September 9, 2019

This year’s academic calendar allows the educational staff to focus on student achievement each Friday afternoon. The question I continue to hear is, “Why are we dismissing an hour early every Friday?” To some who do not understand the need for this time, it may seem a little superfluous or unnecessary. In this article, I will share the reasons for this essential Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) time. 

The administration and teachers at St. James are using the very best data-driven educational practices to guide our work. In the past, most schools operated as if their primary purpose was to ensure students were taught or were merely provided with the opportunity to learn. In today’s educational environment, PLCs are dedicated to the idea that schools exist to ensure all students actually acquire the essential knowledge, skills, and layout of each unit, course, and grade level.

PLCs focus on three big ideas. The first is a focus on learning. The goal of St. James schools is to focus on all students learning at the highest level possible. During PLCs, teachers collaborate on essential skills that all students must know. Teachers utilize pretests/posttests and formative assessments to determine student need. Once the data is reviewed, teachers collaborate on a plan for students who are struggling, students who do not need extra support, and students who need enrichment. It is very important that data is current so that strategies can be implemented in a timely manner to ensure students gain foundational skills. The guideline for teacher interventions to be most effective is having PLCs one hour per week.  

The second big idea behind the PLC process is to build collaborative teams where members have a collective responsibility. At St. James Schools, teachers collaborate with grade levels or content areas on student data that stresses specific standards. Data is gathered through a variety of means. This collaboration allows teachers to combine their knowledge and bring their personal expertise to the table. Therefore, if a teacher has tried multiple strategies to help a struggling student, a colleague may provide a new approach for the classroom teacher to try. This practice will only be successful when all teachers take responsibility for the success of all students.  

The third big idea is that PLC work is results oriented. In other words, PLCs are focused on evidence of student learning. The work of a PLC is truly an all inclusive cycle. For this process to be successful, parts cannot be eliminated. The PLC process is not merely a program that can be implemented without a commitment to learning by all professional educators. It truly takes a team that shares knowledge and a common commitment to figure out the best way to meet the needs of our students. If we are to fulfill the moral imperative of our profession, we can no longer settle for simply giving students the chance to learn; we must ensure high levels of learning for each student in our collective care.

The educational staff at St. James R-I Schools is committed to ensuring high levels of learning for every child. The PLC process is the tool that enables us to fulfill that commitment. It allows us to create individualized learning for every student based on need. Most students have an area or concept that they struggle with. This process allows the team of teachers monitoring that student’s learning to totally focus on specific needs that a student may have. Because every skill is a building block for the student to reach mastery, we need to be able to hone in on the specific area a student needs assistance and develop research based strategies to get that student over the hump. We are fortunate to have an exceptional team of administrators, teachers, and paras who take the PLC process seriously. Each member works very hard to provide the very best opportunities for every child. We appreciate the support of our parents and community members for working around our Friday afternoon early release.