Creating a Professional Learning Community This Fall
- Grades: 6–8
The motto of my school district, Randolph Central, is "Learning with passion, innovation, and leadership." This serves as an excellent foundation for my teaching, as well as a reminder of how crucial it is to inspire students with our instruction. A professional learning community (PLC) is a wonderful way to focus on student learning and assess teaching practices. And in these tough economic times, in-house professional development opportunities, like PLCs, are even more attractive. Read on to learn more about creating your own professional learning community.
For a successful PLC, education guru Richard DuFour recommends that participants focus on learning versus teaching, work collaboratively, commit to carrying out an action plan, and hold themselves accountable for results. You'll want to keep these things in mind as you proceed.
The first step, however, is to ask yourself three questions: 1) What do you want students to learn? 2) How will you know when this occurs? and 3) What happens when students struggle? Then examine your classroom composition to identify areas of student need, and focus on what best practice would benefit your students most. It would be helpful to examine cumulative district data on state exams or to consider where students typically struggle most within your school. Once you have identified your target area, ask yourself the following questions:
"What Am I Most Passionate About?"
The field of education is overflowing with hot topics such as RTI, differentiated instruction, project-based learning, and 21st century skills in the
classroom, to name a few. Scholastic also supplies a wealth of professional development resources and activities that are worth exploring. Since you will be focusing on a specific professional development area over the course of the school year, decide which one you are most passionate about and run with it.
The next step is to find colleagues who share the same goals and the desire to transform their teaching. This past year, I formed a PLC called "Multimedia Instruction and Student Assessments" with five of my peers from different grade levels and content areas. As part of a district initiative to change the way we implemented professional development, several days throughout the year were given to teachers for working purposes. This was a wonderful change from the typical speaker-based PD. Taking ownership of our learning dramatically changed our instruction, and at the end of the year, the district celebrated our learning with a showcase of each group's activities. I've included a PDF of our brochure as an example for your professional learning community.
"How Will PLCs Benefit My Teaching?"
Creating a culture of collaboration should be the ultimate goal of any PLC. By working together, my colleagues and I discovered how true it is that we are more valuable collectively than on our own. Right off the bat we sat down as a team and began brainstorming a list of what we were good at and what burning questions we needed answers to. The result was a colorful exchange of ideas in an environment that encouraged active participation. This resulted in a model of peer learning that we passed along to our students and some incredible lessons that actively engaged them. We were blown away by the high level of student work, and assessment in our classrooms took on a whole new meaning.
"What Benefits Can I Expect for My Students?"
Our main focus was to make students more accountable for their own learning, specifically by putting technology in their hands. I began with small steps, teaching my students, for instance, how to use the scanner to upload pictures. Then I had them do Flip video projects, and finally they created Glogster interactive posters to illustrate concepts across the content areas.
By allowing my students to become responsible for their own learning, I was free to conduct more formative assessments through classroom walk-throughs and interviewing. I was amazed to see students who began the school year with little confidence become masters of these amazing multimedia tools. Another benefit was that they started to teach each other instead of seeking out my assistance. They truly developed leadership skills, as I so hoped they would.
After last year's success, I'm thrilled to begin a new adventure with my 7th grade team. In the fall Randolph will begin a pilot program in which each student will have access to various technologies including laptops, iPads, and the iPod touch to determine which would make the most sense for our district. Our topic of focus will be the effects of one-on-one technology upon student learning. I couldn't be more thrilled. I am also taking part in a district study of the book Teach Like a Champion with teachers from all grade levels, K–12.
I'm confident that whichever professional development path you choose, your teaching will reflect passion, innovativeness, and leadership!