Professional learning communities are a key part of a renewed focus on student progress and teacher effectiveness.
One of the aspects of my job that I love is the opportunity to visit schools throughout the county. During these visits and at meetings I attend with regional and district leaders, the topic of professional learning communities almost always surfaces. We all agree that educators and students both benefit greatly in schools where time and efforts are devoted to powerful professional learning communities.
Several schools I have visited are right on target. Some elementary schools I visited have a mutual meeting place with content-specific data posted on colorful charts around the room. The principals and staff members gather with additional information organized in pictorial file folders according to the results of recent benchmark tests. The principal or team designee leads the group in structured discussions related to clusters of students and their remediation services. The group then develops plans of action for the coming weeks of school. Other schools have a similar organizational system and structure using pocket charts, student cards and colored dots to designate flexible groups of students. At one high school, I keenly observed as the principal, assistant principal and other critical staff members monitored students using a spreadsheet projected on a wall displaying test scores, courses in which students were at risk of failing, current intervention strategies, etc. It was obvious from the discussions in all of these settings that the educators know these students well and are committed to finding resources and strategies to help them succeed. The energy and spirit of collaboration is alive and thriving!
When I was a principal, I promoted PLCs and found them to be effective in empowering teachers to take ownership for student success and to promote collaboration. I love the way Mike Schmoker, author of numerous educational books and a former administrator, describes PLCs: “Powerful, proven structures for improved results already exist. They begin when a group of teachers meet regularly as a team to identify essential and valued student learning , develop common formative assessments, analyze current levels of achievement, set achievement goals, and then share and create lessons and strategies to improve upon those levels.”
Among researchers and practitioners, Dr. Richard and Rebecca DuFour and Robert Eaker are names synonymous with professional learning communities. In their writings, a professional learning community is summarized as “a model that starts with the assumption that educators are professionals engaged in a common, shared quest to learn how they can continuously improve teaching and learning in their schools.”
Throughout their work and that of other researchers, these common characteristics apply:
- shared mission, vision, values and goals
- collaborative teams focused on learning
- collective inquiry into best practice and current reality
- action orientation/experimentation
- commitment to continuous improvement
- results oriented
Are the characteristics of efficient PLCs common practice within our schools and departments? Are they practiced to the degree of producing continuous student growth and progress? What do PLCs look and sound like in your schools and within your departments? Please share your thoughts about these questions.
There is a wealth of knowledge and research to support professional learning communities on the Internet and in PD 360.
(Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement, Solution Tree, 1999, 2006)
About Tina Martin
During my 30 years in Chesterfield County Public Schools, I have proudly served as an elementary special education teacher, parent resource center educator, instructional specialist for learning disabilities, elementary and secondary assistant principal, elementary principal and, currently, assistant director of professional development. Working with students and teachers has been most fulfilling, especially when I served as principal of Hopkins Road Elementary and Greenfield Elementary. Before coming to Chesterfield County, I taught briefly in North Carolina in the High Point and Guilford County school systems. I have studied at Appalachian State University, where I obtained a bachelor’s degree in special education; the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and North Carolina A&T for my graduate degree in elementary education and reading; and Virginia State University for my certification and endorsement in administration and supervision. Additionally, I am a National Certified Principal Mentor and have the Principals of Distinction certification. I am blessed with a wonderful family: my husband, Quintin; daughters Erica and Tia; great-nephew, Trenton; and the highlight of our home, our dog, Doby. Erica recently obtained her medical assistant certification and is working in Florida; Tia is a junior in the Humanities program at Monacan High; and Trenton is a fourth-grader at Evergreen. In addition to enjoying my new position in professional development, I am an avid reader and enjoy leisurely walks, spending time with friends and family and creating my bucket list for future travels and adventures.