I am certain that there are innumerable examples of successful PLC practices across the country. Here are a few examples of PLCs at Work in our district:
- PLC Facilitator Coaches: How much of a Board and district priority is PLCs? Teachers at each school receive either a stipend or have a free section within their teaching day to serve as a coach for all PLC teams in their building. In addition, these teacher-coaches participate in monthly after-school professional learning sessions during which their capacity to lead and support at their sites is nurtured. Importantly, site administrators join teachers at their monthly meetings.
- Time to collaborate: Our elementary and secondary schools have weekly opportunities to collaborate within the contractual day, a commitment that has necessitated altering schedules over the past decade.
- Question 1: Question one of a PLC at Work (What do we want students to know and be able to do?) has received consistent attention within our district and at our schools. The motto, Teach Less, Learn More, represents the commitment to a guaranteed, viable curriculum for each grade level and course, and a GVC is a fundamental element of a PLC at Work. The identification of essential or key learning outcomes, outcomes that all students need to master to be successful in the next year or course, serve an important function in our PLC efforts:
- The Focus of PLCs: We don’t have time to “PLC” on all the learning outcomes that we will teach in our classrooms. Identifying essentials provides guidance on which outcomes we should prioritize when addressing the four questions.
- The focus of CFAs: The assessments that we design and administer, and whose results we collectively analyze to inform our future teaching and future student learning must be equally focused. We do not have time commonly assess all standards and collectively analyze results from all assessments that we administer. Identifying essentials focuses on common assessment practices.
- The Focus of Tier 2: We do not have time to reteach all outcomes for which students have not yet demonstrated mastery; we do not have time to enrich the learning and go deeper on all standards that we initially teach. Identifying essentials, along with evidence of student learning, helps determine the focus of teacher teams’ Tier 2 efforts.
- Question 2: Question two (How will students demonstrate that they have mastered essential learning and developed essential capacities?) has been addressed by the majority of teams across the district. While there at not common unit assessments across the 27 elementary schools, 9 middle schools, and 6 high schools within the district, common end of year assessments are being created for secondary school courses and the expectations is that grade level and course teams design, administer, and analyze the results of common assessments to inform future teaching and learning. We have been clear to clarify that teams need not (and probably should not) commonly assess student mastery of all learning outcomes; should we commonly asses if we do not have time to commonly analyze and time to collectively respond to the student needs that emerge from the analyses? Instead, we aim to commonly assess and analyze student mastery of essential, prioritized learning targets, targets that are so important that will provide reteaching support when they are not yet learned.
- Access: A fundamental belief of a PLC at Work is that all students will learn at high levels. There are many factors to achieving this goal; ensuring that students have the opportunity to learn at high levels is a critical prerequisite. Our schools and our teachers have made firm commitments and made significant shifts to ensure equities in access. We are providing multiple entry points to honors courses; we are eliminating remedial courses, replacing them with collaboratively co-taught classes; and we are re-committing to differentiating supports for all learners (PLC at Work questions three and four) so that students don’t simply have access to rigorous courses but that they experience success.
- Grading: Cassandra Erkens has inspired us to commit to building student hope, efficacy, and achievement through PLCs at Work, assessment practices, and grading. The three big ideas of PLCs at Work, mentioned earlier in this conclusion, require that our gathering of evidence be based on learning, and we are re-examining whether the date at which a student learns is important. This is leading us to explore how we will provide multiple opportunities for students to show us what they know. In addition, acknowledging that grades should represent our feedback to students regarding what they have learned at a given point in time, we are asking whether our grades reflect mastery of learning targets or whether they more generally reflect the percentage of points earned on activities, such as homework, labs, or tests.
- Our district teams, from the superintendent’s cabinet to curriculum and instruction departments, are guided by the principles and practices of PLCs at Work. For example, the professional learning that we design and facilitate is guided by learning targets; evidence of our colleagues’ learning within and by the end of the professional learning is gathered; differentiation and opportunities for exercising instructional agility are planned for; and data and feedback from our colleagues is analyzed to plan the latter portions of the professional learning sessions and for future professional learning.
- Lead Meetings: Representatives from each content area at each of our secondary schools meet after school approximately 15 times a year to extend the practices of PLCs at Work from the site to across the district. It’s common sense. If teachers within a school-based team can learn from another in their continual efforts to improve service to students, shouldn’t teachers and teams from the six high schools, nine middle schools, and 27 elementary schools have the opportunity to learn with and from another. Lead meetings provide the chance for us to collaboratively participate in The Learning Cycle mentioned earlier in the conclusion. In addition to these meetings, all teachers have four additional full days to engage in learning.
Michael Fullan reports that, “The main enemies of large-scale reform are overload and extreme fragmentation” (2000, p. 6). PLCs at Work mitigate these risks, at both the team level and at the more broadly system level, by reducing fragmentation. It’s common sense: Many hands make light work. The way educators work together is more important than the work of individual teachers (Bryk, Sebring, Allensworth, Luppescu, & Easton, 2010; DeAngelis, & Presley, 2011). The research-based and practical way in which educators work together in support of all students is by enthusiastically, authentically embracing and implementing PLCs at Work.
We have long suffered from initiative fatigue. This has led to us compromising the potentially positive impact of existing practices, to ceasing to use effective practices that are in fact working, and to over-complicating the already complex work of teaching and learning. There are common sense (and researched-based) sets of principles and practices that we have set aside or forgotten or that we simply have not implemented very well.