A Professional Learning Community is a group of educators that meets regularly, shares expertise, and works collaboratively to improve their teaching skills and the academic performance of their students. At times, they work together to plan and improve their lessons. At other times, they problem solve for improved learning, innovating effective intervention strategies for students not meeting grade-level expectations and devising meaningful extensions for students meeting or exceeding grade-level expectations.
Granite PLC Framework. When setting up, organizing, leading, and participating in our professional learning communities, we work within a set of guidelines collectively called the Granite PLC framework:
Content and grade level Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are organized to better plan instruction and to problem solve student learning within the constructs of The Granite Way. The following learning modules provide a step-by-step guide for successful PLC practices.
Grade and content level PLCs provide two essential functions. First, team members engage in common planning. Second, team members problem solve student learning.
Common Planning Time. This PLC cycle normally happens in “clumps” of time rather than weekly, such as during SNAD days and/or specific days where larger chunks of time can be reserved.
Utilizing our knowledge of the Utah Core Education Standards and being cognizant of how we pace student learning, identify which standards will be the focus of our upcoming (next) Unit of Study. Considering our students learning histories (and background knowledge), integrate additional standards needing continued focus and support. Unpack the standards by clearly articulating our shared understanding of proficiency, thus, creating our learning goals.
Scaffold our learning goals into specific learning targets (content and language objectives) that will define the learning progression of this Unit of Study.
Identify the critical checks for understanding that need to occur. Identify the types of evidence that will enable us to better understand and problem solve student learning. Create common formative assessments (CFAs), exit tickets, and other assessments.
Critically review and supplement our curricular material to identify the content and vocabulary we will activate such that all proficiency levels are represented
Discuss how we will engage our students in their learning. How will we differentiate our instruction to benefit the individual needs and learning histories of our students such that all students have the opportunity and ability to demonstrate proficiency.
Anticipating that our students will learn at different rates, what intervention and extension strategies will we have ready?
As we are closing in with the design of our instructional units, formally ask ourselves: Do I have a better understanding of how to plan and design my instruction? Did we create and make available critical documents that I can refer to and from which we can continue to collaborate (e.g., revision and refinement of documents on a shared drive or platform)? Will the things we’ve worked on and reached consensus help us when it is time to problem solve student learning? These three questions are the core reasons why we have common planning time.
Using our Unit of Study to plan our daily lessons and engage our students in their learning. The teacher, being guided by their Unit of Study and using their expertise, crafts engaging Tier 1 lessons that are differentiated, and culturally relevant to meet the needs of their classroom. We must be certain that each week we will check for understanding with common formative assessments, exit tickets, or other types of assessments so that this information can be shared with our colleagues to problem solve and extend student learning.
Problem Solving Student Learning. This PLC cycle should occur weekly.
How do we know if our students are learning? Weekly, review student data (e.g., CFAs, checks for understanding, assessments, assignments, etc.). Identify the learning that is occurring and for whom. Identify mistakes, language and learning errors.
- Depending on the subject matter and other classroom and individual circumstance, some students readily demonstrate proficiency while other students may not. Planning our interventions and extensions is, by its nature, reactive or a “repairing” of the learning that could have occurred.
- What strategies will I use during my upcoming classroom instruction to guide my students toward proficiency (interventions), to retain and reinforce the learning that has occurred, and teach up by expanding their learning toward the opportunity for level 4 proficiency (extensions)?
- Over time, we should become more aware of our students learning styles, interests, and histories. In the process of “getting to know” each of our students, we are more able to tailor our instruction towards them; working with our strengths while simultaneously decentering ourselves from the learning experience.
- Whereas interventions and extensions are reactive to student learning, improving the learning environment is proactive. How can I improve student ownership of their learning? How can I integrate better levels of support and earlier release into my future instruction?
At the end of each weekly PLC Problem Solving session, team members commit to agreed Tier 1 Interventions and Extensions and they commit to specific actions (e.g., usually “baby steps”) to explore and improve the effectiveness of their daily lessons.
Periodically, we should reflect on what we are accomplishing. Three questions get at the heart of why we get together to problem solve student learning: Do I know my students better? Do I have a better understanding of how to teach them; how to model, scaffold, differentiate, and support their learning? Do I have a better understanding of how to structure their classroom environment?
Special PLC Circumstances.
Being in a group of 1 can be difficult. Yes, we are different! PLCs made up of singleton teachers can and should run differently than a group of teachers who teach the same content. Learn how.
How will I lead my PLC? What are my responsibilities and expectations?
Different Professional Learning Teams work at various levels of productivity and accomplishment. Newly formed teams will be at a different stage of this progressive spectrum than more veteran, experienced teams. Wherever your team is at, you can take stock of your accomplishments and plan how to move forward to the next level of effectiveness.