PLC Quick-Start Guide for Coaches

by Jaclyn Scotto Siano


Congratulations, you’ve decided to initiate Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) in your school! Now, the question is how do we get started? There are a lot of considerations to be made when implementing PLCs. Here’s our handy-dandy Quick Start Guide to get you rolling.


First off, you have to determine how your staff will be grouped. Some popular options are by grade, subject, department, and/or shared students. How you determine grouping may be affected by when PLCs will meet. Do certain groups of teachers have common planning time? If so, it might be a good idea to group teachers that way. Will PLCs meet before or after school? Then, you have more flexibility in your groupings. Whatever method you choose for groupings, keep in mind that an ideal meeting length is at least thirty minutes.

Topics and Agendas

Before each PLC meeting, an agenda should be created and distributed to all team members. This agenda should include the date, time, and location of the meeting, and the topics of discussion. Ideally, topics and agendas should be connected to the PLC’s yearly goals. Although some schools choose to dictate PLC meeting topics, it is not recommended as a regular practice (for example quarterly exam data analysis or PARCC practice test creation). The ultimate goal of an effective PLC is to allow an equal distribution of leadership between administrators and teachers while providing teachers a place to collaborate in regards to teaching and learning.

Group Norms

Not all teachers know how to effectively work in groups. Before their first official PLC meeting, encourage each team to create group norms. Basically, these are ground rules that all PLC members are expected to follow in order for meeting to run smoothly and effectively. They should be clear, concise, positively phrased, and collaboratively created. Some examples of PLC group norms could include the following:

  1. Be on time.
  2. Be respectful of others’ opinions.
  3. Participate regularly.
  4. Come prepared (ex: with data or lesson plans) per the agenda.

Remind PLC groups that these norms should be posted in their meeting spaces and reviewed at the beginning of every PLC meeting.


Congratulations on taking the first step on the road to PLCs. Keep in mind these basic elements (scheduling, topics, agendas, norms) as you begin your journey, and build from there.

Keep an eye out for our next PLC blog on how to maximize the positive effects of your PLCs!


State of New Jersey Department of Education (2017). Collaborative teams toolkit. Retrieved from

By |2018-12-04T16:41:59+00:00December 4th, 2018|Coaching, PLCs|0 Comments

Quick-Start Guide to Coaching Part 2 – How to Sustain Change

So you’ve constructed your cohorts, you’ve created your goals, now what?

To sustain change it is important to plan ahead, be consistent, and be transparent.

Tips to sustain change:

  1. Inform your cohorts about their group.  You can even have them assist in creating the goals for the cohort.
    1. Be sure to only select two or three goals for each group.
    2. Ensure that your goals are SMART:
      1. Specific
      2. Measurable
      3. Attainable
      4. Relevant
      5. Time-bound (consider working with each cohort for a specific amount of time: a semester, marking period, six weeks, etc.)
  2. Inform them of the schedule for visits and the objective(s) of each visit.

Want to learn more about SMART goals?  Check out this free worksheet!

Demo Lessons:

  1. If you are doing a demonstration lesson or a teacher is doing one, have a list of look fors for the teachers observing. For example, if the focus is on asking rigorous questions have teachers document the questions asked and then (in the debriefing session) identify the levels (Bloom’s) of questions, the use of open-ended questions, wait time, text-dependent questions, scaffolding questions, etc.
  2. Plan ahead for a debriefing session where teachers can ask questions, share ideas, and plan for application in their own classrooms.  Tip: These share-outs and planning ideas should be shared with the cohort for accountability and support.
  3. Consider using one classroom as a lab site, offering teachers in the cohort the opportunity to observe in this one classroom.  Alternatively, you can rotate classrooms.


  1. To create buy-in, be sure to set norms that encourage trust. 
  2. Consider having each member of the cohort lead a PLC meeting.
  3. Mid-way through the cycle, consider a check-in point where teachers can:
    1. Brainstorm how to handle obstacles/challenges
    2. Check progress on SMART Goals
    3. Share student work related to the goal

Tip: If you are working on 6-week cycles, for example, the coach can lead the first and last sessions and teachers can take turns leading the sessions in between.  If you have a larger cohort, teachers can team up to present a topic pertinent to the cohort goals.

For example, if mastering Socratic Seminar is an objective, the teacher(s) leading the PLC can share best practices about setting up Socratic Seminars. They can include a video (even one they created of their own classrooms), templates, and handouts in their presentation. Remember to leave room for discussion and planning for application!


We’d love to hear from you!  Please share your success stories and tips with us in the comment section below.

Happy Coaching!

By |2018-11-29T17:51:06+00:00November 29th, 2018|Coaching|0 Comments

Quick-Start Guide to Coaching Part 1 – Choosing Your Cohort


Every school has a vision and mission.  To get there, much like we differentiate for students, we need to provide individualized support for our teachers.  Great coaching differentiates for teachers.


Not all groups are the same.  Successful coaching begins with selecting your cohort.  That cohort could be based on trends you see in your building. For example, let’s say you have a lot of untenured or new teachers, you may want to put them into their own cohort and provide PD around issues that affect them: classroom management, creating standards-based lessons, student engagement, etc.  

So what trends are you seeing in your building:

  • Teachers teaching a new grade this year?
  • New teachers?
  • New curriculum?
  • Teacher-centered instruction that you want to convert to student-centered learning?
  • Classroom management issues?
  • Writing effective lesson plans?


Once your groups are created:

  • Create an email group for each cohort-this is a great way to share ideas!
  • Decide when, where, and how often you will meet with your group
  • Decide how long your cohort will stay together- A semester?  6 weeks? A marking period? All year? (Probably not all year…think flexible grouping.)
  • Look at your calendar and schedule your sessions with the team.  Remember the objective is to move them forward, so planning and consistency is key.  
  • Consider what PD topics you will provide.
  • How will you provide PD in these areas?
    • Will you provide articles that you will unpack and discuss?
    • Will you select a lab site and conduct demonstration lessons and debrief sessions with teachers?  
    • Will you have teachers observe each other and provide feedback and insights?
    • Will you watch video clips and discuss best practices observed?
    • Will you co-plan with teachers?  

Whatever you decide, make sure you plan it out in as much detail as possible.  You can always tweak as you go, but effective coaches do not fly by the seat of their pants.

  • Create a newsletter to share glows and grows with your group.  As coaches, some of what we have to share is not always good news.  Consider ways to celebrate milestones, accomplishments, and when teachers take a leap and try something new.  (A tip is to also share these “glows” at staff meetings or PLCs for an extra celebration.)

Finally, distinguish yourself from an administrator.  Remind teachers that you are a teacher, too. You are not there to evaluate, but to help them become master teachers.  You are there to coach and support them. You are a sounding board and resource!

Happy Coaching!


Stay tuned for Part II How to Sustain Change to be released November 29, 2018.


By |2018-11-29T17:38:58+00:00November 13th, 2018|Coaching|0 Comments