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Creating Online Professional Learning Communities

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By implementing best practices, it is possible to adapt successfully a Professional Learning Community (PLC) to a virtual environment. Elizabeth Gruenbaum explains that a PLC requires all stakeholders—teachers, staff, parents and school leaders—to work together, focused on the best interests of the students. These stakeholders need to improve their methods of collaboration, improve their system of ongoing assessments, focus on continuous improvement and reduce the amount of hierarchy. With that as backdrop, Gruenbaum suggests ways to create and establish online PLCs to make them work for a virtual environment.

The first step is implementing professional development so that members of the PLC understand what a PLC is and its possible applications to the classroom environment. There are various ways of doing this, such as by hosting an online book club or conducting an online forum, where school members can interact on a weekly basis via chats with audio and blackboard-type interfaces. The second major step is conducting self-assessment surveys that help to measure the progress of a school toward becoming a PLC. These online surveys may be done a few times a year or more to chart the progress of buy-in by stakeholders. Focus groups or online Web conferencing may also be beneficial in concentrating efforts where they are needed to make sure changes are on pace.

At the same time, meetings should be held as a whole community to discuss the vision and mission, as well as create buy-in from all stakeholders. Having all members working together to craft a shared understanding of goals and what expectations are for student results will make everyone feel like they are on equal ground. A lateral, rather than hierarchical, structure supports knowledge groups where employees truly work together and depend on each other. There are other important steps: holding weekly team meetings, conducting cross-curricular and vertical planning meetings between different departments; determining the proper online format for meetings; and building in a time for individual, group or team recognition of achievements of those working toward realizing a true PLC environment.

From eLearn Magazine
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