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3 Big Ideas, 4 Critical Questions and 5 Dimensions for Effective PLCs

For Professional Learning Community (PLC) to be effective, school leaders, School Staff Developers and key personnel need to work with staff to set up the right conditions for them to work. 

The five dimensions developed by Hord and later, adapted by Hipp and Huffman (2010), provide a holistic picture of the PLC processes and actions that schools may take to achieve the outcomes of the 3 Big Ideas under them, creating a culture of shared responsibility and collaborative working relationship to address the learning needs of staff and students.

Big Idea #1: Ensuring Students Learn

PLCs focus on and are committed to the learning of each student. Thus the relevant question in a PLC is not “Was it taught?” but rather, “Was it learned?” This shift of focus underpins the work of a PLC. In a PLC, school leaders and teachers work together to ensure that all students learn essential knowledge and skills and embrace high levels of achievement.

To achieve this purpose, school leaders and teachers must be guided by a clear and compelling vision of what the school must become in order to help all students learn. This collective goal permeates the Learning Teams where teachers work collaboratively to explore the 4 Critical Questions of Student Learning: 

  1. What is it we expect students to learn?
  2. How will we know when they have learned it? 
  3. How will we respond when they haven’t learned?
  4. How will we respond when they already know it?

Adapted from DuFour and Eaker, 2006

These questions enable teachers to clarify exactly what each student must learn, consider how they can monitor each student’s learning in a timely way and provide systematic interventions. These intervention strategies ensure students receive additional support for learning when they have difficulties. They also ensure learning is enriched when students have already attained the intended outcomes.

4 Critical Questions

Professional Learning Teams (PLTs) start the collaborative inquiry process by asking 4 Critical Questions of student learning during their PLT meetings. Once an area of focus is identified, the team may choose an appropriate critical inquiry method and keep the 4 Critical Questions in mind throughout the inquiry process.

Question 1: What is it we expect students to learn?

PLT members must be clear about the knowledge, skills and values (KSVs) students need to acquire, and the learning objectives for each lesson.

Schools with teachers who have a shared understanding of what students are expected to learn, are generally more effective in achieving desired student outcomes than those who work in silos.

4 Critical Questions quote

Question 2: How will we know when they have learned it?

With knowledge of what students are expected to learn, PLT members discuss various strategies they can employ to obtain feedback on students’ learning. Evidence is also used to appropriately evaluate the effectiveness of teaching strategies.

Question 3: How will we respond when they don’t learn?

This question allows PLT members to explore various interventions beyond the traditional practice of re-teaching or remediation. Teachers identify root causes that may have hindered student learning and led to common misconceptions through evidence collected.

Question 4: How will we respond when they already know it?

Similar to Question 3, this question aims to help PLT members identify methods to stretch students who have already mastered the concept.

Big Idea #2: Building a Culture of Collaboration

To build a PLC, school leaders and teachers recognise that they must work together. When teachers work in teams, a sense of shared purpose, collegiality and community is present. In a PLC, every teacher takes responsibility for the learning of all students, not just his/her own students. Hence, teachers in PLCs are mutually accountable for their students and work interdependently towards their common goal to achieve their collective purpose of learning for all. 

Big Idea #3: Focusing on Student Outcomes

PLCs judge their effectiveness on outcomes that are related to the holistic development of students. Every PLT in the school participates in an ongoing process of identifying the current stage of student achievement, establishing SMART goals to improve on it, working together towards achieving these goals, and providing evidence of progress through meaningful data collection and analysis.

5 Dimensions for Effective PLCs

5 Dimensions