So What Exactly Is a PLC?
Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 has embraced the moral imperative of “Raising the Bar and Closing the Achievement Gap for All Students.” To further this end, it has adopted an approach in which the Professional Learning Communities (PLC) model is the organizing framework for its instructional improvement efforts.
PLCs are a culture—a way of life. They are not a program or something that one does.
Professional Learning Communities are predicated upon three big ideas and four critical questions. The big ideas are: Ensuring That Students Learn, A Culture of Collaboration and A Focus on Results.
Big idea #1 encompasses the four critical questions: What is it we expect our students to learn? How will we know when they have learned it? How will we respond when some students do not learn? How will we respond when some students already know it?
Collaboration, in the context of PLCs, differs from both collegiality and cooperation. In PLCs, teachers utilize their collective knowledge and expertise to navigate the increasingly complex world that is today’s public schools. They focus on the four critical questions by having defined learning targets, common assessments, and the ability to adjust instruction in a timely manner to meet individual student learning needs.
Theoretically, teachers could “collaborate” on just about anything. However, in a true PLC culture, the focus of collaboration is on student learning outcomes. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-Oriented and Time-Bound. There is a significant difference between school improvement goals that read, “We will adopt a Junior Great Books program” and “We will create three new labs for our science course” versus “We will increase the percentage of students who (read on grade level) from 83 percent to 90 percent” and “We will reduce the failure rate in our course by 50%.” (DuFour, 2004).
The District’s Community Compact and Student Achievement Objectives are available here. More specific information about Professional Learning Communities and associated concepts, such as Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum and Balanced Assessment, can also be found there.
This year, the District invested a significant amount of time and energy developing common assessments. Next year, a revised School Improvement Process will ensure that District Student Late Arrival and Teacher Institute time is structured such that our PLCs come to life!
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Dr. Moyer was named an Illinois Superintendent of Distinction in April 2015 and has presented at numerous state and national conferences on the topics of organizational change, leadership development, and school improvement. He was a member of the work team that developed the principal evaluation system for the State of Wisconsin. His former district was named a national District of Distinction by District Administration for its work in the area of principal professional development. His most recent publication entitled “The District Office’s Role in Supporting Student Achievement” appeared in the July 2014 edition of the AASA’s New Superintendent’s E-Journal.
DuFour (2004). What Is a Professional Learning Community?, Educational Leadership (61)8, pp. 6-11.
DuFour, et. al. (2006). Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work, Solution Tree: Bloomington, IN.
DuFour, et. al., ed. (2005). On Common Ground: The Power of Professional Learning Communities, Solution Tree Press: Bloomington, IN.
DuFour, et. al. (2004). Whatever It Takes: How Professional Learning Communities Respond When Kids Don’t Learn, National Education Service: Bloomington, IN.
DuFour and Fullan (2013). Cultures Built to Last: Systematic PLC’s at Work, Solution Tree: Bloomington, IN.
Special Report from Dr. David Moyer
When I interviewed for the D205 superintendent position in the spring of 2015, I advocated for a culture that supports the Moral Imperative of Raising the Bar and Closing the Achievement Gap for All Students. At the same time, I strongly suggested the importance of establishing an operational plan for the District. At this point in the year, it seems appropriate to review these concepts and celebrate the many successes we have experienced to date.
The Focus 205 process, which included four Community Engagement Sessions this past fall, will provide a foundation for a longer term master plan. However, in the interim, I felt it was paramount that the District develop a framework for its efforts to improve student achievement. This framework will provide a lens to focus resource allocation decisions in the District until a more comprehensive plan is developed.
The Board agreed and approved such a plan in August of 2015 that includes a Community Compact. This document outlines the District’s commitment to provide the highest quality educational experiences for students consistent with the current research. The words were carefully selected to acknowledge and encourage the importance of all parties working together collaboratively to maintain and strengthen the interrelated goals of a high quality public school system and a healthy community. Read more...