The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership’s (2012) ‘Australian Charter for the Professional Learning of Teachers and School Leaders’ identifies the characteristics of quality professional learning as being relevant, collaborative and future-focused. Based on scholarly research as well as personal experience, it’s clear that development model, professional learning communities (PLCs), encompasses the aforementioned characteristics.
Before unpacking how PLCs are relevant, collaborative and future-focused it’s important to explore what PLCs are and what are their key features.
AITSL’s (n.d.) describes a professional learning community (PLC) as a “group of leaders/teachers who collaborate regularly with a focus on achieving continual school improvement. The group comes together to share and critically interrogate their practice, and together, learn and apply new and better approaches to enhance student learning” (p. 6). Some keywords and phrases present in this definition include: collaborate, continual improvement, enhance student achievement.
According to Stoll, Bolam, McMahon, Wallace & Thomas (2006), there are five generally accepted characteristics of a PLC that include: shared values and vision, collective responsibility, reflective professional inquiry, collaboration and where group, as well as individual learning, is promoted (p. 226-227). More recently, Vangrieken, Meredith, Packer, & Kyndt (2017) stress the importance of leadership, group composition and dynamics, and trust and respect in an effective PLC (p. 57).
In order for a PLC to be effective, it must be relevant. AITSL’s (n.d.) definition indicates that the professional learning has a focus on continuous school improvement. This means that it’s direction or mandate is on an area that would benefit the school. Taking it down to the individual, DeLuca, Bolden, and Chan (2017) assert that teachers value choice of their own topics to study. This autonomy makes their learning relevant.
Stoll et al. (2006) claim that “learning can no longer be left up to the individual teacher” (p. 221-222). AITSL’s (n.d.) definition highlights the need for teachers and leaders to collaborate regularly. In terms of collaboration, PLCs will fail to function if collaboration does not occur. It’s also important to realise that “skills of collaboration are not necessarily automatic or natural but need to be practiced and refined” (AITSL, 2014b, p. 8). It seems as though collaboration is one of those skills that is often assumed but rarely developed. Schools need to realise its importance and target teachers capability in this area. Effective PLCs rely on this attribute and thrive as a result.
Reflecting again on the AITSL’s (n.d.) definition of PLC, it’s apparent that this form of professional development is future focused in its inclusion of continual school improvement. This means that there is a concerted effort to constantly look for areas where improvements can be made.
Continual school improvement as relating to a focus on the future is highlighted by this PLC group.
(please note that formatting problems within WordPress have impacted the correct indentation of referencing below)
Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. (2012). Australian Charter for the Professional Learning of Teachers and School Leaders. Retrieved from https://www.aitsl.edu.au/docs/default-source/default-document-library/australian_charter_for_the_professional_learning_of_teachers_and_school_leaders.pdf?sfvrsn=53c3ec3c_0
Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. (2014b). Disciplined Collaboration in Professional Learning. Retrieved from https://www.aitsl.edu.au/docs/default-source/default-document-library/dcpl_summary_report.pdf?sfvrsn=59baec3c_0
Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. (n.d.) The Essential Guide to Professional Learning: Collaboration. Retrieved from https://www.aitsl.edu.au/docs/default-source/default-document-library/the-essential-guide-to-professional-learning—collaborationce4a8891b1e86477b58fff00006709da.pdf?sfvrsn=86a2ec3c_0
DeLuca, C., Bolden, B., & Chan, J. (2017). Systemic professional learning through collaborative inquiry: Examining teachers’ perspectives. Teaching and Teacher Education, 67(Supplement C), 67–78. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2017.05.014
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.
Vangrieken, K., Meredith, C., Packer, T., & Kyndt, E. (2017). Teacher communities as a context for professional development: A systematic review. Teaching and Teacher Education, 61, 47–59. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2016.10.001