It is said by the Dufours that successful PLC’s are the one, single most powerful force in creating school improvement and increasing student achievement. This sounds simple, but… Teachers and school staff cannot participate in and achieve high functioning PLC’s themselves, it is contingent upon me as Principal to provide teachers with the tools, skills and capacities to perform as high functioning PLC’s. To this end, here is what I know, what I do and what I think….
Our PLC’s began several years ago by grouping teachers together to meet once a week to talk about students…. simple as that. Quickly I realized that to get to the guts and deep understandings about student learning, and to create engagement and participation by all teachers, we needed a protocol. This led to the next two years of PLC meetings, with a protocol or meeting format, with requirements for engaging in discussions about student progress and by incorporating teaching and learning strategies to support students. We were doing our meetings, as mandated, and we were learning together.
It’s a dangerous thing to read books and articles because I quickly realize what I do not do and what I do not know. This realization spurs me into immediate action to change and do differently. Luckily, I have a staff who accepts that I constantly change my mind, change how I want things done, and constantly look for a better way.
This fall was no different. Beginning this year our PLC’s had three teachers in them. I chose three so each teacher would have a voice, have a chance to participate and have time to talk and listen. More than three I feel is too many because inevitably someone will not have a chance to be heard. I also choose to have multi-grade PLC’s. This is for a variety of reasons. Mainly so that the meetings do not turn into grade level meetings talking about planning and prepping. However, we are finding many hidden gems and benefits of having multi-grade PLC’s.
The case for multi-grade PLC’s: I like PLC’s with teachers from different grade levels. I find that this grouping allows teachers to be exposed to curriculum and teaching styles and skills from different grades. This assists teachers in incorporating strategies they many not otherwise. For example: when a grade 3 teacher talks to a kindergarten teacher and realizes the strategies and resources a kindergarten teacher uses to support their learners, this often enables the grade 3 teacher to think about how to use these strategies in their own classrooms. Multi-grade PLC’s results in the opportunities for teachers to share knowledge about students they have taught in past years. This type of PLC also builds capacity in teachers. When a grade 3 teacher looks at a writing sample from a grade 1 student or grade 5 student, they build their understandings of how students develop from year to year.
Bringing PLC’s to Life
A variety of twists and turns with budgeting and staffing led to the opportunity to have teachers supported with an additional staff member after the year had begun. As I am steadfast about this PLC work and I know that what you give time and energy to is what improves, I devised an idea to bring PLC’s to life. What I mean by this is that now teachers have a chance to observe their PLC teaching partners as they teach. Once every six weeks, a teacher will be provided with the “additional teacher” so that they can leave their classrooms and observe their two other team members for half a day each. To make this meaningful, we have worked together as a staff on many occasion to build our understandings of the purpose of PLC’s and also have formative assessment. This led to a PLC Observation guide which supports teachers in “looking” for certain things while they observe.
PLC Observations Click here to take a look at our PLC Observation Guide.
Following the week of PLC Observations, the team members meet together to debrief, explain their learnings, ask questions or “wonders” and set a teaching goal for themselves for the next six weeks.
Where We Are Today
Last week I had the opportunity to watch a webinar presented by Solution Tree featuring the DuFours and AllthingsPLC.com. This opened and challenged my thinking about how we will move the PLC’s into more everyday ways of being and working. I bought their book Learning by Doing and am just beginning to read and think more about how to continue to grow and develop into High Functioning PLC’s. On my previous post The Walk-About I detailed one of our next steps we are adding to our processes.
Where We Are Going
The path we are going down is the pathway to ensure that each student is appropriately programmed for each day. We seek to understand our learners and their learning needs. We strive for Personalized Learning that provides an appropriate, purposeful and engaging education for each child, each day. Our work in PLC’s supports us in understanding what students need to learn, how we will know when each student has learned it, and how we will respond when a student experiences difficulty.