This is part two of a blog series designed to reflect upon and articulate the specifics of an 8-month online Professional Learning Community (PLC) effort. My goal by the end of this series is to offer a concrete, practical example of what it takes to make a true PLC happen. (It turns out this can be hard to come by!)

We wrapped our first of 8 scheduled virtual PLC meetings last week, and here’s how it went down…

Who showed up?

  • Eight of the 9 online instructors who voluntarily signed up, one of which is serving as my thought partner to continually advance the design and facilitation of the process across the year. (The absent participant had to take on bus duty after school.)
  • My 2 researcher colleagues, who will serve as resident experts and additional support across the year

Meeting Objectives

The plan was for us to…

  • Begin to connect with one another
  • Set the stage for the purpose for the group’s collaboration
  • Build clarity (and capacity) about next steps for either identifying a singular group aim or individual research questions
  • Identify some norms likely to support the group in realizing its purpose

You’ll notice that the meeting’s objectives are pretty affective in nature…


When I began facilitating adult learning experiences over six years ago, I lacked a certain level of awareness of the essential nature of the affective elements of a learning environment. In fact, I may have even chalked them up as too “touchy feely” for me. Six years later, I know that adults have to feel connected to one another and valued in order to engage deeply and vulnerably as professionals and to open themselves up to the critique necessary to improve. I thank my friends and former colleagues from New Tech Network for helping me to internalize and experience this for myself, as well as protocols and resources from National School Reform Faculty and The National Equity Project that have continually advanced my own capacity to craft holistic adult learning experiences.

Meeting Structure

The first meeting flowed like this:

  • 15min: Connecting & Framing the Year (All Together)
  • 10min: Hopes & Fears (On Your Own)
  • 20min: Text Protocol (Small Group Breakouts)
  • 10min: Wrap Up & Next Steps (All Together)
  • 5min: Reflection (On Your Own)

You can see a modified (for public consumption) and more granular version of the first meeting’s agenda here, and you should feel free to make a copy of the document and make it your own.

Hopefully you’re taking note of a few things here:

  • Meeting “Medium” Variety: Participants interacted in a variety of ways, from all together, to on their own, to breakouts, to all together, to on their own again. Shifting mediums deepens the ability to stay engaged, maximizes chances of honoring the various ways in which people think/process best, and implicitly expects active participation.
  • Meeting Flow: We connected with one another, then we had a moment for personal open-ended responses, then we unpacked a complex text and considered concrete implications for our work. This flow was intentional and inspired by the National Equity Project’s Experiential Learning Cycle.
  • Meeting Resource Accessibility: I leveraged Google Docs to help execute a smooth, online, synchronous meeting flow. Permissions were set for anyone to be able to edit, and reflection spaces and resources applicable to the meeting were embedded directly into the agenda document for coherence and simplicity.
  • Monthly Meeting Structure: There is a background “skeleton” to the Google Doc agenda structure.  Monthly online meetings will operate through this meeting template. My intention is for this technical, logistical solution to clear the path for focusing on our collaborative work and learning rather than managing accessibility to the meeting itself. (Thanks to my friend, Anna Kinsella, for helping me to refine this structural design!)


Reflections & Next Steps

In closing reflections, participants suggested they liked the structure and are looking forward to connecting with colleagues they might not have otherwise. They expressed some nervousness about being able to contribute deeply to the group, and there was a minor technical issue when trying to transition between virtual meeting spaces.

I look forward to honoring this feedback from participants as well as to keeping this PLC moving forward towards it’s overarching objectives. I, along with my instructor and research thought partners, intend to provide optional asynchronous supports to participants to set them up for greatest success on their concrete next step, which is to zero in on the student outcome issue they want to tackle.

This next meeting feels especially crucial. In fact, it feels like it might be where many PLCs go to die, if not handled with care, targeted scaffolding, and intention, as well as with a healthy level of bias towards action. Bring it on! Stay tuned for further ruminations and concrete breakdowns of how the next iteration of our work together unfolds.

Image used to animate the “core improvement questions” that drive the improvement science work in Learning to Improve by Bryk, Gomez, Grunow, and LeMahieu (2015).

3 thoughts on “Kicking Off a Virtual PLC

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