While most of my colleagues were busy washing, cleaning, or grocery shopping on their Saturday, I joined the faculty at Majestic Elementary to learn about Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). Dr. Kerrie Naylor conducted the teachers' training, and we curriculum consultants and sprecialists observed so that we could make Dr. Naylor nervous and also assist in teaching future workshops.
Without going into the history of PLCs, it is important to understand the objectives of this model for change. Richard DuFour brought about mighty changes and incredible results when he established PLCs as superintendent of Chicago's Adelai Stevenson School District - a school so large it constitutes its own district. Briefly, I want to share the Big Ideas we studied yesterday. (Some of the included information is from a DuFour article that appeared in Educational Leadership, May 2004, "What is a 'Professional Learning Community?'")
Big Idea #1: Ensuring that students LEARN: This idea in and of itself generated a huge shift in philosophy. Educators stopped thinking that teaching students was enough and turned to the notion that we must ensure that students actually LEARN. No more excuses like, "I TAUGHT them not to split infinitives!"
To make this happen, 3 driving questions pave the way:
- What do we want each student to learn?
- How will we know when each student has learned it?
- How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty in learning?
Big Idea #2: A Culture of Collaboration: Many schools pay lip service to the IDEA of collaboration and some may work together to build a program centered on "discipline, technology, or social climate." PLCs centered on student learning, however, work together to analyze student work and their own instructional practices. They put aside egos and personal agendas to examine what their students need and how they can improve their practices to fulfill those needs.
Big Idea #3: A Focus on Results: "Professional learning communities judge their effectiveness on the basis of results." Instead of establishing goals like "We will adopt an audio book program," or "We will expand the number of portable computer labs," a PLC goal might state, "We will decrease the percentage of students failing science tests by 50%."
Teachers create and review formative assesments throughout the school year and then adjust instruction to improve student learning. As the team examines the students' work, they look for those who do well, and if one teacher's class performs better than the others, they discuss details of his or her instruction to determine what may have created the difference. Once that practice has been identified, the teachers incorporate it to see if that helps their students.
While PLCs are not new, they are NOT a passing trend that is likely to go away. The current demand for improved student performance, as well as the positive results demonstrated by schools using this model with fidelity are entrenching the PLC movement. And the teachers at Majestic Elementary are willing and eager to work together to support their students' learning. Here are a few fun photos from our Saturday School!