As educators, we must ask ourselves, “Is this good for kids?”
Envision two scenarios:
1. Teachers work in isolation. Team members value a variety of pedagogical beliefs, resulting in varied instructional practices yielding different levels of student achievement. Defensive mentalities prevail, and ownership over their students takes precedence over the 100% of the student body in the grade level.
2. Teachers work as a team. Team members decide what pedagogical practices and methods of instruction are most pertinent for reaching all learners in the grade, yielding higher levels of student achievement. A supportive team culture exists, each teacher taking pride in accelerating student growth across the grade level.
The latter is referred to as a professional learning community, or PLC. Teachers in highly achieving schools would agree that their success could be attributed to their collaborative work environment. The PLC is not a new educational trend, but an effective academic practice that now has a name. PLCs are simple in theory, but difficult in application. One cannot simply “Do” a PLC. It must be a living, breathing culture that permeates through every decision of a teaching team. It is an educator’s way of life that must be embraced.
In today’s educational arena, there is certainly no shortage of data. How educators USE that data, however, is key. An integral component of a PLC is using common assessments. As a 6th grade team at Shaw Avenue School in Valley Stream, NY, we create common assessments to track student growth and reteach whatever concepts – whenever intervention is necessary– for whoever is in need.
With this supportive, flexible, collaborative and focused team mentality, we’ve transformed our approach and practices to better meet the needs of our diverse community of learners, as evidenced through the manifestation of very tangible and engaging learning experiences. An example of this is our implementation of STEAM Challenge Wednesday, an interdisciplinary event that highlights the areas of interests and needs of our collective student body.
The goal of a PLC is to increase student achievement and our STEAM Challenge Wednesday is no different. Identifying areas of student need and recognizing team member strengths by analyzing common assessment data, we adapt our instruction to create tailored learning pathways to reach every student with the ultimate goal to provide them with a better understanding of science, technology, engineering, art, and math disciplines. This is achieved through the means of rigorous and collaborative cross-disciplinary challenges that warrant a high degree of critical thinking and problem solving.
Ask yourself: Does my team backwards plan together by asking, “What do we want our learners to know by the end of this instruction?” If yes, you may be operating in a PLC. Through collaboration and communication, PLCs can increase student achievement as evidenced by comparative common assessment data, like at Shaw Avenue.
It’s one thing to learn about PLCs, but an entirely different entity when you LIVE in a PLC. Remember, if its good for kids, you’re doing something right!