Every Wednesday afternoon teachers meet in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to emphasize best practices. As teachers reflect on their practice and collaborate with colleagues, they can improve student learning. When they discuss content coverage, instructional practices and assessment tools, they can learn from each other’s expertise.
Teaching can feel fairly isolating. With so many demands to create content, deliver in an engaging way, and assess what’s been learned, it’s hard to find time to connect with an expert down the hall. Managing behaviors, contacting parents, grading work, and learning new technology tools all take time.
For new teachers, there’s course work and meetings with coaches on top of that. Many veteran teachers also take time to coach sports teams and extracurricular activities. Opportunities for teachers to collaborate and learn from each other used to get crowded out due to demands on their time.
Collaborations during PLCs give teachers time to focus on their craft and learn from each other. These meetings can validate practices and give teachers a chance to shine as they describe a lesson that worked for them. Being appreciated can build resilience and the groups’ trust.
The notion that two heads are better than one also applies when departments work as a problem solving team. When a teacher shares a lesson that didn’t go as they intended, the group can serve as a think tank to trouble shoot how to fix the issue.
Teams work best when members feel they have an equal say. Yes, they go more smoothly if there is a facilitator, but the idea is to move away from having a department chair who is the definitive expert in the room. Identifying team assets takes a bit of investigatory probing. Often newer teachers are more tech savy while the more experienced teachers have more resources to share.
Once the sequence of standards has been identified the focus turns to calendaring the essential ones. Discussion about pacing ensues. Sharing their most engaging materials as well as possible student products enhances collaborations. Developing common formative assessments and the platform used to administer, grade and report them is also decided.
English Language Arts teachers might design a performance task to test students’ organizational writing skills as they analyze the Outsiders movie as compared to the novel. Social Studies teachers can quiz students on the latest unit of study whether its tensions that led to revolution or inventions that modernized China. Science teachers have designed engineering tasks and had students build prototypes of rubber band propelled cars which they tested and modified.
Once these diagnostic instruments have been designed and delivered, the data they generate can be analyzed. Google forms, Socrative and Illuminate are all programs used by teachers to deliver online assessments to students. While certain platforms are preferred by specific teachers, when everyone uses the same program, analysis is easier and more useful conversations can be had.
Interim assessments (IABs) have been interspersed throughout the year to help students navigate the various types of questions and computerized animations they’ll have to manipulate to be successful on the CAASPP test. Various school campuses have already done their “stress tests” to see if the WiFi can handle the standardized testing load that’s coming down the pike.
The California Department of Education (CDE) reports these CAASPP test results on a district dashboard with break downs of individual school site scores as well. These measures are available to principals, teachers and the public.
As teachers become learners and collaborate in PLCs, they focus on high leverage nuggets in order to enhance student success. When they respect and admire each other’s commitment to children, they can also gently challenge each other’s unproven notions.
When PLCs get to navigate the waters they feel are most useful, the conversations glean results that propel students forward in their learning. Teachers who are given time as learners, benefit their students with better practices.
Kristi McCracken, author of two children’s books and a long time teacher in the South Valley, can be reached at email@example.com.