Your PLC Starter Kit

I love summer. Who doesn’t? Summer break gives me time to relax with family, travel to new places, make home improvements, and recharge my professional battery. One of my favorite things to do during the summer holiday is connecting with other educators.

I have been fortunate to collaborate with fellow teachers during several field-based professional development programs. In 2017 I spent three weeks in Montana and Yellowstone National Park on a Summer Seminar for school teachers to study stories, ideas, and practices that shape the interaction between human and non-human nature. In 2018 I traveled to Chicago, along with 18,500 other educators, to discover new ways to learn with technology at the ISTE Conference & Expo. In 2019, I attended the PBL World Conference in California to learn strategies coaches can use to support and enable high-quality PBL implementation.

Collaboration and professional growth are not limited to the summer months. School librarians connect with their school community and professional learning networks year-round. Librarians moderate Twitter chats, present at virtual conferences, lead in-house workshops, create ed-tech tutorials, disseminate newsletters, and much, much more. A key commitment of AASL’s National School Library Standards is to “Work effectively with others to broaden collaborate perspectives and work toward common goals.” According to the Shared Foundation Collaborate, Domain Share:

To promote ongoing collaboration with teachers in my building, I partnered with the school’s curriculum coordinator to launch virtual professional learning communities (PLCs) for teaching science and social studies. The virtual PLCs, their structure and process, grew organically from collaborative input. PLCs can positively impact the teaching of subject areas, especially when participants engage in a hands-on approach to problem-based learning and apply concepts to practice (Smith et al. 2008). In addition to providing a practical setting for planning, implementing, and assessing instruction, PLCs can improve one’s content knowledge. Knowledge, together with engaging instructional strategies, enriches students’ learning experiences.

The school library is essential to collaborative inquiry and the action research process. Use the following information to help you start planning a PLC with teachers or fellow librarians. Embarking on this venture will present countless opportunities for you to lead professional development that enhances the information, media, visual, and technical literacies of all school community members (AASL National School Library Standards: Collaborate/Think).

Develop some structure around group meetings (e.g., interactive agendas, Google Site).

My PLCs use different tools to keep work organized and accessible. Each PLC meeting works off an interactive agenda in Google Docs. Meeting agendas contain headings, links, goals, and other pertinent information about the meeting’s topic. Google Docs is great for collaboration as they let participants comment and make edits.

Google Sites is another platform our PLCs use to curate materials. The sites contain information on standards, a bibliography of resources, professional learning modules, and strategies for embedding the inquiry process. Teachers contribute to the websites by posting links to resources and recommending tools to support student products. The PLCs’ Google Sites are now a well-established resource utilized by all teachers in the building.

Make PLC activities interactive (e.g., professional learning modules, resource curation, mini-lesson design).

A portion of our PLC meetings is spent exploring best teaching and assessment practices from professional learning modules. Check your state department and AASL for professional development resources. Members of my PLCs use information in modules to complete activities outside of scheduled gatherings. Teachers design mini-lessons, create compelling questions, and curate instructional resources.

Encourage teachers to complete PLC assignments with the intention of one day using the material to support classroom instruction. We build time in our agendas for team members to display and discuss their thoughts and work samples. The process helps teachers see the full spectrum of standards and ideas to enrich student projects.

Design instructional units that address curriculum standards and principles of inquiry-based learning.

Training modules, weekly assignments, goal monitoring, and reflective discourse spur teachers’ enthusiasm for designing student-centered instruction. My PLC members collaboratively designed a lesson planning template structured on key elements of the inquiry process: questioning, investigating, using evidence, and communicating conclusions. The instructional document identifies the concepts and skills students are expected to master for each standard. A key step in the instructional design process is making connections to other subject areas, teaching resources, current events, and student interests. After identifying essential learning goals, curriculum connections, and appropriate sources of information, teachers are ready to outline instructional procedures.

Evaluate teaching strategies, resource integration, literacy connections, and student understandings.

Often, the results of classroom activities are much different than what is described in the lesson plan. Modifications to instructional procedures are to be expected. Instruction must be responsive to students’ misconceptions, queries, and unique learning needs. My PLC members take time to reflect on instructional practices at team meetings. We center conversations on how pedagogy and resources impact student learning. PLCs can be the perfect environment for sharing student work, referencing instructional alterations, and discussing inquiry-based strategies for subsequent activities.

Reflect on learning outcomes, modify instruction, and update pacing guides.

PLC meetings are a great time for discussing changes made during classroom instruction. My team uses questioning techniques to clarify the context and intent of instructional plans. Teachers analyze student work samples in light of scoring guides and learning objectives. Collective reflection on instruction and learning outcomes can help teachers identify growth areas and give meaningful feedback. Responsive and nonjudgmental feedback fosters a sense of trust and agency among PLC members.

Summer is a great time to map out your plans for engaging colleagues in professional learning. Whether through social media, after-school workshops, or professional learning communities, the ultimate goal remains the same. That is, to provide students and staff with the support and resources they need to inquire, include, explore, and collaborate.

Works Cited:

Smith, T. R., McGowan, J., Allen, A. R., Johnson, W. D., Dickson Jr, L. A., Najee-ullah, M. A., and Peters, M. 2008. “Evaluating the Impact of a Faculty Learning Community on STEM Teaching and Learning.” The Journal of Negro Education 77 (3): 203-226.


Author: Sam Northern, Ed.D.

Sam Northern is a National Board Certified Teacher-Librarian at Simpson Elementary School in Franklin, Kentucky. He currently serves as President of the Kentucky Association of School Librarians. In 2014, Sam was selected for the Fulbright-Hays Summer Seminars Abroad Program where he spent four weeks in China. Since then, Sam has voyaged to Antarctica as a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow and worked aboard a research vessel on the Atlantic Ocean as a NOAA Teacher at Sea. From January to April 2018, Sam traveled to Finland as part of the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program to research best practices for project-based learning. Connect with him on Twitter @Sam_Northern and Facebook @themisterlibrarian.

Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Professional Development

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2 replies

  1. Thank you, Sam, for sharing this insider’s perspective on your team’s highly evolved PLC work. The infographic you shared charts the process and emphasizes its recursive nature. Yes! to sharing lesson plans, modifications (what really happened during the lesson), and student outcomes.

    School librarian leaders such as you who build trusting collaborative relationships and lead professional development can reach their capacity to influence learning and teaching throughout your school.

  2. Thank you, Judi! I greatly value your perspective and the work you do to support school libraries.

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