Professional Learning Communities

A professional learning community refers to a structured collaboration where educators meet regularly to:

  • Build community and relational trust.
  • Identify priorities.
  • Analyze student achievement.
  • Share successful practices.
  • Set goals that are critical to the academic, social, and emotional development of students.

Professional learning communities provide an important opportunity to integrate SEL into existing practices, work collaboratively on the goals of schoolwide SEL, and cultivate their own social and emotional competencies.

For example, as staff recognize their own skills and the skills of their peers, they practice self-awareness and social awareness. When they discuss schoolwide SEL implementation challenges together, they practice self-management and responsible decision-making. As they interact with peers to reflect on strategies to support student SEL, they hone their relationship skills and practice responsible decision-making while making data-based decisions. The job of the SEL team is to help make this learning an explicit aspect of all staff collaboration opportunities.

Ways to structure SEL-focused PLCs include:

  • Conversation circles that include all members’ voices on a specific SEL-related topic, such as improving student-teacher relationships. This includes a specific process for identifying important issues and focusing the conversation.
  • Problem-solving teams that use the Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) cycle to identify schoolwide SEL implementation issues, find the root cause, develop a plan to address the issue, and measure the impact of the plan.
  • Study groups in which staff read and discuss SEL research, texts, or other materials.
  • Action research teams that reflect on and discuss the implications of SEL-related activities with others and take further action steps based on the group’s reflections.
  • Online communication through discussion forums, conference calls, or video conferencing on SEL teaching practices.

Washoe County School District’s SEL Book Study Project

One of the Washoe County School District’s most successful professional learning communities during its first year of implementing SEL was their SEL book study project.

The study group began with the book Promoting Social and Emotional Learning: Guidelines for Educators. This book helped build a common language and understanding about social and emotional learning. The combination of information about SEL with examples of SEL in practice sparked conversations and provided ideas for schoolwide implementation.

After reading and discussing this book, school staff were encouraged to explore other resources and choose which ones they wanted to focus on for the second half of the book study project. This led to rich conversations, sharing ideas and practices, and discussions about next steps for their school.

These PLCs can be implemented in staff meetings, grade-level or department meetings, or during professional development days. However these meetings are organized, it’s important that decisions are made collaboratively, that they allow adults to develop and practice their own SEL, and that teachers feel safe, supported, and connected.

The small group discussion guide below provides an example and materials to draw on as you prepare for ongoing collaborative discussion about SEL.

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Teacher Small Group Discussion Guide - Building a Supportive Learning Environment for Middle and High School Students

This tool provides readings, individual and group reflection questions, and activities for small groups to discuss and support each other to implement practices that strengthen learning environments. Use this as a source to strengthen collaboration, relationships, knowledge and skills over the course of the school year.

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