Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Professional Learning Communities

During the month of January, you have probably picked up on a theme running throughout this blog. Specifically, how we manage students time during the course of the day, week, month, and school year.  Last week I discussed the importance of teacher professional development and the purpose of early dismissals in the calendar.  As discussed last week, we recently come to the conclusion that teachers do not have enough time to complete the various tasks that have become necessary to ensure that your children are being exposed to a rich and viable curriculum that ensures success for all students. 

Under our current system, we have approximately one early dismissal per month.  It is during those times that we conduct professional development such as research into the characteristics of effective instruction, alignment of our curriculum to the Iowa Core Curriculum that ensures our intended curriculum becomes our enacted curriculum (and is properly matched to assessment), additional training on new technology that is designed to improve instruction in the classroom, and annual training that is required under Iowa Code.  This is not to mention other meetings that come up to address building or district specific issues, or other administrative requirements and logistical discussions that must take place.  Wouldn't you agree that three hours per month just isn't enough?

We have recognized that, while at the same time realizing that if we work together using a collaborative process, we can do amazing things!  This year we have started to deliver much of our professional development through a collaborative process.  It has worked for us, but we have also discovered that by the time we start to make headway, our time together has drawn to a close. With the next meeting being an entire month away it feels like starting over again.

Because of this disconnect our calendar proposal for next year considers the addition of early dismissal days in our calendar.  What we have essentially done is added one early dismissal per month, and instead of dismissing our students at 12:30, we will dismiss them at 1:30.  This is proposed in an effort to provide our teachers with the time they need to collaborate. 

Think about the power of collaboration!  We recognize the importance of working together so much that it is one of our learner performance goals.  Our district will be implementing a research based collaborative model that is commonly referred to as Professional Learning Communities (PLC).  The work of these groups will focus on learning that is occurring in each classroom and will be deeply rooted in student assessment data that will be collected and analyzed by the PLC. 

The PLC model that we implement will be a commitment and focus on the learning of each student.  Not a focus on ensuring that children are taught, but ensuring that each child learns the essential knowledge, skills, and character.  We have been hearing a lot lately about how Iowa children stack up internationally, and one thing that we have discovered is that in countries where the greatest student achievement gains have been made, teachers are provided regularly scheduled time for collaborative work aimed at student learning.  To guide our work, the PLC will be focused on 4 critical questions:
  1. What is it we want our students to learn?
  2. How will we know if each student has learned?
  3. How will we respond when some students don't learn?
  4. How can we extend and enrich the learning for students who have demonstrated proficiency?
We are very excited to implement this research based model into our school district, but also recognize that in order to ensure implementation with fidelity it must also accommodate a change in our school calendar.  The Board of Directors plan to hold a public hearing on the 2012-2013 academic calendar at the February 20th board meeting.

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