assessment results together to determine some student-generated next steps, take on self-created PLC duties to allow for further self-expression, and learn and utilize coaching skills. Two online resources keep parents informed on the weekly happenings within the classroom PLCs using PLC language. An even larger extension of the PLC work is the involvement of the students in community service “Greater Good” projects. Their authentic connection to all that is inherent within collaborating has students wanting to attach themselves to new interactions and opportunities to share. As they would say, “We want to put the C in the PLC!”

And now, in their own words…

“Being in a PLC has served me by being professional. I used to not be professional, but it changed how I think. I felt like I was warming up to the group. And so I tried to be the best PLC ambassador I could be. And look at me now. I’m about to be famous. We’re all about to be famous.”—Brandon, sixth grade

“Being in a PLC has served my needs by the Greater Good project. My friends and I have learned that 100 days of good can even mean passion, and I love helping people and pets. And last thing, I just hope someday everybody will help their professional learning community or PLC. Go, PLC!”—Travis, sixth grade

“Being in a PLC makes me feel happy, and my brain always starts working. It also makes me feel confident and helps me with my learning skills as I do my work. I feel calm.”—Christina, sixth grade

“Being in a PLC has served my needs by teaching me how to work together as a community, and it taught me coaching lessons. I am proud to be in Room 9. It has taught me to listen to others, even to pay attention.”—Jaden, sixth grade

“Being in a PLC has served my needs by helping me to learn how to help/coach others in their learning. It has also helped me to look at things differently than I had before. I think that a PLC is a good thing because you learn, help, coach, and do something good that will help you later on in life.”—Cassey, eighth grade

“Being in a PLC has served me by teaching me how to talk and work with people more. It has also taught me how to love, be nice, and not say shut up so much (LOL), but most of all, it is getting me ready for life.”—Stefani, eighth grade

“The PLC helps me in my other classes. It helps me get good grades in all of my classes.”—Haden, eighth grade



Am I the only one who doesn't want a White Dress?

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Maria Venegas

Hi Jenny,
Thanks so much for taking the time to read my blog and consider the ideas deeply enough to discover personal meaning for you and your teaching endeavors. Since you are just beginning to learn about the framework I think that your strategy of learning it along with your students makes good sense. While I don't have all the details of the make-up of your school, the idea of having a small staff might be
something that you want to consider later on as actually an ideal situation for moving into a school-wide PLC model.
Along with teaching Language Arts, I too, teach Social Studies. The fantastic thing about the PLC design is that it works in any environment (literally any, family, clubs, sport teams....) The foundational piece is really about, "the dream." What, for example, do you and your students want your classroom/PLC to look like? Sound like? Feel like? Perhaps you could pull in something that the students have learned in Social Studies as a means
of comparing and contrasting a historical environment and one that would be more conducive to learning. This is essentially the "Vision." The Mission focuses on your" purpose." This is such a great area to delve deeply into because so many students still automatically answer with "to learn." Which, of course, is true, and yet they often can't move further than this concept.
We then explored "Values." Values from 2 viewpoints. 1) What is important to me?, 2) How do I need to behave to demonstrate that my stated values are, indeed, important to me?
Now, all along the way the students were using a variety of lessons, youtube video clips, stories, and activities to surface their personal strengths and desires (try out this site for some awesome protocols: This helped greatly in inspiring them to take ownership of the processes and results of moving towards becoming a functioning PLC. This also helped to identify specific personal and academic Goals as the final component of our PLC foundation.
You are so right; moving into anything new is scary! However, I promise you that if you trust your gut and learn a little (purchase one of the DuFour's books. I recommend "Revisting PLCs That Work" or "Learning By Doing") and apply it, you'll find that your students will respond, your confidence will go up, your student's confidence will
rise, and each new step will appear to you. Again, learn a
little...teach a and listen to your students very carefully. They will "tell" you what to do next! Go for it, Jenny! Know that you can contact me at this e-mail address anytime along your journey. I will be more than happy to offer my support.
Take good care,

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Our school district has been a supporter of the PLC concept for several years now. In the last two years we have added the STPT (Structured Teacher Planning Time) to augment the PLC process.
STPT gives the grade level a set time, agenda and format to analyze data. As the analysis develops it really gives us a clear picture of trends, weaknesses and strengths across the grade level. The feedback we provide to admin and the district is used to schedule appropriate PLC topics based our findings. This is proving to be a great help to us.

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Patrice Sukie

Hi Jennifer,

You are not alone with the PLC. It is new to many of us and we are all learning. I am happy that there is a global window in which we can learn how to enhance learning in the classroom.


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Patrice Sukie

I am currently a graduate student at Walden University and am also an Information Technology teacher in Jamaica, West Indies. We are grappling with PLC in our school as time is hardly ever going to allow anyone to meet and discuss best practices shared in our classrooms.

Maria, I was very impressed with your blog and thought it was a good idea you started it as so many of us as teachers try so hard to find ways to enhance learning in the classroom. I believe that if all elements involved in the learning process - teacher, student, administration - see the need for PLC then we can have profound implications for our schools and student learning.

I totally agree with you that students need to be involved in PLC so that they are able to reap the results. They can set their own goals and aspirations and can also collaborate in achieving these goals.


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Hello Maria,
Forgive me for my ignorance, I know very little about PLC's but I have recently taken an interest in them and would like to know more. I do not think it is a possibility at this time to implement PLC's into the framework of the teaching staff at my school due to the small number of full time teachers employed there, but I am interested in doing it within my own classroom.
I teach 8th grade social studies. I am one of two social studies teachers in the building, and the only 8th grade social studies teacher. What would you suggest as a first step to creating a PLC within my classroom? Do I announce it to the class or do I ease them into it by -like you did- posting a benchmark and asking them how they want to learn about it? I think that is a neat idea. It's scary because I feel like I will constantly be lesson planning, but I am sure that the ideas will recycle year after year.
Like I said, I am just getting my feet wet and I could be way off base with my idea of what a PLC is and how to integrate it into my class. If you could offer any words of wisdom or advice I would appreciate it!

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Maria Venegas

So Becky, here's what I can share in how I created the general framework of PLCs in the classroom via a blog response. After reading "Revisiting Professional Learning Communities That Work," I extracted the integral pieces of a school-wide PLC and wrote them out on paper so that I could see them clearly as actual elements that would eventually become part of the classroom model. Following the idea of a "backwards plan," I made Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals the first benchmark that I wanted my students to be able to create in order to start connecting with the PLC framework. Then, in dealing with just Mission and the integral question of; What is our purpose? I asked myself what students would need to do in order to be able to respond to that question in depth. This led me to consider the need for students to explore their own personal strengths and desires, and had me seeking out creative ways for them to do this. What I noticed was that when I asked a question and honed right in on what needed to be explored by students, more than enough strategies and activities came my way to fulfill that experience and inspire them. Furthermore, I discovered that once the Missions were established in all of my classes I had enough momentum to stay aware of what students were saying that they would need to create their PLC Visions. It was as though my thinking in a way of staying highly conscious to how students were involving themselves in exploring who they were/are was the lynch pin for asking new questions and bringing in new experiences for them. It also allowed me to have impeccable timing for weaving in more pieces of a PLC, curriculum components, Peer Coaching pieces, pre-planning and execution of "Greater Good" community projects. Each piece had a stickiness factor for the next. I'm at the point where I can create weekly lesson plans that consist of unit elements congruent with the curriculum and student needs, but rather than being led by them, they are reached based on student readiness. It is very much a "dance" between them, their peers, and me. Moreover, it is the current well-established PLC atmosphere of accountability and respect held by each individual that is allowing students to take on amazing risks for greater achievement. For students who have experienced a fixed mindset for years, a new growth mindset has been rewired and students are feeling their genius.

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Maria Venegas

Hi Becky,
I sent you a response via your e-mail address, but also wanted to copy my message to you here, as well, to make sure that you received my reply:

Hi Becky,
Thank you so much for reading the blog on PLCs in The Classroom and seeing the value in the concept. I would be very happy to share with you all that has gone into the design and application of the idea so that amazing results could be realized at Roosevelt (some planned for, some hoped for, and some that were completely unexpected). Here's the challenge. While all of the pre-planning and delivery has been well-documented, it requires explanation to understand the theory behind the action steps. It's that continual reality of education that nothing is delivered mechanically. Do you use SKYPE? If so, would you be interested in having an on-line conversation on this topic? If that is not possible, no worries, I will create an outline of the broad ideas and questions that I used to weave in the components of PLCs into the classroom experience. I will get that to you by early Sunday evening.

Again, thank you so much for your interest. It was always my intent to develop something successful for both students and teachers that I could eventually share. I want others to feel that immense joy that comes from participating in a learning atmosphere that cultivates deep respect and trust by all.

Take good care,

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Becky Hopkins

"Professional Learning Communities That Work in the Classroom"
This blog discussed an excellent teacher who, after reading the article " Professional Learning Communities at Work," decided to not only be involved in her school based Professional Learning Communities but to also build a Professional Learning Community with her classroom. Her philosophy was that the heart of PLC's was collaborative learning moving toward a collective dream that was student centered and therefore needed to include the students. She co-created a PLC in her classroom as the school was creating the Professional Learning Community.
The class PLC focused on developing a mission and values to give students the ability to see where they fit as members of their PLC and then the larger PLC. The PLC included student strengths and desires to validate their individual importance for the PLC and build a trust to know they were helping build this professional learning community for their school and community.
The PCL was validated in the blog and each of the student's personal comments on what the PLC meant to them individually.
I loved this blog and Maria's vision for her class to work as a PLC. I also work with Exceptional Ed students and teachers and have recently been concerned about some of the 9th graders disengaging themselves from learning. I felt they needed a purpose for being involved. After reading your blog , I realize that this is actually what they need to help them buy back into learning.
I would love to learn more about how you developed and what the project was that both you and your students discussed. I have a couple of out of field teachers who need direction and purpose themselves for engaging our students in active learning. I feel that PLC is the way to go. I'd appreciate a response so we can continue to develop PLC even in the classroom.

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