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Is a PLC a More Efficient Way to do Things for Teachers?

Last week, my building principal asked me an important question: “Is a professional learning community (PLC) a more efficient way to do things for teachers?”  My answer was a strong YES….here’s why….

I have had the opportunity to attend two conferences that focused on the implementation of the Professional Learning Community process.  The first conference took place in California in July and the second location was a November event in Ontario, Canada.  Both events strengthened my belief in the PLC process and prepared me to help shape this process at Athena.  Before I attended the conference in July, I’m not sure that I would have answered “yes” to my principal’s question.  I think its easy to view the PLC process as just another initiative that your district is making you do.  Make no mistake, this process could definitively be a waste of time if not truly endorsed and supported by teachers and administrators.  This is the difference between “doing” PLCs and “being” a PLC.

The PLC process is “an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve” (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2010, p. 11).  My PLC meets bimonthly to discuss best practice, analyze common formative assessment (CFA) data, and focus on student learning.  The CFA data is analyzed to determine which students need additional time and instruction on a certain topic and to identify the teaching strategies that proved to be effective.

Two (of many) reasons why I endorse the PLC process are that I believe in the 3 big ideas that drive the work of a PLC and the 4 critical PLC questions.  These essential pieces of the PLC framework are clear and powerful ways that serve as the foundation to my educational practice.

The 3 Big Ideas that Drive the Work of a PLC:

  1. The purpose of our school is to ensure all students learn at high levels.
  2. Helping all students learn requires a collaborative and collective effort.
  3. To assess our effectiveness in helping all students learn we must focus on results–evidence of student learning–and use results to inform and improve our professional practice and respond to students who need intervention or enrichment.
The 4 Critical PLC questions:
  1. What do we expect students to learn?
  2. How will we know when they have learned it?
  3. How will we respond when they don’t learn?
  4. How will we respond when they already know it?

Please comment below!  I would enjoy hearing your thoughts.

 

Math PLC Reflects on the RtI Process

After reading Response to Intervention: The future for Secondary Schools by Canter, Klotz, and Cowan, (2008) the Athena High School Math Department’s professional learning community (PLC) discussed and reflected on the RtI process and the current reality of our school.

A couple most valuable points (MVPs) were important to the group.  First, parent support and involvement is critical.  So often parents are not engaged in the learning of their children for different reasons.  Parents should be invited to information sessions and included on advisory councils to provide input into the design of the RtI program.

A second MVP is that Athena should build our RtI model in a realistic time line.  Often times educators jump into something without addressing specifics.  If something sounds good, we try it for a year and abandon it the year after.  For the RtI process to have a successful start next year, we need to be talking about specifics as soon as possible.  Going forward as Athena High sets up the RtI process, the decision makers must encourage and seek out parent involvement, and begin planning soon.  Decision makers must also not rush something that is not ready.

Some members of our PLC are also reading Pyramid Response to Intervention by Buffum, Mattos, and Weber (2009).  This book continues to be a great resource to be used in our work on ensuring that all students learn at high levels.  This book describes the RtI model, PLCs, and how to respond when kids don’t learn.

ENGAGING Teens In Their Learning – A Year Long PD Experience

The Athena High School Math Department (an amazing professional learning community) focused this year on engaging students in their own learning and ensuring that all students learn relevant mathematics.  Using Dr. Vermette’s ENGAGING Framework, teachers (math and special ed) and an administrator (Mrs. Goodwine rocks!) collaborated and reflected on the various factors that produce high level learning experiences for students.  The eight factors are: Entice effort through positive relationships, Negotiate meaning, Group collaboratively, Active learning, Graphic organizers, Intelligence interventions, Note making, and Grade wisely.  More information on these factors can be found HERE.

Many Athena math teachers participated in a book study of Vermette’s (2009) book ENGAGING Teens in Their Own Learning.  The teachers met seven times throughout the year to discuss their thoughts and reflections on the book.  The book challenged many assumptions and beliefs that we had about education.  The book promoted lively discussion around what is actually practical in education versus the utopia of education, specifically in math classrooms.  Some ENGAGING activities that we discussed are listed here:

Earlier in the year, Dr. Vermette came to Athena to present to the Athena High School math and special education departments on the “ENGAGING Framework in Secondary Mathematics.”  The workshop was filled with collaboration, reflection, activity, and discussion about the aspects of his “ENGAGING Framework.”  Vermette also shared his thoughts on the age of standards, technology, 21st century skills, Common Core Curriculum, teacher accountability, standardized tests, and increased innumeracy.

In March, a group of Athena educators took a field trip to Niagara University to  participate in a custom designed professional development by Paul Vermette, Karrie Jones, and Jennifer Jones.  A general theme was to build with the knowledge in their heads, not yours.  Vermette said that teaching is not telling; teaching is “sparking thinking.”  One of the activities that we participated in was self-assessing a current lesson by answering the following questions:

  1. How do you build productive relationships with every student? How do their individual (and group) differences affect these efforts?
  2. How do you allow students to develop their own individualized understanding of the important content you teach them?
  3. Under what conditions would you use teams, peer interactions, cooperative learning and/or paired tasks? How do you do it?
  4. How do you use active learning strategies? How do you embed assessment into the instructional process?
  5. How do you use graphic organizers and reading strategies?
  6. How do you use multiple intelligences and other differentiation strategies?
  7. Note-making is one “writing to learn” strategy: what are some of the ones you use regularly?
  8. What are some of the factors that you consider in designing your grading system and determining individual grades?

It has been a great year of engaging professional development for the Athena High School Math Department.  It is our hope that our work this year will help us to implement the Common Core Standards.

PLCs at Athena Middle and High

Athena Middle and High School collaborate in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).  The PLC process is “an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve” (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2010, p. 11).  This process is sometimes refered to as the PLT (Professional Learning Team) process.  The PLCs/PLTs are divided by subject or topic and meet bimonthly to discuss best practice, analyze common formative assessment (CFA) data, and focus on student learning.  A CFA is an instrument that is used by all members of the PLC in order to inform both the teacher and the student of the student’s progress (DuFour et al., 2010).  The CFA data is analyzed to determine which students need additional time and instruction and to identify the teaching strategies that proved to be effective.

Some things to remember when implementing the PLC process:

Three Big Ideas That Drive the Work of a PLC

  1. The purpose of our school is to ensure all students learn at high levels.
  2. Helping all students learn requires a collaborative and collective effort.
  3. To assess our effectiveness in helping all students learn we must focus on results–evidence of student learning–and use results to inform and improve our professioanl practice and respond to students who need intervention or enrichment.

Four Critical Questions of the PLC Process

  1. What is it we expect kids to learn?
  2. How will we know when they have learned it?
  3. How will we respond when they don’t learn?
  4. How will we respond when they already know it?

Please let me know the great things that you are doing in your PLCs.  If anyone wants help in moving their PLC to the next level, please LET ME KNOW as I am happy to help.

For more information visit http://www.allthingsplc.info/.

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