Professional learning communities

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Category: Teacher professional learning

Suitable ages: Primary and secondary


STEM professional learning communities (PLCs) are groups of STEM teachers who work together to improve STEM education in their schools. Professional learning communities meet regularly to discuss teaching practices. They focus on both teacher and student growth. These communities typically involve teachers from a single school, but can also involve teachers from multiple schools for broader collaboration and sharing of effective practice and resources.

Benefits Limitations
Supports school-wide improvements to STEM teaching practices PLCs are only as strong as the commitment of participating teachers
Develops teachers’ confidence and self-efficacy Most effective when complemented with other forms of professional learning
Embeds professional learning into teachers’ regular schedules
Teachers adopting shared strategies supports a consistent learning experience for students


There is evidence that this initiative type has a positive impact on student STEM engagement or achievement.

Research suggests that well-developed STEM PLCs can improve both teaching practice and student achievement.


  • STEM Teachers in Professional Learning Communities: From Good Teachers to Great Teaching by Kathleen Fulton and Ted Britton. In this 2011 research, the US National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future reviewed nearly 200 STEM education research articles and reports and found that PLCs improved STEM teaching practices and led to higher student performance.
  • A review of research on the impact of professional learning communities on teaching practice and student learning by Vicki Vescio, Dorene Ross and Alyson Adams. This 2008 literature review of 10 American studies and one English study found that well-developed PLCs have positive impacts on both teaching practice and student achievement. The majority of these studies relied on self-reports of positive impacts, but some explored objective outcomes. These studies were not confined to STEM education.
  • Creating and Sustaining Effective Professional Learning Communities by Ray Bolam, Agnes McMahon, Louise Stoll, Sally Thomas and Mike Wallace, with Angela Greenwood, Kate Hawkey, Malcolm Ingram, Adele Atkinson and Michele Smith. This 2005 UK research project found evidence in both academic literature and case studies that PLCs can positively impact teaching practice, student engagement and student achievement. As above, these studies were not confined to STEM education.


PLCs are relatively simple to initiate. However, their success requires committed effort from teachers and ongoing support from school leaders. Successful PLCs meet regularly, have a shared and sustained sense of purpose, are focussed on improvement, and encourage healthy debate and discussion.

The following tips are adapted from the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership’s useful one-page guide on professional learning communities.

Implementation tips:

  • Organise school timetables to allow time for PLCs to meet regularly, for example fortnightly.
  • Use student achievement data and samples of student work to maintain a focus on student need.
  • Encourage healthy difference, disagreement and debate. These are essential for improvement.
  • Focus on teaching strategies that can be implemented immediately and evaluated in following weeks. At the same time, remain aware that it takes time to become proficient.
  • Classroom observations can complement PLC meetings by allowing teachers to directly observe their colleagues’ implementing discussed strategies.

Industry involvement

Businesses do not usually play a major role in teacher PLCs. However, if eager to support PLCs, businesses could provide employees to share industry knowledge at PLC meetings, or invite PLCs to visit their STEM workplace for teaching ideas and inspiration.

Case study: Professional learning communities at Bray Park State High School

Bray Park State High School introduced PLCs along with other innovations after identifying a need to improve teaching quality. The school formed five PLCs to address specific priorities, some of which were in STEM learning. The PLCs meet fortnightly to discuss student achievement data, teaching practices, and matters linked to the school strategic plan. At some PLC meetings teachers trial strategies in role-playing scenarios. Since the PLCs and other innovations were implemented, the number of students in the A-C range for science and maths has increased from 65% to 85%.

For more information, see the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership’s case study on Bray Park State High School (underneath the Planning tab).