Douglas Petrick
Douglas Petrick
Physics Teacher, Pittsburgh, PA


What is a PLC?  Depending whom you ask, or what you read, you will get a few different interpretations. Regardless of the description, there is one common thread within the functioning mechanism for a Professional Learning Community—collaboration. Members of the PLC use experience and discussion to develop a more intelligent approach to teaching students.


PLC’s are more than an initiative du jour. They’re a powerful way for you to discuss best practices for teachers in the classroom. They needn’t be formal in nature. Envision three to five teachers meeting once a month for a ten-minute session discussing one specific aspect of their teaching. Here, the quality of the collaboration, not the quantity of the collaboration, is key. As you get more comfortable within your Professional Learning Community, then your group can modify the parameters of each session as needed. In the end, a PLC can be a valuable experience that enhances what you already do well for your chosen craft.


Working within a PLC provides different perspectives about why you do what you do. From a teaching viewpoint, a Professional Learning Community guides each member to think clearly and explain his or her point of view. Think about it like you are “vetting” decisions about teaching through the PLC collaborative process. As a coach of high school athletes, I’ve learned much from informal discussions with my coaching peers related to best practices. In essence, this group is a Coaching Professional Learning Community.


Utilize your Professional Learning Community and fuel your creative energies by following the five tips below. Whether you’re knee-deep in a Professional Learning Community or this is your first time around the block, these collaborative principles will help you navigate the road to enriching your own educational work.


  1. Create a Professional Learning Community with a slightly diverse cross section of members to benefit all stakeholders.
    Model diversity. Obviously each member of your PLC has a commonality, but each individual should bring a slightly different perspective to the table. Diversity in the PLC ensures each decision you make and discussion you have is seen through different lenses to benefit the entire collective.
  2. Plan with a specific end goal in mind and keep all the stakeholders focused on a common target throughout the process.
    Create a detailed goal and keep your Professional Learning Community on track. There’s nothing more discouraging than sitting in a meeting and thinking “what’s the point of this?” Focus on the specificity of the goal, and communicate more about the process to the PLC.  How many steps will it take to achieve the goal?  Is this goal for one subset of students?  How do you classify achievement of the goal?  It’s easier to identify the steps towards success when the focus of the goal is pinpointed. Here’s an example: One very general goal we have each year for the high school cross country team is to “get better.” A more specific objective is for our athletes to be able to run the last 1600-meter segment of the 5k cross-country high school distance, which is aerobic in nature, as the fastest portion of the race. Detail within that target then leads us to discussing building the aerobic engine, getting athletes used to running faster during the last third of a workout, improving general strength, and developing speed throughout the season. 
  3. Leave with actionable items between collaboration sessions to stress individual accountability.
    Formulate actionable items within your Professional Learning Committee and create a seamless flow in between cooperative gatherings. When each member of the team leaves a session with a few actionable items, it adds to personal accountability.  Simply put, this provides each member of the PLC to take an active role in the process and sets the table for the next step.

  4. Consider the opposing viewpoint and facilitate meaningful dialogue within your Professional Learning Community.
    Perspective is a powerful tool when thinking through a solution.  Consider the antithesis of the obvious answer when problem solving.  Look outside of the box, work through your view and the opposing view, and be receptive to arguments presented by members of your PLC. Listening and communicating in a respectful manner cuts through any personal agendas to formulate better solutions.

  5. Identify best practices for educational delivery within the Professional Learning Community to improve the culture in the classroom.
    Since teaching content in the classroom is just half the battle, focus on best practices for content delivery. Zooming in on instructional strategies within your Professional Learning Community identifies the most effective techniques.  No matter the subject area or class level you teach, proper delivery of material pulls students into a lesson to improve the culture of the classroom.


Are you a part of a formal or informal Professional Learning Community?  What tips do you have in regards to collaborating with your peers?  I’d love to hear about your interactions and tips for educator collaborations.  Post a comment in the space below, and I will be sure to connect with you.


Doug Petrick holds an Architectural Engineering degree from Pennsylvania State University and a Masters of Arts in Teaching from California University of Pennsylvania. He is currently a high school Physics teacher at Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh. Doug will be regularly contributing to a series for educators on Wiley Network offering practical advice and instructional strategies.

Image Credit: pexels/startupstockphotos.com


    Clay Stobaugh
Clay Stobaugh
CMO and Executive Vice President, Wiley

A little over a week ago, I joined political and business leaders from 21 countries around the world in Danang, Vietnam for the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit aka Asia Pacific’s version of Davos. The star-studded speaker list included the likes of China's President Xi Jinping, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and many others. In total, over 1,500 delegates congregated in this beachside town in central Vietnam to advance solutions to ensure more equitable growth across the region, in particular through collaboration in fair trade, education and skills development as well as public health and science.


Wiley was invited not just as a participant but as a convener of government, academia and industry and a leading voice on education and science in APEC over the past decade. I started the week with a prominent group of leaders at the inaugural APEC University Leaders’ Forum. Organized by the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) and co-sponsored by Wiley, this gathering of over a dozen top universities across the Asia Pacific featured a wide ranging discussion on how educational institutions and the private sector can work together to address the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.


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Wiley chief marketing officer Clay Stobaugh sharing Wiley’s experience working in APEC (left to right: CEO and President of C&M International Ambassador Robert Holleyman; Clay Stobaugh; President of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Tony Chan; Founder & CEO of Malong Technologies Huang Dinglong; President of Korea University Jaeho Yeom; PwC China and Hong Kong China lead Frank Lyn)


Today, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is changing the way we live and work through digital technology— from big data and artificial intelligence to machine learning.  And while the Fourth Industrial Revolution offers huge potential benefits, it also poses challenges as companies, governments, educational institutions and society at large adapt to sometimes painful disruption.


I was able to share Wiley’s experience in addressing one of the challenges in the Fourth Industrial Revolution – the shortage of skilled employees, especially in the area of data science and analytics (DSA).  In recent years the world has seen an immense growth in demand for DSA-skilled workers. A 2015 survey of more than 400 companies in 10 countries revealed that approximately 43% of DSA vacancies remain unfilled. A study from Teradata this year shows that the shortage of data scientists amounts to around 1 million in the Asia-Pacific, which risks seriously constraining economic growth.


In particular, I shared our work and learnings over the past year in launching Project DARE (Data Analytics Raising Employment) in APEC with the U.S. Department of Labor and the Business-Higher EDUCATION Forum. The concept of DARE is simple: bring employers from the region together to directly meet with university leaders and policymakers who are trying to develop DSA curricula, programs, and degrees, and launch a dialogue on what competencies are most critical to industry’s current and future needs. Fifty experts from Google, PwC, IBM, leading universities and many other stakeholders met in Singapore in May to develop a set of ten “Recommended APEC Data Science and analytics Competencies” which today are being adopted and leveraged by educational institutions as they build their curricula and programs to equip students with some of the most sought-after skills in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.


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APRU announcing commitments to partner with Project DARE and others

(left to right: APEC Education Network Coordinator Wang Yan; Wiley Chief Marketing Officer Clay Stobaugh; APRU Secretary General Chris Tremewan; Chairman of Elsevier Youngsuk 'YS' Chi)


Other speakers at the University Leaders’ Forum shared their experiences in addressing challenges and harnessing opportunities in this new age, from identifying ways to leverage artificial intelligence, to using big data to come up with medical diagnoses for patients.


As part of the program, Andrew Grant, a Wiley Network speaker and co-author of The Innovation Race: How to change a culture to change the game and international bestseller Who Killed Creativity?... And How Can We Get It Back? gave a keynote address on the different perspectives we can use to look at the “innovation race” and how that shapes our thinking and work culture.


apec 04.pngAndrew Grant, a Wiley Network speaker and co-author of The Innovation Race: How to change a culture to change the game along and international bestseller Who Killed Creativity?... And How Can We Get It Back? gives a keynote address on the different perspectives we can use to look at the “innovation race” and how that shapes our thinking and work culture.


The host of the forum, the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU), a network of leading universities in the APEC economies, concluded the event by announcing a series of commitments, including partnering with APEC’s Project DARE to “bridge the looming skills gap in Data Science & Analytics (DSA).”Thanks to the enthusiasm generated in Danang, more activities can be expected in 2018 as universities and businesses seek to identify further ways to collaborate and ensure the Asia Pacific workforce is as prepared as ever to thrive in this new digital age.


Image Credit: Tracey Huang


    Laura Goldsberry
Laura Goldsberry
Marketing Manager, Wiley

Ensuring students are engaged and taking ownership of their learning can be a difficult task for any instructor—no matter the discipline. Employing any or all of these strategies—each submitted by an instructor in our WileyPLUS community—can help promote self-regulated learning in your classroom.


    Diane Rubino
Diane Rubino
Adjunct Instructor, New York University
Course Associate, Columbia University

My brain reached overload and stopped functioning during an exhausting all-day seminar. I snapped out of my stupor in an instant when I realized my fingers were texting, almost automatically. I’m no digital native and resisted smart phones for years. However, I learned in that moment that I was unwittingly captivated by the technology. Restlessness, boredom, or fatigue now signaled the need to exit the environment in pursuit of stimulation. Experiencing the cell’s powerful pull re-confirmed my thoughts about technology in the classroom: it should be a largely device-free zone*.


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No Cells Allowed

Before I started teaching, I read in a Princeton University tip sheet of the simple but somehow revolutionary idea that I could craft my own technology policy. So I announced in my first-ever class session that it would be an electronics-free zone. I literally heard a gasp.


Now my welcome-to-the-course email sent a week before school starts mentions my e-policy. A short break midway through the two-and-a-half-hour session allows everyone to catch up with the outside world. Technology’s tug, however, means phones surface on occasion during the semester. It’s rare, but at times I’ll see someone texting. Echoing my own experience of being hypnotized by the phone, these students describe themselves as prey.


“It’s my mom. She always forgets that I have class tonight,” one student told me. “My friends are always texting me,” another said. I ask them to put the phone away, mentioning my own experience and the need to keep cells out of sight.


I also added an e-policy review a few weeks into the term. I invite students to discuss the rule, asking them to think aloud about the rationale.


There’s no need for texting in my course, so there’s no need for cell phones.


Laptop Notetaking: Anecdote and Evidence

Though I avoid lengthy lectures, students regularly jot down ideas—on paper. I know other instructors endorse laptops for note taking. I do not.


Because of this discrepancy with my peers, I turned to the research conducted over the past five years to learn what the experts say. The peer-reviewed literature on electronics in the classroom is expansive. So, though by no means a proper review of the occasionally contradictory journal articles, here’s a short list of themes that caught my attention:


Nonacademic use is common

Though most studies rely on self-reports, researchers who measured classroom Internet use with a proxy server showed that goofing off was common, even when students know their use is monitored.


Average final exam scores of those assigned to classrooms allowing computers were lower than the scores of their e-free peers among randomly selected sections of a West Point introductory economics course.


“Even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing,” say researchers who conducted three studies.


I’m also in a group of key stakeholders that can be adversely impacted by classroom laptop use: instructors. I get clues about students when I can check their expressions for understanding, boredom, curiosity, or anything else I need to know. I also resist being tasked with policing computers. Monitoring screens—either actively or passively by accidentally noticing non-classroom use—and calling out the inevitable distracted user puts me in a taskmaster role instead of allowing me to focus on the subject.


My confidence in my evidence-based laptop policy was reinforced recently. I visited a class in which I was introduced by the professor as a proctor and grader. Though I was presented as an authority—and thus someone with control over part of their grade—a student in front of me browsed Home Depot in a dreamy state for most of the session.


Not Even A Blip On Student Radar

My students now take the e-free-zone in stride, even though I have to occasionally refresh their memory about the policy. Over the past four years, I received one compliment from a student who told me that nonacademic use of laptops in other courses was distracting. I also got one suggestion that laptops be permitted.


On my side of the desk, my rules have become less stringent. Although infrequent, I sometimes ask students to check the web for some factoid. At times they use laptops to take tests or do group exercises. Perhaps because I have a strict approach to technology, I’ve not yet seen anyone using their laptops for personal use.


Although I have a bias, the research I described and my own experience support a nearly e-free zone. My perspective also matters in this equation. If I believe computers negatively impact my ability to connect with students, it will. So, with a slight evolution in thinking about electronics over the past few years, I experience the e-free policy as a classic win-win: good for me, good for students.


* In the unlikely event of an emergency notification by text, my own discretely positioned phone is on. Further, school-sanctioned modifications for those with disabilities would supersede my policy, though I’ve never received a request for a student to use a laptop for note taking.


Image Credit: stock.tookapic.com


    Christopher Ruel
Christopher Ruel
Community and Social Marketing, Wiley

I recently spoke to Danielle Dillinger, a graduate assistant at the Richards College of Business at the University of West Georgia, and asked her to give us an inside look at the life of 21st –century graduate teaching assistant. Danielle delivers a few tips and encouragement for graduate students considering the role.



Q. What is the most satisfying aspect of being a Graduate Teaching Assistant?

A. The most satisfying part of being a GTA, for me, is the ability to use my passions to help other students. My undergraduate degree is a B.B.A. in Management Information Systems. I love technology—all aspects of it. I have many students coming to me that struggle to grasp the topics in Computer Information Systems Management courses. I find a lot of joy in being able to help students see why I am so passionate about information systems and help them gain a deeper understanding of the topics.


Q. How did it feel to take on the responsibilities of GTA?

A. From the time I was 15, I continuously held a job, so taking on different responsibilities does not overwhelm me. Instead, I gain pride in knowing that I am fulfilling my given role while furthering my knowledge through new experiences.


Q. What are the challenges?

A. Sometimes students think that because I am also a student, I will let them get away with things a professor would not allow. For example, during tests, I have found students attempting to use their phones more often when it’s just me in the room versus when a professor is also present.


Q. What strategies/tactics do you use to overcome or mitigate the challenges?

A. I have found that explaining and setting down the ground rules before the beginning of a test or assignment helps lower the number of incidents involving inappropriate behavior. I have learned to start tests by letting students know that using phones and looking at other papers are cheating and forms of academic dishonesty. The students in the class know that if I catch them cheating, I will inform the professor. Since it is the professor’s classroom and not mine, the dishonest student’s fate will be determined by my supervisor—and that’s very serious.


Q. What did you learn between when you started as a GTA and now?

A. I have learned to say “yes” more. As a GTA, I have been given several opportunities to volunteer or work different events on campus. In the beginning, I didn’t always jump at the idea due to my hectic schedule. Each time I said “yes,” I gained valuable knowledge and the opportunity to network, both of which were invaluable experiences for me.


Q. How do you balance your own priorities as a graduate student with GTA responsibilities?

A. I learned at an early age to make every second count. My supervisor allows me to work on homework whenever I have downtime, which helps since I have a hectic schedule. In addition to working as a teaching assistant, I have a second job in IT at a local company. I schedule out everything I need to do each week, including study and homework time. Scheduling has taught me discipline, a vital skill I need for current and future success.


Q. What tips would you give to new GTA’s?

A. Utilize your time properly; if you are not busy, or have a break between tasks, ask your supervisor if it would be okay to work on your homework. In my experience, most have not minded. Using my “down time” productively has enabled me to get a jump-start on projects. Spare time is precious when you have a busy schedule.


Q. Do you have any final thoughts that you want others to know?

A. If you are considering a GTA position, I highly encourage you to go for it. Working as a graduate teaching assistant empowered me to grow, learn, and so much more. Being a GTA is far more than a job, it is an entire experience that I would have regretted missing!


Danielle is pursuing an MBA in Business Intelligence and Cyber Security and currently works as an intern with the EDI group at Southwire Company, in Carrollton, GA.


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