PLC Short for Professional Learning Community School
By Jack Jarnis
In August of 2013 Four Corners was awarded a 5- year grant from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to help us become a Professional Learning Community (PLC) school. This grant from the DPI provides substantial funding and professional development to support our efforts to close the gap in student achievement. PLC is process for school reform, pioneered by Robert DuFour, by which schools adopt 3 key concepts:
- Focus on Learning instead of teaching,
- Build Collaborative Cultures where all teachers share responsibility for all students, and
- Focus on Results, not just good intentions.
Our PLC Guidance Team Coach from DPI, Tom Potterton, states “The PLC process focuses on systemic changes using the skills, knowledge and collaboration of school staff with student improvement as the goal. The Four Corners PLC Guidance Team provides information, problem-solving and support for grade level teams as they work with students.”
“We were attempting to focus on our classwork, trying hard to ignore the grinding of the drill in the library just across the hall. In complete exasperation, one of my kids called out ‘What is that noise?’ Oh that? That’s Ms. Constance putting up our ‘Mission and Vision’ banner in the library. ‘So, what’s a Mission and Vision banner’ asked another student. I read to them the Four Corners Mission and Vision Statements – they thought it was pretty cool!” – as told by Four Corners Teacher Janie Fouts
We know that Four Corners has been designated by the state as a School That Exceeds Expectations, and our test scores consistently put us in the upper tier of school performance. So why would we want to ‘reform’ – why do we need to change?
The answer is simple – while most of our kids are doing great we can’t say that about all of our kids. To put it in personal terms, we needed to ask ourselves “What would it matter if 95% of our students are successful if my child or my grandchild is in the 5% group who are not?”
Looked at this way, we realized that we have to ‘up our game’ regarding our commitments to each and every student. We realized we could no longer be content with high average scores.
Four Corners began the first year of the grant studying what makes PLC schools across the country so successful. One thing all these schools did was to lay down a foundation for how the school operates, beginning with defining their Mission. Our school mission explains, in simple terms, why we are here, why Four Corners exists.
The Four Corners Mission statement is the promise we make to all our families. Candace Ryan, from our PLC Guidance team, states, “PLC has changed the way professional education looks at students; it holds all adults accountable for all students!”
Next we asked ourselves, “What do we want our school to be like 3-5 years from now?” We answered this question by defining our Vision for Four Corners. We listed specific things we expect to see in the near future. You can read the complete Mission and Vision statements posted on our Four Corners website.
This year the staff members at Four Corners are working on what we need to do in order to make our Mission and Vision become a reality. These are the promises the staff make to each other. We call these our Collective Common Commitments. One of the commitments teachers are making is to meet together in collaborative grade level teams for an hour every week. “The PLC teacher team collaboration work”, reports coach Kelly Duffy, “is grounded in teams focusing on four essential questions; (1) What do we want all kids to know? (2) How do we know they got it? (3) What do we do when they don’t get it? (4) What do we do when they do get it? Focusing on these four question will help us ensure all students are successful.”
Teachers Robin Rickman and Stefanie Smetak work with grade-level teams refining this collaboration hour. Robin tells us, “By meeting weekly, teachers really know exactly where their kids are and can provide real-time adjustments and support.” Stefanie adds “Teachers are carefully monitoring all students’ progress on essential learning. That way we can make sure there are high expectations for all students.”
Elementary Instructional Coach Amy Patel sums up the PLC process very well – “It is time for education to change and the PLC framework provides concrete answers to educational challenges. It is powerful!”