Improving Student Achievement through Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)

By Jaclyn Scotto Siano

One of the major goals of any school is student achievement. But did you know that Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) can contribute to increased student success?  In our last blog, we discussed how PLCs can be used as a method for improving teaching and pedagogy; today, let’s focus on some strategies that can be used in PLCs to improve student achievement.

Reviewing Student Work and Using Data Analysis

Having a set, recurring PLC time provides teachers with a place to review student work. One way this can be particularly helpful is when teachers are encouraged to bring graded performance-based assessments to their PLCs. Using the rubrics, teachers can focus on areas of strength and weakness for individual students. From there, individual support plans can be created to provide extra help in struggling areas. For example, if a particular student scored low on the grading rubric section for using MLA citations correctly, the teacher could provide the student with extra practice on this topic.

Similarly, teachers can work together during PLC time to analyze data from traditional assessments, like multiple choice tests. Reviewing graded tests as a group provides the teacher with objective feedback on both student scores and the test itself. In regards to student achievement, data analysis can assist the teacher in locating problem areas/topics. If many students perform poorly on the same question(s), then the teacher can consider re-teaching that topic for clarity.

Best Practices

PLCs provide educators with a venue for sharing best practices. In PLCs where the teachers share the same students, it provides an opportunity for discussing strategies on dealing with certain students. For example, one teacher may have found a helpful website to use with a struggling non-native English speaking student.

In all PLCs, educators can use that time to “bounce” ideas off each other. One teacher may have taught a very successful lesson or assigned a great project; he or she can share that with the group so that it may be adapted for other classes. When teachers share their victories, their peers can benefit and so can the students.


Multiple research studies show a direct link between teachers who are involved in PLCs and increased student achievement (Vescio et al., 2008). In its most effective form, a PLC should be utilized for all of the activities listed above. When teachers find new and more efficient ways to teach their students, students are more likely to succeed. We learn more when we learn together!


Vescio, V., Ross, D., and Adams, A. (2008). A review of research on the impact of professional learning communities on teaching practice and student learning. Teaching and Teacher Education, 24, 80-91.

By |2019-02-04T14:42:04+00:00February 4th, 2019|PLCs|0 Comments

Improving Teacher Practice: Creating a Collaborative Culture through PLCs

By Jaclyn Scotto Siano

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb

As educators, we know that there are multiple benefits that come from teacher collaboration; one of the biggest is improved teacher practice. In past blogs, we’ve established the basics of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) in regards to purpose and initiation. Today, let’s get a little more specific and discuss how PLCs can be used as a method for improving pedagogy.

Problem Solving

PLCs provide a forum for educators to engage in open and honest discussion about relevant topics, such as dealing with educational issues. For example, if a teacher has recurring discipline issues with a particular student, he could refer to his PLC for ideas. This discussion of “what works” or best practices provides the struggling teacher with strategies that he can apply in his own classroom. In turn, this provides the teacher with a larger repertoire of strategies to use that could even prevent further issues! An added bonus is that these types of open discussions increase levels of interpersonal trust among group members (Tschannen-Moran, 2009). In turn, this increases the likelihood of teachers going to their peers for help even outside of PLC time.

Group Inquiry

Another way teacher collaboration can improve teaching is through the use of a group inquiry cycle. The majority of us have engaged in some kind of data analysis process; typically, this is done individually. However, in a PLC, members can work together to not just analyze data but to further understand educational issues and then assist their peers in creating more effective practices for the classroom based on the results.

One example of a recommended inquiry process is the Stamford PLC Cycle. In its simplest form, this cycle uses five steps:

  1. The PLC chooses an area of focus and then analyzes data
  2. The PLC reviews and discusses student work samples
  3. The PLC members take turns observing the member requesting assistance
  4. The PLC will create an assessment to identify strengths and weaknesses.
  5. The PLC will come up with a plan for “next steps” that the requesting teacher can apply. (Thessin and Starr, 2011)

Lesson Planning

Even if you work in a school that does not require collaborative or aligned lesson planning, a PLC is a natural conduit for it to occur. If groups are created based on subject matter (i.e.: all English teachers are in one PLC), then teachers can be encouraged to share their favorite lessons and activities. Many can be adapted to fit varied subjects. If PLC groups are arranged by grade level (i.e.: all fourth-grade teachers are in one PLC), then teachers should be encouraged to engage in cross-curricular planning. An easy way to initiate this is to ask each teacher to pair up with another who teaches a different subject and create a combined lesson. In either case, the result is a larger “toolbox” of effective pedagogical strategies from which your teachers can pull.


As the proverb implies, educators must work together in order to achieve success. Each teacher comes to a school with different ideas, activities, and strategies; encourage them to share the wealth via PLCs!

Keep an eye out for our next PLC blog where we will get into the nitty gritty of data analysis in PLCs and how it can improve student learning.


Thessin, R. A., & Starr, J. P. (2011). Supporting the growth of effective professional learning communities districtwide. The Phi Delta Kappan, 92(6), 48-54. doi:10.1177/003172171109200611

Tschannen-Moran, M. (2009).  Fostering teacher professionalism in schools:  The role of leadership orientation and trust.  Educational Administration Quarterly, 45(2), 217-247.  doi:  10.1177/0013161X08330501

By |2019-01-10T19:39:06+00:00January 11th, 2019|PLCs|0 Comments

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

The Principal Benefits of Professional Learning Communities

By Jaclyn Scotto Siano

“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” – Phil Jackson

This quote is particularly relevant in the field of education, and can be applied through the use of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). PLC is the general term used for a group of educators who meet regularly to discuss and plan for the improvement of teaching and learning.

The big question of today is why do PLCS? Beyond the fact that PLCs are job-embedded professional development, research shows many benefits of utilizing collaboration through PLCs. Today we will focus on two of the most critical: improved communication, and improved relationship/school climate.

Improved Communication

One important benefit of utilizing PLCs in your school is the increase in effective communication between staff.  PLCs incorporate a team of teachers and administrators/leaders working together to discuss and problem solve educational topics.

Successful PLCs promote effective communication through open dialogue and the use of collaboration. Research by Nelson et al. (2010), Stoll et al. (2006), and Hilliard and Newsome (2013), show that PLCs are collaborative, engage participants in the inquiry process, and encourage shared leadership. By encouraging these actions, teachers and administrators learn how to better communicate with each other which can result in better teaching, planning, and learning. Teachers must feel comfortable engaging in open and honest communication with their administrators/leaders in order for a positive school climate to exist (McCarley et al., 2014)

Another added perk is that research shows that teachers who engage in open communication with their administrators/leaders experience more positive attitudes towards their jobs (Rafferty, 2003)!

Improved Relationships & Climate

There is a connection between positive adult relationships in a school building and positive school climate. Collaboration and connection are two key attributes of positive school climate (Cohen et al., 2009); both can be achieved through PLCs. Similarly, a positive school climate results in more productive students and more dedicated teachers (Rapti, 2013).  Creating suggestions for improvement through collaboration (like what occurs in PLCs) can lead to improvement in student learning and improved educational outcomes (Cohen et al., 2009).

Other research even notes that schools that engage in PLCs noticed their teachers demonstrated improved job satisfaction and higher morale; there were even fewer teacher absences (Harris & Jones, 2010)!


If you are looking to improve your school climate, staff relationships, and communication, then PLCs can help! Implementing a scheduled time for staff collaboration can have have a lasting impact on teaching and learning outcomes.


Look for our next blog on PLCs on January 22, 2019 which will focus on how to easily and effectively set up PLCs in your school!



Cohen, J., McCabe, L., Michelli, N.M., & Pickeral, T. (2009). School climate: Research, policy, practice, and teacher education. Teachers College Record, 111(1), 180. Retrieved[JB1]  from

Harris[JB2] , A., & Jones, M. (2010).  Professional learning communities. Improving Schools, 13(2), 172-181.  doi:  10.1177/1365480210376487

Hilliard, A. T., & Newsome, E. (2013). Effective communication and creating professional learning communities is a valuable practice for superintendents. Contemporary Issues in Education Research (Online), 6(4), 353. Retrieved[JB3]  from

McCarley, T.A., Peters, M.L., & Decman, J.M. (2016).  Transformational leadership related to school climate:  A multi-level analysis. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 44(2), 322-342. doi: 10.1177/1741143214549966

Nelson, T. H., LeBard, L., & Waters, C. (2010). How to create a professional learning community. Science and Children, 47(9), 36-40. Retrieved from (Accession No. 521202056)

Rafferty, T. J. (2003). School climate and teacher attitudes toward upward         communication in secondary schools.  American Secondary Education, 31(2), 49-70.  Retrieved from (Accession No. 195185353)

Rapti, D. (2013).  School climate as an important component of school effectiveness. Academicus International Scientific Journal, 8(8), 110-125.  Retrieved from

Stoll, L., Bolam, R., Mcmahon, A., Wallace, M., & Thomas, S. (2006). Professional learning communities: A review of the literature. Journal of Educational Change,7(4), 221-258. doi:  10.1007/s10833-0060001-8

By |2018-11-15T15:25:43+00:00November 15th, 2018|PLCs|0 Comments