Thursday, August 14, 2014

Professional Learning Communities

Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) have been a hot topic in education for at least the last decade. Everyone seems to have an opinion about what they are, how they are supposed to function, and what they are supposed to accomplish. Here at Sorenson’s Ranch School, we have realized that even though our best efforts have always been exerted toward helping our students learn academic curricula as well as more appropriate strategies for living, without a formal structure and dedicated time to focus on specified goals, the real purposes of PLC’s are not accomplished. In short, effective PLC’s don’t just happen. They must be planned and monitored for success to follow. What exactly is a PLC? A PLC is a group of individuals who want to learn to be better at what they do. Any type of business can benefit from the formation of PLC’s, but because of the isolated nature of what teachers do (we almost never teach in front of our colleagues), PLC’s can be particularly effective in education. Simply put, PLC’s provide a venue for teachers to talk about the nuts and bolts of educating. Research has shown that when teachers get together and talk about the craft of teaching – what works and what doesn’t in various classroom environments – teaching improves. How is a PLC supposed to function? A PLC meeting is not a time to discuss disruptive student behaviors, plan faculty parties, or work out the details of scheduling conflicts. All of these issues are valid and appropriate topics for discussion at the proper time and place, but PLC meetings must focus on a narrower set of topics. We must ask and answer the right questions in order to have our PLC meeting time be as productive as possible. What is it, exactly, that we want our students to learn? Can we coordinate our teaching such that concepts learned in one class are reinforced in another class? What, precisely, are we going to do if we begin to see evidence that our students are not learning the things we have agreed upon as critical? Questions such as these tend to focus educators’ attention and concentrate their efforts on actions that directly benefit students. What should we expect to accomplish through the formation and use of a PLC? The answer to this question will vary depending on the environment in which the PLC is formed. In education, the effects of a properly functioning PLC should be observed in measurable ways such as increases in student test scores, increases in graduation rates, and increases in the number of students pursuing education beyond high school. By using data to track student performance, teachers are able to see if their efforts in PLC meetings are yielding the results they want. Because of the nature of our student body, Sorenson’s Ranch School teachers have a specialized set of challenges. Our PLC meetings help us to focus our efforts on those teaching strategies that will allow us to optimize the learning of our students while they attend our school despite whatever unique circumstances may have hampered their progress in the past.

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