Geri Parscale

Geri Parscale is deputy superintendent of Fort Leavenworth Schools, USD 207. She has been in education for more than 20 years, and is a former classroom teacher, building principal, and central office administrator.

Is It Worth It? Sharing Data From Successful PLCs

As we speak about professional learning communities, we know that excitement for student learning is palpable. It is impossible to not be jazzed when we speak about all students learning at high levels!  The big question though, when people dig deep and begin to look at the nuts and bolts of truly focusing on learning for all is inevitably, “Is it worth it?”

Test scores from the latest administration of the Kansas Assessment were recently presented to the USD 207 Fort Leavenworth Board of Education. Rather than simply taking the yearly AYP data and presenting it, we looked at our growth longitudinally and wanted to show that the tasks associated with living as a PLC really made a difference. We addressed the question of “Is it worth it?” from a practical position.

Four Essential Questions
Everything we do at Fort Leavenworth is guided by these four questions. From budget development to curriculum alignment to parent/teacher conferences, we bring everything back to:

  1. What do we want students to learn?
  2. How do we know the students learned it?
  3. What are we going to do when the students do not learn it?
  4. What are we going to do when the students already know it?

For example, we used these questions to change how we choose new textbooks. In traditional textbook adoptions, materials from various vendors are reviewed and a text is chosen that is thought to be a good match to the curriculum. After implementation, the questions used to evaluate the choice were, “How do you feel about the new book?” or “Is that textbook working for you?”

In a PLC school, the four essential questions help us determine if a new book is going to help us in helping our students learn. We don’t worry about whether the text is going to “work for” the teacher.  The template we have used during our latest curriculum text review is included here.

Data Analysis
As we’ve learned to work as a PLC, we have gone from being teachers who looked at data as something we received to teachers who use data as a tool to improve learning. Functioning as a professional learning community meant we didn’t take for granted that students may have learned what a teacher presented.  Rather, we learned to look at the data from common assessments as a guide for what each student needs to learn in order to master the essential outcomes.

This took practice for us as it was not how we were accustomed to working.  We had been trained to teach, test, and continue on with the next unit, with the focus on TEACHING.  Now we teach, assess, review the data, change our instruction to meet the needs of the student, assess again. This shifted the focus to LEARNING!  By returning to the key question of what we wanted students to learn we were able to keep this new focus on learning, using results to guide us.

Collaboration
Working together came naturally to us.  Working together INTERDEPENDENTLY did not.  It was very easy to get together and “chat” about things like lesson plans, travel forms, and recess procedures.  It was not until we began to look at our data that we realized, by accident, that some of us were better at some things and some of us were better at others!

A boost to our collaboration came from Cindy Wepking, a then third-grade teacher.  In a meeting, she commented that one of the norms for her group was to leave their egos at the door.  When everyone did that, honest conversations started to happen and learning was paramount.  Realizing that it was not a personal affront to anyone when you spoke about data was a huge AHA moment for our teachers!  It gave professionals permission not to have to be supermen and superwomen in their classrooms, but to focus on what they can do better – together!

Dedicated Time (Early Dismissal)
Through the years of learning to live as a PLC, we had the challenge of finding time to collaborate.  We worked on carving out time in our weekly schedules using specialty areas and teacher plan times. That worked initially. However, we found that 40-45 minutes once per week was not enough to accomplish what we had set out to do.

Using the "Here’s What/So What/Now What” protocol, we met with our board of education to see if in fact we needed to move to an “early release” format.

Here’s What:
We identified what we knew as fact.  We looked at data and, without judgment or analysis, we were able to see our scores.

So What:
After we had identified our data, we were able to step back and analyze it, predicting what would happen if the data stayed the same with no intervention.  We concluded that if we continued along this path, our students would not continue to grow in their learning.  Teachers needed more time to collaborate and take collective responsibility to help students make this growth.

Now What:
After engaging in the collection and analysis of the data and collectively studying best practice in improving schools, we recommend that students be dismissed two hours early on Fridays and that teachers use this time for collaboration in both vertical and horizontal teams.  Three years later, we see that the data reflects that our analysis and plan were exactly what we needed.

“Is it worth it?” will always be a question for those interested in taking the PLC journey.  While we have data to support it and strategies to share on how we have moved in the direction of learning for all, the greatest answer to the question is in the smiles of our children and stories of their parents as they know and share that student learning is what we are all about at Fort Leavenworth Schools.

For more in-depth data on Fort Leavenworth, check out their evidence of effectiveness page.

Comments

swimnelo

Thank you for this very relevant and easyily applicable article! The 4 essential questions can be used at any level, pre-k through college even, and will help to focus and re-focus and re-focus our staff. As we move our preschool curriculum work to the next level of using our data to drive instruction I appreciated the statements about moving the focus from teaching to a focus of learning. That makes what we need to work on easily understandable to our staff! Time to collaborate can be an obstacle, but we are eager to get all of our birth to 5 year old programming into a new early childhood center next school year! Hopefully just being in closer proximity to each other, rather than spread across our school district, will save us some time and will allow us to collaborate over lunch, immediately after school, etc. Thanks again for a great article!

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Professional Learning Communities at Work – Day One | Triangle High Five

[...] One emphasized the importance of Common Formative Assessments, Data Analysis, and the need to clarify 8-10 Essential Common Outcomes (skills, concepts, and dispositions) per [...]

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hilaryn

It is certainly easy to lose focus during PLC time because there are so many things that can be discussed. Our PLC groups stay focused because we are held accountable for what we do by the administration. We have to turn in a signed time sheet that proves we attended the meeting, but we also have to document on that sheet what we did at the meeting and what our next step is. For instance, we come together one week and choose a common topic to teach and a common assessment to use to test for student achievement. Over the next week we teach the skill and assess the students. We bring sample work back to the group the next time we meet that we consider low, medium, and high (6-8 samples). We analyze the work and discuss how we determined the low, medium, and high scores. Then we discuss strategies we used and what seemed successful and what was not successful. Then we determine what the next step is for each category. We reteach, differentiate, and extend over the next week and bring back work/scores on the 3rd visit. The cycle starts again. It has been quite effective and helpful for everyone. It truly makes us focus on making data driven decisions and differentiating to hit all ranges of skills.

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shuhn1

I love how you suggested leaving ego's at the door and not get upset with suggestions. I think that is so important. We are all such dedicated teachers that we can sometimes be very sensitive to other ideas.

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brittneyj

I teach in a small town in South Carolina. The district that I teach in is a Professional Learning Community. We have a huge district wide staff development at the beginning of the year. we are usually split up into grade levels and discuss that years focus. We also have staff developments district wide 2 other times during the year. we also have PD in our school. Every Tuesday during our faculty meeting we do a book talk. we discuss the book and talk about how to apply the things from the book to our grade level. Every Monday we meet with our grade level to discuss, lesson plans, assessments. We share new ideas and strategies with each other. We also use that time to get advice on what to do abut a certain situations. The only thing I don't like about the PLC is that we meet after school. I am usually very tired and have to motivate myself to focus on the discussions. If these meetings were held earlier in the day I think I could focus better.

We have also been reading a book about explicit and direct instruction. It discusses the importance of improving learning for all students especially for lower students. it also talks about using different strategies to make and teach a well thought out lesson. I think the most important thing is to check for understanding, explain and continuously model for your students. I also believe in order the teach better you have to meet the needs of each students learning style.

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hilaryn

I meet with a 3rd grade team for PLC time 3 times each month. We complete what we call a teaching and learning cycle. Originally, before I was on staff, the group went through their math curriculum and came up with a list of gaps between the curriculum and the state standards they were responsible for teaching their students. With each cycle, during the first meeting, we choose one specific standard to work on, i.e. finding perimeter of quadrilaterals. At this time we also create a common assessment to use at the end of the teaching portion of the cycle with a designated number of points available. We spend time discussing different strategies that can be used to teach the skill. Within the following 1-2 weeks, we each teach the skill to our class in whatever way we choose. We assess the students before coming back to the second meeting. At that time we bring in sample student work to share, possibly 6-8 examples ranging from not successful to highly successful, as well as the documentation of the entire group's assessment scores. We share our student work with one another, discussing how we determined scores for each student because often we have different ideas in this regard. This is beneficial, because we then have a better understanding of what constitutes being successful. We divide the work into the categories high, medium, and low. We then discuss what the next step is for each group of students and talk about the strategies that we used that proved successful and not so successful. How can we differentiate for those who don't get it? How do we move those in the medium range to the high range? How do we extend the concept for those who have mastered the skill? After this meeting we go back to our classes and reteach, extend, and differentiate to improve student success across the classroom. In session 3, we come back together to look at those targeted students, and our overall scores to see the improvement in achievement. Then the cycle starts all over again. This has been a wonderful learning experience for everyone involved, some having taught for only 1 year and others having taught for 30. The new teachers often have fresh, new, exciting ideas to share while the more seasoned teachers have tried and true strategies for teaching the skill. Because we come together with a common purpose, we have been able to increase student achievement in our classrooms and truly grow as educators.

I like the "leave your egos at the door" norm. What I have found is that you have to be able to trust those you are working with enough to be vulnerable with them. It can be difficult to share when you haven't been successful at something. But each of us has our downfalls. Collectively we have been able to come together to improve our skills as teachers because we are able to be trust one another.

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vfeil

I actually taught at Fort Leavenworth for a year! I taught kindergarten at McArthur Elem School. I am now in San Antonio, TX. We began PLCs two years ago and they are pretty much just for the teachers. We have 45 minutes to discuss something that has been selected by our administrators. We hear a selected speaker and we do not have much time to discuss, and work on implementation. I am impressed that Fort Leavenworth has gone to a "school PLC." That is awesome. Everyone is involved! Early dismissal on Friday is a great way to collaborate, discuss and put into action the information gathered from the data to improve learning.
When I taught in Prince William Co. just south of Wash. DC, we had early release on Thursday. This was way before PLCs came into focus however, we used that time to have grade level and school wide level professional development. Morale was great because we did not have to stay late at school and fight the city traffic to get home. Great ideas came out of those afternoons.

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barbaraodonnell

Our district is in the pre-initiating stages of PLCs. I think that PLCs would be tremendously beneficial to our staff. I also really liked the comment that the leader made "Check your egos at the door." I think for teachers, to let go and admit you have flaws and things to work on, is huge. Our team needs to sit down and really look through new eyes at the "same old data." Our school will be creating a PLC committee this year to look into the possibility of early release one day a week next year to possibly pursue more team collaboration time. My daughter's school uses PLCs and I asked her teacher about it. She said she finds the time extremely valuable but the parents complain about the inconvenience of early dismissal for their children. I'm going to present these questions to my team of 3-5 teachers and try and focus our discussions to what's really important: student learning.

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mkroliko

I believe that the district that I work in has made a great effort in implementing the PLC process to it's greatest. At the elementary level we are given time every Wednesday from 2:00 to 3:45 to meet with our PLC. The middle schools and high schools allow time daily for PLC groups to meet. District wide, the larger PLCs meet once a month as well. Administrators lead us with professional growth activities driven to remind us of who we are and what we want to accomplish as well as how we are going to do it. During these days we are also given time to self reflect and analyze our own progress in this process. We analyze data district wide as well as within our own school to determine if our process is showing the expected results.

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tracynagy

Tennessee has also adopted Core Curriculum this year and I believe if we can implement PLCs we will be able to be successful with this transition.

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juliebrown

I teach at a school in Colorado. We have been involved with the PLC model for 3 years now. I love the information you share and intend to pass on this information to my PLC. Colorado in introducing new academic standards which are standards based and have adopted the CORE Mathematics Curriculum, so everything is changing this year. In addition, my school has received a transformational status based on past state assessment scores. It is very important for us as a PLC to get beyond that "pacing" conversation and into addressing the essential learnings and deeper conversations needed to address intervention, learning strategies, and collaboration needed to be more effective. Thank you for your suggestions, insights, and support!

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tracynagy

Teachers in Tennessee are learning about PLC through Batelle for Kids classes. I think implementing this in our school would be great to enhance the learning of our students. Without teacher push, it won't be done, however. I am in charge of School Inprovement and am going to take the initiative to start the push for it. Any advice on how to get a PLC going? I understand this is suppose to be a collaboration, but how do you keep one person from taking over? I know that finding the time will be another issue. We have enough data to use to improve our instruction and strategies, but we do not. I do it personally by myself. How do you go about teaching groups to use their data to better the instruction. I feel the best way is to see who had students that exceled in certain areas and begin to share lessons and strategies. I would love to know other ideas. I just feel like we need some training, because I can see some groups just using the time for a gripe session. I would love to have any insights. suggestions, or advise! Thank you!

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JStevens

Our school is entering its second year using the PLC model. We are fortunate to have a late start for students each Monday, during which time we come together as a grade-level team to answer those 4 important questions mentioned earlier. In addition, we meet for 30 minutes mid-week.

Specialists who work with our students in reading, social studies, and science periodically join us. The collaboration with them has been helpful in keeping us informed on our students’ progress when we are not physically with them. We also communicate learning goals with one another and work to maintain consistency between our classrooms. Students benefit from the common language, expectations, and goals that are set for them by our team.

However, I am looking forward to starting off our year with some improvements to our PLC meetings. We created meeting norms or rules we agreed to follow, though we struggled to adhere to them and our discussions wandered off topic. It is difficult for any of us to police each other as we are friends and there is no specific accountability within the building or district. I wish our shared purpose in coming together and the evaluation of student data would be enough to keep us focused, but that is not the case.

I am looking for ways others have encouraged their team members to remain focused and purpose driven without creating tension. I am also wondering if it is simply part of the PLC development process. Have others experienced the same issue in the early years of this model? Will time and consist review of the norms improve our meetings? I would love to hear about other schools’ PLC development and any transitions they went through.

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Tamie2

I love the fact that your school allows you time throughout the day to talk in PLC. In my preschool we do not have students on fridays but none of the teachers get together in PLC we all huddle into our classrooms and complete the overwhelming amount of paperwork we have to do. I am going to take this information to the people i work with and see if we can start a PLC in our school!

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migarcia

mlmwaz12, I know exactly how you feel. I too would like some suggestions to make these meetings more worthwhile.
My school is still fairly new at carrying out PLC's. We are still in the process of familiarizing ourselves with the basics. We meet 3 times a week after school for 45 minutes. Every quarter, we analyze our DIBELS data to create SMART goals for our class, but our notation and of how we will accomplish those goals is very general. Students that fall into the intensive or strategic category receive a limited time of intervention. This is something that we were already doing; I would like to see specifics on how we can improve instruction. Does anyone have any suggestions?

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all4114all

The presentation and delivery of an initiative is just as important as the ramifications. PLCs were formally introduced to our district three years ago. Today, some schools are still struggling with this concept. For many, it comes across as just the new catch phrase or something else that has been added to the plate. Unfortunately, many have failed to realize that at some point in their careers they were active in a PLC. Before the PLC craze, some teachers actually met collectively, conversed on the phone or through email to share stories of successes and failures in an attempt to improve their effectiveness as teacher. As stated in the article, collaboration came easy for this team as does for others. In my opinion the PLC framework, establishes a clear focus and protocols to discuss issues that have a direct effect on student learning. Change or looking through new lenses can be difficult. It is important that when implementing this framework you don’t scrap everything that you are doing; you implement specific protocols to make them more efficient.

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obrin

I feel that my school has just begun to implement PLC. In the elementary level, we have grade level meetings to discuss the standards and practices that may be working. The different grades are just beginning to examine scores and work as a team to improve instruction. Unfortunately they only meet a few times a year instead of weekly or bi-weekly. I am going to share this article (along with other articles I have been reading) with my principal and to see if as a school we can work on improving the quality of our PLC.

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ameyjohn

Our school is starting early release and data days this year. I'm beginning to see the possibilities of PLCs forming but am not sure how to go about creating one, even unofficially. I think my staff wants to share ideas, mostly because we all feel a little out of our element with learning the new initiative Learning Focused Schools. Any thoughts on how to begin an "unofficial" but still successful PLC?

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rondo

I was faced with the same issue of teachers not wanting to share their data. Collaborating is very important to having a successful PLC. I handled the situation by talking to the Curriculum Facilitator at my school and suggested we establish guidelines for the PLC. By having guidelines and teachers agreeing to those guidelines we were able to have a effective PLC. I was part of an excellent PLC this past year and we all achieved excellent results at the end of the year. Is it Worth It? I would say yes.

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mlmwaz12

I am in need of knowing how to successfully work with my PLC. We were asked by admnistration to look over last year's test scores today for trends in strengths and weaknesses. What typically happens is, as a grade level, we will identify what we excelled in and what areas were low-but after that...nothing happens. I would love to be able to take the data and use it to change our instruction. Data is indimidating, but what is the point of making our students complete days of testing, and then not even use the results. Any suggestions for initializing a PLC based on test score/instruction improvement?

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cwebb

Based on the graph provided, it is evident that PLC meetings work and are worth the time. I work in a small school with only 1-2 classes per grade level. The only meetings we have are set up by our principal or reading specialist/RtI Coordinator. These meetings are not based on discussion but more telling us what we will be doing. Our school does not have a designated time for staff to meet weekly or even once a month. I feel it is necessary for us to move towards a community to reach a common goal. How do you create a PLC in your school?

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mrsmumbower

I believe that PLC meetings are worth it as long as the teachers are discussing and strategizing on material that will be beneficial to the classroom. When I was first introduced to and forced to participate in a PLC meeting, I believed that the meetings were restricted and directed by the principal. Now they have become more effective because the team of four teachers I work with set a goal in the beginning of the year and really stick to it. We have collaborated during many meetings in topics like Math and Reading. The one downfall that we also seem to have is finding the time to have these meetings. Our schedules are very different throughout the day and really pose a problem. Does anyone else seem to have this problem with finding the time for meeting?

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smptrack

Baleao -My data team consists of my grade level team, data team facilitator (since we are learning how to use data to drive instruction they hired someone who knows the process to achieve this), and the literacy specialist.

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Angie Murphy

We also set norms for our PLC group and then we have those out at each meeting. It helps to keep us on task and focused on our goals.

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mjrose

abrank, after you have looked at data as a team, them what? Do you plan interventions as a team or as individuals? I would like more information about how that works for your school. I am looking for ways to improve our school's PLC.

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mjrose

tdc, are you an elementary teacher? I am not sure how often you are examining data, but I think it would be helpful to form smaller teams to examine data. If you examine data on a regular basis then the focus could be on interventions, rather than remediations. This should involve all members of the team, not just the teachers with the lowest scores. Do you agree? Perhaps that would eliminate some of the "intimidation" factor. Also, I think it should be pointed out that we all have strengths and weaknesses as educators and that's where the collaboration should come in. I think if you can move from examining to "doing" then the result will be viewed as something positive, for teachers and students.

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mjrose

I agree that examining data is a very valuable activity. Our school has what our principal refers to as professional development or professional learning community meetings. Sometimes this is a folder with test scores that we are left alone with to decipher. My first concern is that data can be intimidating. When we sit down to look at the scores we receive on state assessments there are many codes and abbreviations. I think many teachers don't know what those mean and are too embarrassed to ask. My second concern is that after examining the data, then what? How do we get teachers and other staff to move to the mindset that we work collaboratively, instead of independenty? Most schools have something in their mission statement regarding their belief that all students will learn, but how do we do this?

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Geri Parscale

Our protocol for our collaboration time is very specific. After reviewing our norms, the structure looks like:
-Review/build essential outcomes
-Review assessments (both formative and summative)
-Examine the data from these assessment opportunities
-Explore interventions that are needed

This helped us ensure that the right work was being done in each meeting time.

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Geri Parscale

The decision was a district one. We had worked as a PLC for 4 years prior to the "early dismissal" so we had data to present to our board of education. Simply put, we knew to go deeper in our learning about our children, we had to have a dedicated time for collaboration. It was not without individuals questioning "what are they doing during that time" and we still have that each year. The data shown above helps to support that what we are doing is making a difference for our children!

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abrank

We set norms at the beginning of the year and held each other accountable. It seemed to work the majority of the times we met.

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abrank

I feel like PLC have been implemented well at my school. We meet every week for about 2 hours while our students have double specials. This happens for each grade level and specialists. It has been very beneficial to be able to sit down and review data as a team. We also use this time to share ideas about teaching concepts to our kindergarteners.

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tdc

Our school is struggling to establish an effective PLC. We have early release days on Wednesdays to use as PLC time, but this time is often used for a staff meeting. We have data to analyze but have never met in groups to do so. Some of our teachers are unwilling to share their data out of embarassment or fear that they have the lowest scores or be questioned if their scores are unusually high. How do you get teachers to want to collaborate and share data? If we could get past this hurdle, we could improve student learning so much. Any ideas?

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mmrobb5

Was it a school decision to dismiss early or was it a district decision. We worked in PLC's this past year. Since it was our first year to do so as a school we were just "feeling our way around." I believe this year we will get better at it. We only met about four times. What I see here is so much different.

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Kim

I am a fourth-grade teacher working with four other grade partners. We meet once or twice a month and we establish long term goals for our students. Last year, we wanted to see 85% of our students writing proper responses to open-ended questions using the RSSCE Method. The idea was good, but I found that there was too much personal talking at our meetings and we did not accomplish everything we needed. How do other group leaders handle this? This year I will be the group leader.

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BaleaO

At our school we have 40 minute PLC meetings once a week. At our PLC meetings we use the 4 essential questions to plan for our "Learning Academy" time. Our Learning Academy is a 30 minute small group work session we have every Wednesday and Thursday. During learning academy we identify a skill or an essential outcome that we want our kids working on for that week. We write a SMART goal and brainstorm ideas for the groups. Then we divide our grade level up into skill level groups and work on the particular concept/skill. At the end of the week we give an assessment to determine if we need to move on to the next concept.

I think that our school's Learning Academy time is great. However, I think that because we use our PLC meeting time to plan for Learning Academy we are missing out on the opportunity to talk about other data and ask the questions we need to as a grade level team. As a newer teacher I have many burning questions that I would like to be able to ask and discuss with other teachers.

I would like to know what other PLC meetings look like and generally how they are run so I can bring new ideas back to my school. I know that we have a good start but think that our meeting could be even better.

Bea- What does your typically PLC meeting look like? Do you bring questions and discussion to the PLC meetings or are they mainly focused on the data?

smptrack- Who is on a data team? Is it someone from each grade?

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smptrack

I had heard of a Professional Learning Community and saw it implemented in my school for the first time last year when we started data teams. We have three hours of planning a week and one of those hours is completely dedicated to working with data to inform instruction. Then we often spend other planning time collaborating with our data team as well. The problem is that it leaves little time to plan lessons, make copies, prepare for the following day, etc. However, the data team process has proven to promote student success in our school, and this process is vital for all students’ achievement.

tffnwlsn1 - I would find data that proves student success to your team. For example, we gave a pre-assessment on story elements and 2% of my class passed the assessment. After collaborating and working as a team, my class was 81% proficient after two weeks! This was the result of collaboration. We all became teachers to make a difference and help children learn. It is essential to take time out of our schedules for the success of our students.

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tffnwlsn1

I am interested in beginning to implement some of the PLC strategies into my grade level meetings. As team leader, I have created a schedule for sharing and collaboration within our team. As teachers, time is something that we have very little of, and I've noticed that if my colleagues know in advance that they will have a chance to be heard, they are more willing to open up.
Does anyone have any additional suggestions about how to encourage others to share and collaborate on a limited time frame?

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Bea

Attending PLC meetings is so essential to keep the whole team informed. I work in an elementary school with 6 teachers on each team as well as two Title 1 teachers for each grade level. With 8 teachers, PLC meetings certainly help keep us all connected. I love being able to share ideas and learn new strategies from other teachers.

It is also helpful to look at generated data as a whole group. As a group we can determine areas where our students have a deficit as well as those areas that our students excel in. Once we look at our data, we can then use this information to drive our instruction.

One of the most difficult things to do when it comes to holding PLCs is generate the time do do so. We as teachers are so busy, we all hate to give up our precious time but the outcome can be so great.

Anyone else have any ideas to share about attending PLCs?

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