Continuous Improvement

Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)

Published: 12/7/2018 2:19 PM

​What is a PLC?

A professional learning community, or PLC, is an organizational structure by design that meets regularly, shares expertise, and works collaboratively to improve teaching skills and the academic performance of students. The school’s curriculum, instructional design, and assessment practices are monitored through the PLC design to ensure teacher effectiveness and most importantly student learning. PLCs require the utilization of data from assessments and an examination of professional practice as teachers and administrators systematically monitor and adjust curriculum, instruction, and assessment to ensure the goal of graduating all students are college and/or career ready.

PLC Explanation by Richard DuFour

Watch the video with Richard DuFour to hear a quick explanation of what professional learning communities involve and how they are beneficial to the educator community.

Why a PLC Protocol?

The PLC protocol is the vehicle for creating a high performing learning organization. The PLC protocol builds a learning organization by making professional learning routine. The PLC protocol provides a structure for all teachers to participate in collaborative learning communities that meet both informally and formally on a regular schedule to inform the ongoing modification of instruction, assessments, and provide data for possible curriculum revision. The PLC process provides a framework for teachers to discuss next steps needed to implement interventions for students with specific and immediate feedback about their learning. Contained here are varied examples of PLC protocols. Each school/district took time to determine which processes would improve teaching skills and the academic performance of students. PLC processes should be carefully determined by current context. These protocols were set in place by the leadership because the leaders appropriately identified next steps. The take away is that continuous improvement is imbedded within each of these.

Not All PLCs Are Created Equally

According to Anthony Muhammad, there are four types of teachers present within all schools. Believers are very intrinsically motivated. They are flexible with students both academically and behaviorally. They are mission driven with a connection to the school or community. Believers are willing to confront negative talk and attitudes toward children. Tweeners are enthusiastic about the idealistic nature of school, but have not quite hit the tipping point. They follow instructions as given by administration, and try to avoid school and district politics. However, one good or bad experience can swing them to be a Believer or Fundamentalist. Survivors have no political or organizational aspirations. They are affected by the overwhelming nature of the job or life – they experience burnout. Survivors display little to no professional practice. Fundamentalists want to maintain the status quo. They do not like change and will do anything to avoid it. Transforming School Culture provides more information about understanding and overcoming the resistance to necessary change.

Educators from across the state came together to demonstrate Muhammad’s characters that show up in all schools. Below you will find examples of both ineffective and effective PLCs.

The Evolution of PLCs across Kentucky

In the following videos, teachers and administrators from across the state share how their PLCs have evolved:

In this video, Tonya Isaccs, Assistant Superintendent, discusses how the PLC process has evolved in Estill County, and how the desire to better serve novice students created the need for a PLC protocol. Jessica Mullins who is an Estill County principal and Donald Norton who is an Estill County teacher share the benefits of creating systems to monitor current classroom instruction within their district, and how they moved from compliance to eventually using the PLC protocol to enhance student achievement. Total time 2:45.

In this video, Jennifer Donnelly, Curriculum Coach, shares how the PLC process evolved within Berea Independent Schools. She shares the importance of thoughtful and intentional planning to ensure a common vision. She discusses her role within the PLC, and shares how the commitment of the superintendent and principals has been vital in propelling the process forward. Total time 1:52.

In this video, Sarah Tyson and Sarah Sowders, teacher leaders at Hopkins County Central High School, share how professional learning communities have evolved within their school. They share the importance of the implementation of lesson studies to ensure appropriate rigor and relevance within classroom instructional practices. A step-by-step analysis of the PLC protocol is given to demonstrate how continuous improvement efforts through PLCS are ensuring the work of novice reduction. The rigor and relevance document referenced within the video may be accessed here. Total time 3:52.

In this video, Principal William Noble shares how the PLC process has evolved at LBJ Elementary located within Breathitt County. He shares how the use of a PDSA (Plan, Do, Study, Act) protocol helped to propel their work. The video includes a discussion of his changing roles throughout the process, and the importance of building capacity among teacher leaders. Total time 1:52.

In this video, Mr. Marion Sowders, Superintendent of Casey County Schools, shares his vision for student success and novice reduction through instrumentally implementing highly effective professional learning communities. Mr. Sowders ensures PLCs in Casey County have common traits and threads that support the work of novice reduction that ends in action steps to ensure “all students in Casey County receive a top-notch education”. Total time 3:35.

Critical Conversations Within the PLC

In the following videos, administrators discuss the importance of critical conversations within the PLC:

In this video, Principal William Streeval and Curriculum Coach Lisa Ware from Jones Park Elementary School located within Casey County share the importance of having critical conversations during the PLCs. This video includes a discussion of how their PLC teams look at individual student data and develop plans to address underperformance. Mr. Streeval stresses the importance of also celebrating student progress as they move toward their goals. Total time 3:01.

In this video, Amanda Hall, Curriculum Specialist at Pulaski County High School, shares the importance of keeping PLC conversations student focused. She discusses the value of teacher reflection in the PLC process, and shares how administrators can ask probing questions to aid in that reflection. Total time 1:32.

Impact Student Achievement

In the following videos, teachers describe how they make instructional decisions to impact student achievement based on PLCs:

In this video, Kathryn Claiborne, Pre-AP biology teacher from Pulaski County High School, shares how she benefited from the PLC process as a new teacher. She describes how the PLC process has allowed her to reflect upon her teaching and use that analysis to better serve her students so that they can be successful. Total time 1:10.

In this video, Susan Stringer, content lead at Casey County High School, shares how when students fail to grasp standards in the math department, they ensure the students have ample opportunity to gain the mastery of the standards through cumulative assessments and intentional curriculum design. Total time 1:16. 

In this video, Tyler Watts, teacher at Letcher County Elementary School, shares how the PLC process enables teachers to meet the needs of students as they analyze data and make instructional decisions. He includes the benefit of having both cross-curricular and content specific PLCs to make informed decisions that improve instruction, increase student achievement, and reduce novice performance. Total time 1:52.

In this video, Jamie Clark, a teacher at Jones Park Elementary located within Casey County, shares how she uses PLCs to evaluate her instruction and to define next steps.  Ms. Clark discusses the benefit of sharing instructional strategies during the PLC process. Contained within this video is a specific instructional strategy that has been effective with her students. Total time 1:59.

In this video, Susan Stringer, content lead at Casey County High School, shares how her team meets in the weekly PLCs with the end in mind.   Their time is spent in the analysis of data and determining instructional next steps.  Although data analysis is included, Ms. Stringer emphasizes the importance of the congruency of the instruction to the intent of the standard. Total time 2:43.  

Susan Greer
Office of Continuous Improvement and Support
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​PLCs at the Hub Schools

PLCs at Pulaski County High School (PCHS) 

Casey Inabnitt, Assistant Principal at PCHS, begins this video with a three part journey of Professional Learning Communities at his school. First, he explains the Plan Do Study Act model used as part of the Professional Learning Communities process. He discusses how each part (Plan, Do, Study, Act) is implemented and how student achievement has improved because of the processes being used. Mr. Inabnitt gives detailed information of the current PLC protocol used to monitor student learning and to strengthen instruction (3:59). Mr. Inabnitt also explains how the PLC process has evolved over time at Pulaski County High School (6:04). He shares in the video how this valuable tool is executed in order to effectively analyze and apply data to increase the effectiveness of teaching and promote student learning. Total time is 7:03.

PLCs at Franklin-Simpson High School (FSHS)
Ms. Houchins and Ms. Sawyer, science teachers at FSHS, discuss how the need and focus for PLCs has evolved at their school. They share how their PLCs looked when initially implemented  and how they have evolved over the course of five years. Total time 3:17.

PLCs at East Carter High School
Danielle Boggs, teacher at East Carter High School, discusses how participating in Professional Learning Communities has improved instruction in all classrooms. She discusses how the PLC allows teachers to analyze data and collaborate to determine which high yield strategies will best meet the needs of struggling students. Total time 2:37

Lesson Study
Judy Dotson, Instructional Supervisor, discusses how lesson study allows teachers to collaborate as they develop, implement, analyze, and modify lesson plans in order to strengthen teaching and learning. Total time 3:02

Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA)

These are steps in an improvement process. PDSAs are about making processes better. They can be used to begin from scratch to build a process or to improve a process already in place. PDSAs are a valuable tool for making improvements and monitoring the level of success. Teacher leader Kathryn Claiborne and Curriculum Specialist Amanda Hall (Pulaski County High School) share how teachers within their school participate in department PLCs to enhance student achievement by implementing the Plan-Do-Study-Act process. In the following videos, they describe each cycle of PDSA and the protocol followed by each of the PLC teams which create a culture of continuous improvement.

  • Plan (Total time 2:50)
  • Do (Total time 1:56)
  • Study (Total time 5:42)
  • Act (Total time 2:40)

Effective PLCs From Across the State

In this video, Susan Stringer, content lead at Casey County High School, guides teachers in conducting an item analysis of common assessments within the math department. During the weekly PLC, math teachers discuss the benefits of daily learning checks, misconceptions among students, and strategies to help students successfully master standards. Total time 2:18.

In this video, Hannah Martin, a teacher in Casey County, shares student progress during the monthly RtI PLC held at Jones Park Elementary. She includes the importance of altering classroom instruction to meet the needs of the students not mastering standards. Total time 1:14

In this video, Sheri Bonzo and Jamie Tiller, teachers at East Carter High School, work collaboratively in a PLC to review classroom data and utilize that data to make informed instructional decisions. In addition, they demonstrate the benefit of using a 120-day plan aligned with the school’s CSIP goals for greatest impact on student achievement. Total time 3:28.

SWOT Videos

Educators from across the state came together to demonstrate an exemplary use of the SWOT analysis tool. Click the images below to watch Kathryn Claiborne (Pulaski County), Tyler Watts (Letcher County), Jenna Koroly (Newport Independent), and Amanda Hall (Pulaski County) identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as they discuss student data results.

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