Professional Learning Community (18)

A professional learning community describes a group of administrators and school staff who are united in their commitment to student learning. They share a vision, work and learn collaboratively, visit and review other classrooms, and participate in decision making. The benefits to the staff and students include reduced isolation of teachers, better informed and more committed teachers, and academic gains for students. A professional learning community is a powerful staff-development approach and a potent strategy for school change and improvement. A professional learning community provides professional development opportunities that employ best practices and allow staff to engage as learners as well as leaders, using practices such as Critical Friends Group. It explicitly addresses equity in the classroom and provides collaborative planning time focused on instructional practice.

Benchmark Descriptors

Transforming: Practices support and focus on student learning.

  • Professional development explicitly addresses equity in the classroom. Conversations are grounded in data and centered on student learning and understanding how students learn. The school community regularly discusses equity, understanding different points of view, beliefs and assumptions, and actions to be taken. The focus is on improving developing skills and knowledge necessary to improve student performance, eliminate racial gaps, increase emotional well-being for all students, and accelerate learning for students who have been underserved.
  • Professional development is focused on inquiry, collaboration, and reflection, employing best practices that allow staff to engage as learners as well as leaders. Staff make their practice and beliefs public through the use of structures such as Critical Friends Groups (CFGs), Looking at Student or Teacher Work (LASW or LATW) protocols, professional text, opportunities to critique student presentations and scoring procedures, school-based research, refining rubrics and reviewing performance assessment processes, and peer observation. All of these are in service of staff knowing students well and teaching to a variety of learning styles. Learning is intensely peer-to-peer. School members are accountable to one another for their professional development and create portfolios of their best practices to share with other staff.
  • Vision and mission guide the professional development opportunities afforded to the staff. The CES Common Principles are referenced and integrated into the professional development. Core values include learning that reflects habits of mind and heart for adults and students, use of data, integration of student voices, and looking at student work and opportunities to develop teacher leadership.
  • Professional development needs are informed through the use of the cycle of continuous school improvement and through collaborative decision making. Schoolwide and individual teacher professional development plans are aligned with schoolwide improvement plans. The school decides two or three areas of focus that frame professional development for the year.
  • The school has substantial professional development opportunities built into the calendar at the beginning and end of the school year, extended periods for professional development (retreats, in-house professional development, CFGs, and so on), as well as common planning time throughout the day.
  • A system is in place to integrate new staff into school culture and practices. This includes orientation, training, and continued support (mentoring, support groups, and so on).
  • Structures are present that facilitate effective collaboration and professional intellectual and emotional conversation. This includes opportunities to attend conferences, CFG training, teacher inquiry groups, and facilitation training for staff. In addition, the school measures the success and impact of professional development. These measurements are public and understood by the entire school community.

Developing: Practice is reflected in teacher planning and instruction.

  • Professional development includes opportunities for collaboration, reflection, and inquiry. Looking at student and teacher work and learning from each other are key components of professional development.
  • Professional development is focused on improving instructional practice. All staff members have a professional development goal focused on instruction and improving student achievement.
  • Professional development makes use of a variety of structures and groupings.
  • Data is used consistently in faculty meetings. Staff examine the data collaboratively with a focus on understanding the data on student achievement.
  • Teachers actively share best practices, although it may be in an unstructured manner.
  • Professional development opportunities support knowing students well and understanding various learning styles. Differentiation is a key focus of conversations.
  • Use of teacher professional development for collaboration and common planning is growing.

Early: Learning about and planning for the practice has become important to the teaching staff.

  • Professional development is collaborative in nature.
  • A small group of staff members are involved in the planning of the professional development.
  • Professional texts are used as resources.
  • The 10 Common Principles are present in the professional development plan.
  • Some teachers make an independent choice to plan collaboratively.
  • There is some understanding of the connection between teacher actions and student learning.

Professional development may still be episodic or underutilized.


The National School Reform Faculty has information on Critical Friends Groups and an annotated bibliography of protocols

Related Tools

Related Principles