Last week I attended a Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) at Work Conference in Tulsa. The three days were packed with information, and I was exhausted at the end of the week, but I got some great ideas that I’m eager to put into practice. I’m awash in afterglow!
While our district has been working toward a PLC model for a couple of years and I’ve attended several PLC events in that time, I feel as though we’ve been a PLC “in name only” at our site. It’s time to kick things up a notch.
Our student population and faculty are unique. None of the teachers in our building shares content learning objectives or assessments; we’re all “singletons.” In addition, pregnant and parenting students will respond to interventions or incentives in slightly different ways than the average high school student. This creates some challenges when attempting to implement the core elements of PLCs.
Challenge #1: Common Objectives.
A traditional PLC consists of a team of grade-specific or subject-specific teachers and/or staff with common learning objectives. We can form neither, since we have students from 5 -6 grades during any school year, and no two teachers teach the same subjects. We still share common goals, however: critical thinking skills development, improved reading comprehension, life skills goals, etc. I’d like our teacher team to explore how we can establish some common learning objectives, perhaps centered around a few key interdisciplinary study units.
Challenge #2: Common Assessments.
Creating learning objectives is pointless without assessments. Our site has used the TABE (Test of Adult Basic Education) assessment twice a year in the past to assess our students’ skills and skill growth, but results were often not shared with staff. It might be possible to make better use of this assessment or to instead create our own common assessment based on identified common objectives.
Challenge #3: Interventions and Enrichments.
Our students’ lives are centered more on pregnancy and parenting, but they have many of the same interests as their peers. A typical system of interventions for students who struggle has three levels (pyramid response to intervention). We’ve addressed this by setting aside weekly time for the teacher team to meet and discuss individual student needs and have built time in the academic schedule for students to receive tutoring or makeup time. It’s a great start, but we need a more systematic and targeted approach. We also haven’t emphasized enrichment opportunities for high-achieving students. Last week’s conference speakers provided some wonderful guidance in this regard that I hope to discuss with our teacher team in August. I think we have the tools to take our PLC to the next level.
An alternative to establishing higher-order common objectives might be for teachers to seek out online communities in their core subjects. I belong to a couple of great online communities now (English Companion Ning and the National Science Teachers Association) and can see that as a viable option. The trick is to select only one or two subjects for this. I teach six or seven different courses each semester, and I just can’t keep up with that many online groups.
As I begin planning for next year, I’ll try to stay focused on the ultimate goal: collaborating with teaching staff to ensure that each student achieves her highest level of learning. The goal sounds simple, but reaching it won’t be. Meanwhile, I’ll bask in the conference afterglow and contemplate the promise of a more integrative and collaborative approach to helping our students succeed in a new term.