Professional Learning Communities boost collaboration
Posted October 5, 2012
The Professional Learning Communities at Work™ process is increasingly recognized as the most powerful strategy for sustained, substantive school improvement. Several faculty members attended PLC institutes for training last summer in preparation for beginning the process at Webb. Two months into the school year, Angela Rasnick, Webb director of studies, explains PLCs, how they’ve been established at Webb and the progress that is being made.
What is a PLC?
“A Professional Learning Community (PLC) is educators committed to working collaboratively in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve. PLCs operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous, job-embedded learning for educators.” (Learning by Doing, DuFour)
What are collaborative days and what has been accomplished so far?
Collaborative Days – Each department meets for Collaborative Days typically on a Monday or Friday once every three weeks. The Director of Studies meets with the groups on their collaborative day. The groups focus on a topic for the day that will cause collective inquiry to occur.
Departments have met twice so far.
The first day focused on setting expectations for the group, brainstorming a list of topics for research this year; and educating Webb faculty on the national core standards and evaluating their alignment with Webb’s teaching objectives.
As an example, the Foreign Language and Fine Arts departments are researching the brain’s capacity to learn those disciplines. They are seeing the importance of introducing foreign language and music at an early age and determining how Webb can maximize this learning in the classrooms at Webb to be sure the strands are developed in the brain.
“As musicians and instructors in foreign language, it has always been self-evident that the earlier the better for studying the arts and foreign language,” said Janet Linton, Fine Arts Department chair. “There is now research to back this up.”
Also as an example, the newly formed “Specials” group; which includes teachers of psychology, computer, wellness, library skills, academic support, personal finance, and ethics; has been brainstorming ways they can support the other disciplines at Webb with strategies to include higher-order thinking in their own curricula. They are hopeful that this direct instruction will transfer to other disciplines.
“Our PLC team challenges students to 'think about thinking'. This is a fundamental key to higher-order learning across the curriculum,” said Jackie Chapman, school psychologist.”
The second collaborative day of the cycle was focused on “collective inquiry”, which is the process of building shared knowledge by clarifying the questions that a group will explore together. Each teacher brought an assessment to share with the group. The groups evaluated assessments and asked the following questions: How will we respond when the students have learned the objectives? How will we respond when the students have not learned the objectives? What can we learn from each other to enhance our effectiveness? The discussions amongst the groups were very helpful with participants developing lists of ideas that could be directly used in the classrooms as we seek to have each student experience mastery of important concepts.
Why is collaboration important?
The teachers at Webb, experts in their fields, are collaborating this year in order to share their expertise and knowledge with each other. The Collaborative Days have already given the teachers an opportunity to learn together and to evaluate best teaching practices. Standardized Test Data was used to evaluate the weaknesses and strengths in our students’ learning, and goals are set to make sure we are addressing the weaknesses and maintaining the strengths of our teaching and learning.
The Professional Learning Community model is designed to help educators work together interdependently in collaborative teams to achieve common goals for which they are mutually accountable. Webb teachers have shifted from an idea of “my students” to an idea of “our students”. Teachers are sharing ideas that will enable student learning. The teachers are committed to answering the key questions: 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?