Most, if not all, schools strive to function as Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). Educators are well aware of research clearly indicating that good things happen for kids (and adults) when teachers are part of a community that has shared values, beliefs, and norms; is focused on student learning; regularly collaborates, and reflects with one another; and makes their practice public. Shepherd Elementary School is no exception and they are committed to “living” as PLCs.
Two years ago a team of teachers from Shepherd Elementary attended a School Improvement Seminar Series, lead by Institute for Excellence in Education (IEE) staff members, focused on Instructional Rounds. From this seminar series a partnership was born. IEE was pleased to collaborate with this K-5 elementary school, serving nearly 500 students. As a first step, IEE coaches conducted a Learning Walk within the building. This process provided the Shepherd staff with observational data focused around their own set of questions regarding teaching practices. Another year of job-embedded, instructional coaching provided by IEE would help this elementary school staff stay focused and intentional in their efforts to function as powerful PLCs.
It is exciting to know Shepherd teachers are keeping the vision and practice of observing and collecting data in one another’s classrooms alive! Amy Salogar, principal, shared that it was the teachers who believed it was crucial to open their classroom doors in order to truly learn from one another. Inspired by the medical-rounds used in teaching hospitals, the Instructional Rounds Protocol (City, Elmore, Fiarman, and Tietel) uses a unique lens in looking at teaching and learning taking place in a school. This process requires that educators extend a great deal of trust to one another as they observe colleagues’ classrooms.
This practice is all part of their journey to function as Professional Learning Communities. This huge step of observing one another’s classrooms requires not only trust, but also commitment and skill to focus on providing each other with data, rather than anecdotal comments.
Principal Salogar also decided that teacher’s schedules needed to reflect the emphasis on collaboration. She amended the schedule to foster PLCs so that grade-level teacher teams could meet daily to reflect on their practice; collaborate around teaching and learning; continuously fine tune their shared beliefs and values; and examine data to improve their craft.
All staff members were encouraged to use the skills of collaboration to improve teaching and learning. This meant that educators listened deeply to one another, offered each other paraphrases, and presumed positive intentions of colleagues. All of this, of course, is a work in progress while teachers are learning to engage in positive, productive, cognitive conversations, extending trust to each other, and commiting daily to doing what’s best for kids.
Principal Salogar summed up a belief and a realization that she has regarding her leadership in a building committed to PLCs. She stated, “I have a choice. I can be a manager or an instructional leader and if I choose to be an instructional leader, then everything I do . . . my daily schedule, my decisions need to be aligned with that choice.” Each of us makes decisions. The average teacher makes somewhere between 800 and 1,500 decisions every day (Kauchak and Eggan 55). It would be wise to take time to check the alignment between our values/beliefs and the daily decisions we make.
So, Shepherd Elementary is on an important journey as they collectively impact the lives of hundreds of young children everyday. IEE appreciates the opportunity to travel with them!
City, Elizabeth A., Richard F. Elmore, Sarah E. Fiarman, and Lee Teitel. Instructional Rounds in Education: A Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning. 2009, Harvard Education Press. Print.
Kauchak, Don P. and Paul D. Eggen. Introduction to Teaching: Becoming a Professional. Merrill Prentice-Hall, 2005. Print.