Building a Professional Learning Community Using WhatsApp

The concept of a ‘Professional Learning Community’ (PLC) first entered my consciousness during the initial training for the new Leaving Certificate Agricultural Science specification in 2018. To their credit, the PDST (as they were known as the time – now Oide) wanted to create a space for teachers to collaborate and share best practice while the new syllabus was being rolled out. Sadly, the pandemic lay waste to those plans and the PLCs for Ag Science never truly got off the ground. Subsequently, I met a teacher in Scotland, Stuart Farmer, who had built a strong professional learning community in rural Scotland for physics teachers and I’ve always been intrigued by the idea. He shared his experience at the ResearchED Dublin conference in 2019, hosted by my school St. Columba’s College in Dublin..

So, what exactly is a Professional Learning Community? PLCs are a community of teachers and, a shared space, to connect, share best practices, and support each other’s professional growth. It’s nothing ground breaking – it’s just a broad space for teachers to bounce ideas around, tell others what works and what doesn’t and generally allow them feel a sense of support. Ultimately, these communities allow teachers to provide better, more informed learning opportunities for their students. Covid-19 shifted the professional learning landscape for teachers, and most other professions to be fair. Most of us would much prefer a two hour evening webinar than attending an in-person training now, and probably learn just as much. So how can one build a PLC in today’s world, where teachers are increasingly busy and time is precious?

I am the current Chairperson of the Irish Science Teachers’ Association and, in that role, am in the process of building a Professional Learning Community using WhatsApp’s “Communities” feature. WhatsApp, for all its faults, I think could be a simple yet powerful tool that can help to eliminate the challenges that persist since Covid-19 and allow our organisation (and anyone one else) to build a strong network for teachers to share and collaborate.

Image credit: WhatsApp

I’m sure everyone is familiar with WhatsApp, the popular messaging app, but perhaps not with their recently introduced “Communities” feature. “Communities” allows anyone, an individual or a group, to create a space for even larger groups to connect and collaborate. “Announcements” can be made to everyone in the group but then smaller groups can be created based on their shared interests. 

The ISTA WhatsApp Community is still in its infancy, launching just two weeks ago, yet already we have 500 members signed up and 21 groups. These are based on location but also subject. At the moment, only admins can create groups but members can suggest new groups for other to join and I see great potential for this in the future.

Why WhatsApp? Well, it’s so easy to set up and use. Most teachers already have WhatsApp on their phones, making it a convenient and familiar platform. Setting up a Community is straightforward, removing any technical barriers. For admins, it is easy to manage permissions within the group and share a joining link with potential members. We shared the link with our members via a QR code and joining link. WhatsApp is hugely accessible, allowing teachers to participate in discussions and share resources on the go, fitting seamlessly into their busy schedules. WhatsApp allows for sharing text messages, weblinks, documents, images, and videos. This versatility has the potential to facilitate rich discussions with lesson plans, teaching materials, and visual aids. Best of all, WhatsApp is free to use potentially making it a game-changer for professional networking.

As for any professional network, there needs to be guidelines and rules (see below) to ensure the WhatsApp Community is used for its intended purpose. I think it was important that we established clear objectives for our PLC and established ground rules for respectful communication, keeping discussions focused and productive. Already, we have seen plenty of good discussion and sharing of resources on the platform and hopefully this will continue to grow. I also hope our PLC will translate to more in-person events, allowing members in various local communities meet to discuss best practice.

WhatsApp Communities is a simple solution to building and maintain a professional network and sometimes simple solutions aren’t always easy to find. WhatsApp is one way teachers can create vibrant PLCs that foster collaboration, knowledge sharing, and ultimately, a more rewarding and impactful teaching experience. So, take the first step, gather your fellow teachers, and embark on a journey of shared learning through your smartphones!

Scroll to Top