Karen Johnson

Karen is an elementary school principal at Alisal Elementary School in Pleasanton, California. She is passionate about the topics of equity, inclusion, and ensuring high levels of learning for all students.

PLCs: The Path to Educational Equity

At Alisal, we know that being a Professional Learning Community means focusing on efforts on the four crticial questions. We know that we use data, not feelings, to drive what takes place in our classrooms, and that as members of a PLC our learning is never done. However, until recently, we never thought about the fact that when the data shows time and time again that certain students are not learning at high levels, we need to take a deeper look at the internal structures we have in place and beliefs we have in our brains about ALL students.

Recently, as a site, we looked very closely at the data for one of our student groups--students with learning differences. What we found, although maybe not surprising in a general sense, floored us. Although we had been operating as a Model PLC for a number of years and although our data shows year after year that kids are learning at high levels as a result of this work, we did not realize how drastic a difference there was in learning for our students with disabilities.

By comparing the academic achievement of our own students without disabilities to that of their peers with learning disabilities, we discovered very clearly that we were failing a whole group of kids without even realizing it. As a result, we have since had many conversations around how we might better work as a school to support ALL students, not just some.

Probably not surprising to anyone was the fact that as we started this work we realized that a great contributor to the problem was that many of our students with disabilities were not spending enough time in general education classrooms. Even though we had taken the time to align IEP goals to essential standards and ensure that all service providers were “at the table” during team meetings, this was one area we needed to grow in. Our students who were placed in an SDC classroom were clearly not getting access to the same Tier I instruction as their typically developing peers; we were creating and supporting educational inequity despite all the work we had done as a site to grow.

So, where to begin to fix the problem? We all know that just knowing about and talking about something means nothing if changes aren’t taking place in the classrooms. It is time to return to our site core beliefs and do some work on building consensus around the idea of higher levels of inclusion for our students. Although we say that we believe that ALL students can learn at high levels, we aren’t doing everything we can to ensure that this is happening. It is only by going through the process of once again taking an honest look at what we are doing and rediscovering our “why” with PLCs that we will begin to move toward true educational equity.

 

 

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