Josh McMahon

Josh McMahon, EdD, is the principal of Morton West High School in Illinois. He has previously served as an assistant principal, activities director, dean of students, and middle school teacher.

How PLCs Guided Our Work Through the COVID Crisis

As the dynamics in education across the world changed in March and the months after, so did the thoughts of many educational professionals.

Leading a large urban-suburban high school provided many challenges, but the strengths of Professional Learning Communities shined through for our teachers and students. We needed to climb and maneuver through these challenges, but keeping our focus on learning, collaboration, and results allowed us to have a map for success.

As we continued to develop this map for success, our collaborative teams' trust and beliefs allowed for foundational work to take place over the summer to plan for the upcoming school year. Our district curriculum directors worked to provide coaching and different perspectives for our team leaders to focus on making sure that “all students succeed.” Our foundations were continuously driven around the Four Critical Questions of a PLC, and we continued to look at making adjustments from the work of Kim Bailey and Chris Jakicic in their book Make it Happen. Their important work allowed all of us to look to better our teams through a coaching perspective and philosophy.

In reviewing what we wanted our students to know, we wanted our teams to view this from an asset point of view for all of our students. Rather than looking at gaps our students faced from COVID, we wanted to focus on their strengths to make it easier to build bridges over the gaps. While working over the summer, our collaborative teams were able to break down our already identified essential learning standards to focus on successes and unfortunate gaps that took place starting in the spring. Our team leaders worked to challenge teams in the face of adversity to provide the best possible outcomes for all students to succeed.

After ensuring that our department and grade level curriculums allowed for students to succeed with challenges from the spring, we needed to provide new tools that allowed for us to ensure that our students were mastering the content being provided. Our instructional coaches worked hard with our teachers to look for the best tools to check for understanding with the possibility of remote instruction in mind. Tools were selected and piloted during summer school to provide real-time feedback from students, staff, and data collected. This process has allowed for a strong start to us ensuring that we know if students have met the learning objective throughout the year.

These processes and practices may have been difficult and challenging for our collaborative teams, but without keeping the foundations of learning, collaboration, and results in mind, our students and staff would not be where we are today starting the school year. Challenges have provided for success through collaboration. Our schools are stronger than ever and our students are ready to succeed in the face of adversity.

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