Effective Professional Learning Communities: Part 2

Structuring your Professional Learning Community(PLC) meetings

White-board-Maskot-Getty-Images-485211701In Part 1 we examined the prerequisites for effective professional learning communities. We emphasised the importance of communicating a vision with a view to communicating effectively, building trust and changing cultures.

In this post, I will suggest a standard meeting structure for PLC meetings based on Wiliam & Leahy (2014) who argued that participants were arriving at meetings unsure of what they were learning and how they would be organising their learning. The recommendation that each meeting follows the same structure is a way of overcoming both problems.

Pre-programme Schedule

  1. Communicate the vision as described in Part 1 emphasising the need to shift from ‘fixing the teacher’ to collaborative expertise (Hattie, 2015).
  2. Explain the expected outcomes for each of the three PLCs and illustrate what a year’s progress will look like.
  3. Issue a choice of PLC’s to the staff body. Include Teaching Assistants, Learning Support Assistants and other support staff where possible in this circular. Your SEND professionals are a vital asset when it comes to joint planning, so my advice is to make every effort to include them from the beginning.
  4. Invite your staff to select their preferred PLC topic and their second preference.
  5. Allocate teachers and support staff into groups of 8-12 people. Multiples of 3 work well: two teachers and a teaching assistant (where possible).
  6. Issue a calendar of meeting dates and times. The advice from Wiliam is to meet every six weeks but I would insist on fortnightly meetings in the first instance to generate some momentum.
  7. Issue a small amount of pre-reading in preparation for meeting 1 which will be led by a nominated person. I prefer not to nominate a member of the SLT for this role as meetings can become hierarchical and limiting.
  8. Meet and train PLC leaders in how to organise their meetings.
  9. Issue the agenda for Meeting 1.

    Meeting Structure

The suggested structure is based on a 80-90 minute session and differs from Wiliam and Leahy’s arrangement in that it provides extended time for planning.

Introduction (5 minutes)

The agenda and learning intentions for the meeting are shared.

Feedback (20 minutes)

Each member of the group gives a brief report on what he or she has achieved, tested, learned since the previous session. The rest of the group listen appreciatively and then offer support to the individual in taking the plan forward. Precise information is shared in relation to the direct (observed) impact of participants’ planning on pupil outcomes.

New Learning about the Focus Topic (20 minutes)

To stimulate learning, discussion and action, one member of the group will prepare and lead a learning activity each meeting. The activities should introduce new ideas or develop those discussed previously. These activities might include a task, a video to watch and discuss, or a book study.

Joint Planning (30-40 minutes)

Using the new learning and suggestions from the feedback section of the meeting, participants work in triads to jointly plan learning episodes (lessons, schemes of learning, activities, starters, plenaries, assessments) and schedule peer observations which are an integral facet of this strategy. Each participant should be peer observed on a ration of once to every three meetings.

Summary of Learning (5 minutes)

A short opportunity to discuss whether the learning intentions for the meeting have been met. If not, there is time for the group to decide what they will do about it.

Based on Wiliam & Leahy (2014) Sustained Formative Assessment with Teacher Learning Communities


In the concluding section of this series (Part 3) we will focus on evaluating the impact of each PLC on student outcomes and how best to present this information to school leaders, inspectors and governors/boards/trustees. Furthermore, the implications for performance management of collaborative groups (Poocharoen& Wong, 2016) will be explored.


Hattie, J., (2015) ‘What works best in education: The Politics of Collaborative Expertise’, Open ideas at Pearson, Pearson, London.

Muijs, D., & A. Harris., (2007) ‘Teacher Leadership in (In)action: Three Case Studies of Contrasting Schools’, Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 35 (1) pp. 111-134 

Poocharoen, O, & Wong, N., (2016) ‘Performance Management of Collaborative Projects: The Stronger the Collaboration, the Less Is Measured’, Public Performance & Management Review, 39, 3, pp. 607-629 

Wiliam, D., (2014) ‘Sustaining Formative Assessment with Teacher Learning Communities’. Available at: http://www.dylanwiliamcenter.com/whitepapers/ (Accessed: 17/06/2016) 





Effective Professional Learning Communities Part 1

Prerequisites – Culture, Trust, Structure and Communication

Professional leaprofessional learning communityrning communities (PLC) are an effective method of developing teachers’ and building leadership capacity. They have been around in education for some time (Click here for a series of links to literature on PLCs).

Muijs & Harris (2007), in their discussion of teacher leadership, prioritise a positive school culture and clear associated structures in schools proving to be successful in fostering learning communities.

High degrees of trust and good communication are also key prerequisites; on these foundations teachers have the freedom to both learn and lead.

However, guidance for facilitating, monitoring and evaluating the impact of an effective learning community has scarcely been offered. I shall attempt to do so below.

Getting started with your learning communities

Topics for your PLCs should be drawn primarily from your school improvement plan and be limited to those actions that leaders agree will have the most impact on pupil outcomes. However, a bottom up approach to school leadership should not be ignored and it may be difficult to resist tackling a prevalent issue that could be raised by any member of your staff .

The number of PLCs will depend on the number of staff involved and how many people you decide to have in each group. Communities should ideally consist of cross-subject teachers operating at all levels of the staffing hierarchy. I have found that the ideal numbers for a PLC are between 8 and 12 staff.

PLCs can involve outside experts and where this is possible it can really boost the quality of the learning for members of the group. The relatively high cost of securing an expert in the field that you are researching is easily offset by the impact on learning outcomes.

Expect your communities to meet twice per term and for a minimum period of 24 months. I propose that meeting time should be always one hour, as any less makes it difficult to keep to the suggested structure and any more becomes too great a demand on teacher time. Additional time will need to be made available for teachers to research, observe each other, reflect together and present their learning in some form.

My advice is to steal the time made available for performance management observations and use it for this more developmental purpose instead.

You will need to communicate clearly to your teachers that the topics that they are working on are crucial, not just for their own professional learning and the ongoing development of the school, but even more importantly for the outcomes of the pupils that they teach.

It is necessary, I have found, to explain to staff why you are taking this approach to their professional learning. In an undeveloped school culture, teachers may just see this as another meeting, sapping their time. Having a clear vision for professional learning to present to staff will be something that you might want to give some thought to. Here is an example for you to base your vision on.

We believe in the value of learning, not just for our pupils but for everyone at the school/academy. We understand that collaborative teacher development is at the centre of our professional self-efficacy which contributes to our well-being. We appreciate that through continuous learning, we will positively improve the learning experiences and outcomes for the children that we teach. We trust that colleagues will support each others’ professional development by taking shared responsibility for the quality of work produced in their Professional Learning Communities; sharing what they have learned with others.

Having a vision will give your CPD strategy both focus and direction (Averso, 2004). It is something to return to with staff if you feel standards are not being fully met.

Starting with the end in mind is a concept that I believe will lead to better outcomes. Staff should expect to take part in small scale research, lead at least one meeting, feedback what they have learned at every meeting, collaboratively plan lessons, observe and reflect on each others’ lessons, and present their learning in a formal way.

In Part 2, we will take a look at research informed structures for each of the meetings and how you can facilitate high quality collaboration.


Averso, R. S., (2004) A Phenomenological Study of Leadership: Developing a Shared School Vision, Norman: University of Oklahoma

Easton, L.B., (2015) ‘THE 5 HABITS OF EFFECTIVE PLCs’, Journal Of Staff Development, 36, 6, pp. 24-34

Muijs, D., & A. Harris., (2007) ‘Teacher Leadership in (In)action: Three Case Studies of Contrasting Schools’, Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 35 (1) pp. 111-134

Sinek, S., (2009) How Great Leaders Inspire Action [Video] http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action

Steffens, N, Mols, F, Haslam, S, & Okimoto, T., (2016). ‘True to what We stand for: Championing collective interests as a path to authentic leadership’, The Leadership Quarterly

Wiliam, D., (2016) Five Components of an Effective Teacher Learning Community, [Video] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYQK5Ghl4xk&feature=youtu.be

Additional Links

Dunlap Community Unit Schools – Professional Learning Communities

New Standards for Teacher Development

The Standard for teachers’ professional development, (DFE, 2016) is a welcome document for those of us in education who truly value the significant impact that high quality CPD for teachers can have on pupil outcomes, collective institutional efficacy and professional pride.

In the absence of such guidance, I have witnessed pronounced variation in the value of teacher development opportunities between schools. A well-trained, motivated and self-improving school system is vital if we are to improve the quality of education and inspire social change. Therefore, a robust standard is needed, firstly to provide a framework for planning effective professional development and secondly, to hold school leaders to account for the quality of programmes that they offer.

Divided into five parts, the standard prioritises the findings from a review of evidence by Cordingley et al. (2015) into effective professional development. In summary, these are:

  • Maintaining a clear focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes;
  • Using evidence and expertise to underpin professional development;
  • Including collaboration and expert challenge;
  • Sustaining development programmes over time;
  • Ensuring that school leadership prioritises professional development.

Similarly, both Hattie (2015) and Wiliam (2014) have recognised the value of sustained and collaborative professional development which is measured for its impact on pupil outcomes and underpinned by robust research evidence and expertise.

The key implication of the standard (for school leaders) is an institutional commitment: academically, budgetary and strategically, to sustained and effective professional development. As school leaders begin to calibrate precisely what the standard means for them and how they can manipulate their resources, they may do well to consult with experienced leaders who have designed effective professional development programmes that already meet the standard.

Having successTDTfully established collaborative professional learning communities, lesson study and education conferences in a range of s
chools, I am well placed to offer such guidance and support. Alongside David Weston (CEO of The Teacher Development Trust) I have planned and facilitated highly regarded nationwide training for CPD leaders, exploring how the Standard for teachers’ professional development can be most effectively met. I can also show you how to use intelligent school improvement software to support collaboration and monitor the impact of your school improvement programmes on pupil outcomes.

Together, by meeting and perhaps exceeding the standard for teachers’ professional development, we can reduce within-school variation, inspire social change and contribute to a world class self-improving school system.


Cordingley, P., Higgins, S., Greany, T., Buckler, N., Coles-Jordan, D., Crisp, B., Saunders, L., Coe, R., (2015) Developing Great Teaching: Lessons from the international reviews into effective professional development. Teacher Development Trust.

DFE (2016) Standard for teachers’ professional development: Implementation guidance for school leaders, teachers, and organisations that offer professional development for teachers. Department for Education.

Hattie, J., (2015) ‘What works best in education: The Politics of Collaborative Expertise’, Open ideas at Pearson, Pearson, London.

Muijs, D., & A. Harris., (2007) ‘Teacher Leadership in (In)action: Three Case Studies of Contrasting Schools’, Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 35 (1) pp. 111-134

Poocharoen, O, & Wong, N., (2016) ‘Performance Management of Collaborative Projects: The Stronger the Collaboration, the Less Is Measured’, Public Performance & Management Review, 39, 3, pp. 607-629

Wiliam, D., (2014) ‘Sustaining Formative Assessment with Teacher Learning Communities’. Available at:http://www.dylanwiliamcenter.com/whitepapers/ (Accessed: 17/06/2016)