A review of research on the impact of professional learning communities on teaching practice and student learning
The concept of PLC based on a premise of the business sector regarding the ability of organizations to learn. Modified to fit the world of education, the concept of a learning organization has evolved into that of a learning community that seeks the development of collaborative work cultures for teachers (Thompson, Gregg and Niska 2004). Learning communities are based on two assumptions. First, it is assumed that knowledge is in the experiences of teachers daily and better understood through critical thinking with other people who share the same experience (Buysse, Sparkman and Wesley, 2003). Second, it is assumed that teachers active in the PLC increase their professional knowledge and improve student learning.
Schools interested in implementing this reform began to move the organization and structure of their professional development efforts towards integrating teacher learning into communities of practice in order to meet the educational needs of their students by examining the Collaborative daily practice. Newman et al. (1996) describe five essential characteristics of the PLC. First, common values and norms need to be developed with respect to issues such as the group’s collective opinion on children’s learning ability, school’s time and space use priorities, and The appropriate roles of parents, teachers and administrators (p. 181). A second key feature is a clear and coherent approach to student learning (p.182). DuFour (2004) reiterates this concept when he wrote that the mission “is not only to ensure that students are taught, but to ensure that they learn.” This single passage – a focus on teaching a focus on learning – has profound implications “(Paragraph 5) The third characteristic is the reflective dialogue that leads to” extensive and ongoing conversations among teachers about student curriculum, instruction, and development “(Newman et al., 1996, p.182). Practical privatization of public education and focus on collaboration are the last two characteristics of a PLC (Newman et al., 1996). Although a bit different, these five features (as well as three additional features) were confirmed as critical for the PLC in a large study at multiple professional learning sites in England (Bolam, McMahon, Stoll, Thomas and Wallace, 2005). Bolam et al. (2005) summarize these characteristics to define a PLC as a community “with the ability to promote and support the learning of all professionals in the school community in the common goal of improving student learning” (p.145) 1
The trend of PLC fixation in schools has not been without difficulties. DuFour (2004) deplores the fact that all combinations of those of interest to schools are now called PLCs. Everyone, from the grade level teams to the State Education Ministries, defines their work in terms of PLC. However, the use of the term PLC does not demonstrate that there is a learning community, in fact. DuFour (2004) warns that “the term has become so widespread that it risks losing all meaning” (paragraph 2). To avoid that the PLC model is the same fate as other well-intentioned reform efforts, DuFour (2004) recommends educators to constantly reflect on the ways in which they work to integrate student learning and teacher collaboration into the culture school. Ultimately, however, educators must critically examine the results of their efforts in terms of student achievement. To demonstrate the results, the PLC should be able to articulate their results data that show modified educational practices and improved student learning, something they have not yet established as a standard practice. Taking these results into account, we now examine the empirical literature that tries to document these vital outcomes.