Professional Learning Communities: Joint Practice Development for Sustainable Change

27 November 2017

“That is why “what works?” is not the right question, because everything works somewhere, and nothing works everywhere. The right question is “under what conditions will this work?”

Dylan Wiliam


What is a Professional Learning Community?


In preparation for the launch of our Professional Learning Communities in Maths and Early Oracy, as facilitators we explored what the idea meant to us. This vision building experience helped us to unpick the evidence for what the power of a PLC could provide for the schools in Derby and ensure that those values drove how we plan and deliver the sessions. We delved into two key pieces of reading: Michael Pain and James Sidle’s blog post on ‘Professional Learning Communities: Linking CPD to daily practice’ and an extract focusing on PLCs from the Teacher Professional Learning and Development: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration (p. 201 – 205).


In essence, a PLC brings together practitioners to share and build knowledge across settings, drawing from the experience and expertise in the room and the new learning, a carefully chosen piece of reading. Over the process, we agreed what the core principals of what an effective PLC looks like.


Links to Evidence

As a Research School our new learning will draw directly from the evidence of what works best and look at how we can take this evidence into action in our own classrooms across Derby. The new learning will be ‘based on sound research but accessible’ (Pain and Sidle) The findings from the research will be shared in the space and in turn back at schools across Derby.


Joint Practice Development

The new learning and PLC protocols for challenge and discussion help us to explore what strategies work best and under what conditions, and what the implications might be for our own contexts. This is the power of thinking in the room, the ‘facilitated dialogue’ to unpick the evidence. (Timperley) As Dylan Wiliam says, ‘everything works somewhere, and nothing works everywhere’ so in engaging directly with the evidence we can understand better how strategies work, and under what conditions they work best.


It also gives us the best chance to move away from isolated courses and conferences, but enable peer-to-peer activities, school-based implementation which is ongoing. This ‘shared professional enquiry’ moves into in-school action planning and implementation before returning to the group to review the impact, share findings and reflect on practice. This is true ‘development of practice’, not a transfer from one person or place to another.


Linked to Practice

The action planning element and review process ensures that the new learning translates into the classroom as a part of a self-improving process, in essence development fused with routine practice. These are the most powerful elements of effective CPD for staff giving a chance to really change habits and move practice forward.



Ultimately all of this is to ensure that it has an impact on student outcomes. There is clear need to ensure that we measure the impact of the implementation to truly understand what difference whatever approach has had, or indeed not had.



The drive for professional learning and improvement becomes sustainable as the PLC promotes ongoing, continuous growth that builds knowledge and deep understanding.


It’s an exciting opportunity to be part of this movement in Derby. The first PLC in Improving Maths in KS2 and KS3 starts this week and we can’t wait to get started. It will be nice to finally share the vision with schools. The power of the PLC is that schools themselves become their own Professional Learning Communities, directly engaging in the evidence for themselves, growing joint practice development and changing classroom practice for themselves and in turn effecting improved outcomes and sustainable change.



Timperley, H. et al (2007) Teacher Professional Learning and Development: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration, New Zealand Ministry of Education

Accessed here


Pain, M. and Sidle, J (2015) ‘Professional Learning Communities: Linking CPD to daily practice’

Accessed here

Posted on 27 November 2017
Posted in: Blog

Comments are closed.