Dr. Mary Cooksley, Director of Curriculum and Instruction •
Oskaloosa Community School District • Oskaloosa, Iowa
Focusing on Student Learning (Oskaloosa, Iowa)
We are currently in only our second year as a PLC, but by the progress we are making you might think we have been at it longer. It really is a testament to the dedicated, talented teachers we have in the district. In my second year as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the Oskaloosa Community School District in Oskaloosa, Iowa, I changed the professional development focus and schedule from one of a traditional "sit and get" model to a collaborative model where teachers met in grade-alike and content-alike teams. Our progress has been amazing; however, we have a long way to go.
When we started we wanted to just build trust, learn how to create SMART goals, and focus our conversations on student learning; the first year we really worked hard to build the necessary culture needed to be able to look at student learning data to make a difference in the lives of students in the classroom. We helped grow the culture we started in year one by creating a PLC Facilitator group to focus the conversations around what we learned at one of DuFour's conferences; loose and tight or non-negotiables for our PLC groups were created in year 2 for PLC's to adhere to. In addition, we moved to a more data centered, collaborative time, two times per month or just monthly for a 3-hour time period rather than one early release per month as it was when I first arrived.
Today, teachers are using data walls to impact learning in the classroom and to impact teaching as well. Each team posts their Learning Targets for students around the enacted curriculum and that is the basis for analyzing data. Formative data is encouraged over summative data so that direct impact on student performance can be realized. Looking at and "tuning" student work and creating common assessments and tools to measure work are common place this year in the PLC's. Next year teachers will have the opportunity to have more frequent conversations as we will be moving to an every week 1-hour early release schedule.
Elementary teachers are the most excited because of the difference it has made on them as teachers and the benefit it has brought their students. Being able to create products for teaching the next day has brought about large change in many classrooms at the Elementary. The Middle School is also communicating Learning Targets and is focusing on common assessments during their collaborative time. Real time data makes the difference when providing classroom interventions—targeted interventions based on Learning Targets. Teachers express that the Learning Targets provide focus not just to their students, but to themselves as well.No longer do they do "fun" activities with little purpose, now they are focused on what students must demonstrate to meet the expectations of the Grade Level Benchmarks.
The PLC process is providing our district with a much more focused professional development—now focused on student learning rather than sitting and listening to an "expert" and then going back to their classroom to continue the same practices. The administrative team, as well as teachers, look forward to the more consistent PLC time next year. We really are a school focusing on student learning!!