What is a Professional Learning Community?
We define a professional learning community as educators committed to working collaboratively in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve. Professional learning communities operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous, job-embedded learning for educators (Dufour, Dufour, Eaker, & Many 2006).
The Focus Imperative
The pursuit of high-impact learning requires that we achieve individual and organizational focus. When we focus our attention in one area, we can reach a state of purposeful action that yields powerful emotional, physical, and professional results (Gallagher, 2009).
Research has demonstrated repeatedly that there are six critical school-success practices from which to choose that have the greatest impact on student learning and educational equity:
- Expectations – 40 years of research have shown that when teachers and administrators expect more, they get more; when they expect less, they get less. The key is having clear, rigorous grade-level standards and ensuring that teachers’ unit and lesson plans are aligned with those expectations.
- Formative assessment – On-the-spot classroom checks for understanding and interim assessments can have a powerful effect on teaching and learning. The key is effective follow-up: What are teachers and principals doing differently today as a result of the most recent formative assessment data?
- Educator efficacy – When teachers believe they are the primary causes of student achievement, student gains are three to five times higher than when they assume that the causes are factors beyond their control. The key here is providing teachers with accurate, timely ways of seeing their impact on student learning. A high impact way to provide this is ensuring the use of formative assessment.
- Feedback – Research that drew on data from millions of students indicates that when students receive feedback that is accurate, specific, and timely, the impact on achievement is so great that it is more significant than the socioeconomic status of children (Hattie, 2009). The purpose of feedback is to improve performance… to what degree are your present feedback systems leading to improved performance by students, teachers, and leaders? Again, formative assessment is an effective way to provide feedback to students and teachers.
- Nonfiction writing – Few activities have a greater and more consistent positive impact on every other discipline than nonfiction writing. Description, persuasion, and analysis help students at
every level improve thinking, reasoning, and analytical skills. Students need to do a great deal more of this kind of writing in school – and get feedback on it.
- Time – Students who have fallen behind need extra instructional time before, during, or after school to catch up. “If a quarterback needed to improve passing skills, a basketball player needed to work on free-throw shooting, or a musician had a difficult time playing a particularly challenging piece, we would not hesitate to prescribe ‘more practice’ as the remedy.” The same goes for struggling students. Similarly, teachers need job-embedded time to collaborate.
Source: “Focusing on the Essentials” by Douglas Reeves in American School Board Journal, July 2010 (Vol. 197, #7, p. 39, 41), no e-link available; Reeves is at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are new to the District and PLC's or your PLC wants to be grounded in PLC basics, the following are good resources to work through:
All Things PLCwww.allthingsplc.info
All Things Assessmentwww.allthingsassessment.info