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A Different Kind of Professional Development

Updated: Mar 17, 2019

Our incredible writing coach at Antioch University’s PhD in Leadership in Change program has the following West African proverb in her email signature: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This is certainly true for teachers. Effective professional learning communities, or PLCs, are hallmarks of many great schools. In Massachusetts, several schools who were formerly labeled turnaround schools are now thriving, in large part due to creating intentional PLCs and carving out time in the schedule for teachers to meet regularly.

When we think of professional development, we often think of the few in-service days we have each year or the approximately one hour block of time each week many schools are required to include in their weekly schedules. However, professional development does not solely exist in those large, whole group spaces. It can and should be ongoing, personalized to specific groups’ needs, and collaborative.

If you are an administrator, coach, teacher, or parent, think about the ways in which PLCs might be structured in a way that could help your teachers grow as professionals and your students to flourish academically, socially, and emotionally. PLC work involves building up existing structures like academic departments or grade teams. Inquiry-based PLCs can also be structured around teacher-identified goals.

Department work might involve:

  • Identifying the 4-8 core skills (i.e., standards) students will truly master and determining the progression of these skills through each grade

  • Developing common summative assessment tasks that ask students to do the work of a professional in the content area (What does a historian do? A scientist? A mathematician? An author?)

  • Designing rubrics for these summative assessments (the components of which are the chosen 4-8 skills) that are student and parent friendly and use common skill-based language across all grades. Ideally, rubrics are not based on point values, but include categories that reflect the state of mastery (e.g., approaching, meeting, above, excellent).

  • Creating a list of common graphic organizers and other helpful scaffolds that can be used to support students’ skill development

Grade team work might involve:

  • Developing shared academic expectations for students in the grade (across disciplines)

  • Establishing common language around learner skills that are not discipline-specific (i.e., work habits)

  • Analyzing data and adapting or intervening accordingly to ensure all students are appropriately challenged and supported

Inquiry or goal-based PLC work might involve:

  • Collaborating, virtually or in-person, with other teachers in a school, city, or district

  • Visiting other teachers’ classrooms to see a strategy in action, test out a co-planned lesson, or act as a panel member for student demonstrations of learning

  • These larger PLCs could be made into more permanent structures

If you are a teacher who is eager to participate in PLCs like this, but your school does not have or effectively utilize these structures, ask if it’s a possibility! If the answer is no or you don’t feel like you’re in a position to take on the work leading this new initiative may involve, seek out existing networks and resources to fuel your professional growth. Educators are all over Twitter, explore the educational resources shared and get ideas from teachers in your content area. Also, check out the amazing educational podcasts that are part of the Education Podcast Network.

If you are an administrator who is ready to start building up your existing PLC routines or launching new inquiry-based groups, consider using one of these videos (Zaretta Hammond, Rita Pierson) to inspire teachers to activate their growth mindsets!

In which Professional Learning Community topics are you interested?

Let us know!

We are interested in creating resources for you and your fellow teachers to grow in community.

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