The current culture in education, with its emphasis on standardized testing, demands teachers work collaboratively to ensure student success. Technology has created numerous opportunities for teachers worldwide to collaborate and share innovative strategies with the click of a button, improving instruction in the classroom. Yet, even with all of this advancement, teachers and schools continue to struggle to help their students. This fact continues to befuddle those in the educational field, not to mention parents and community members. The reality is, even with the best teachers and the most proven strategies, students will only succeed with effective collaboration amongst teachers within schools and communities, rather than simply online. One way to achieve such collaboration is through the creation and implementation of Professional Learning Communities.
Teachers sometime refer to struggling students as, “those who have fallen through the cracks.” In many cases, these students have fallen through the cracks because their current educational system allowed them to fail. For example, a student who does not learn to read fluently by the third grade, and has no intervention plan put in place, will most likely continue to struggle for years to come. However, a school with an established PLC allows teachers across grade levels, and within grade levels, to work collaboratively to design assessments that close the achievement gap for struggling students in an effective and timely manner.
Professional Learning Communities Allow Staff Members to Continually Communicate
Quite simply, teaching in isolation is a notion of the past. Due to the high-stakes environment that teachers and students work in, every teacher is responsible for the learning of every student in the school. Teachers can no longer close their doors and simply teach to their liking. Instead, they must embrace the concept of collaboration and open their doors to the benefit of students. The administration can aid in this process by creating time within the school day for teams to work together to review data and create unique assessments that accurately measure student learning. Only when there are clear learning outcomes identified, and a genuine understanding of each student’s ability, can effective instruction take place. The organization of a PLC allows for these discussions to take place.
Another positive aspect of PLC’s is that they allow for the creation of a school-wide behavior intervention system. Developing uniform expectations for behavior has a profound impact on student success. Although teachers may have their own consequences for behavioral infractions, there needs to be consistency in student expectations. When students know what is expected of them, they can then begin to meet learning outcomes. For example, teacher A may hold a student in from recess for not completing homework, while teacher B may require the student to perform some community service, but in both cases the student learns that there are consequences for not completing their work. A PLC affords teachers the opportunity to come together to discuss the most important student expectations to help students know what is expected of them, regardless of who is their teacher.
Professional Learning Communities provide time to plan interventions, choose formative and summative assessments to use, and even schedule dates for administering assessments. However, the most important aspect of a PLC is that it provides effective and timely feedback for the teacher and student. Data is only useful if it is utilized in an appropriate time frame, and if it is consistent across the board. Teachers determine what the learning targets are and how a student can demonstrate mastery of their learning. Having time to collaborate with colleagues within the school day allows each team member time to review recent assessments, evaluate student performance, and plan intervention or enrichment opportunities for all of the students in a specific grade, based on mutually agreed upon goals. Since these meetings are held in grade-level teams, it makes no difference which class a student is in because all of the students are held to the same expectations.
Professional Learning Communities Establish a Collaboration with the Community
Teachers can communicate their findings back to both students and parents regularly, thus, informing all parties of where a student stands in relation to meeting expected outcomes at any given time in the grading period. Many schools that have implemented effective PLC’s send home progress reports every few weeks to inform parents of academic progress, as well as their struggles, and how the correct intervention will be used to help the student achieve success in those areas. By keeping all stakeholders informed through continued collaboration and intervention, schools are only setting their students up for success.