A Professional Learning Community is a strategy for school change and improvement. The five major attributes to a PLC are: shared leadership, collective creativity, shared vision, supportive conditions, and shared personal practice. The optimal word here is shared. No longer can teachers close their doors and teach however they feel like it. In a PLC teachers collaborate in areas of first best instruction, assessment, intervention, and planning. Teachers must work together for the greater good - student achievement. In the book Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker and Kathanek) it states that our ultimate purpose is to make sure that every child learns rather than every child is taught.
We began implementing a Professional Learning Community at Tomahawk Elementary School two years ago. It was a paradigm shift for many of the staff members, especially, myself. Many that I have taught with in the past would not believe how much I have changed my thinking and philosophies due to PLC. At times I have been accused of going to the "dark" side. But for me I have finally seen the light. In order to explain I need to introduce you to one student, Osvaldo.
Osvaldo came to Tomahawk from Mexico with his mom and his twin brother Orlando. In a "conversation" with Orlando and Osvaldo it was discovered through Orlando that they came to the U. S. because Osvaldo burnt down their house. When Osvaldo was asked if he really burnt down his house his reply was, "We poor. It not house. We live in box."
One of my first "teaching" moments with Osvaldo was during Reading Zone. Reading Zone is something I started for the students so they had a place to come to read during their lunch recess. Osvaldo's 3rd grade teacher realized the potential for this time to increase her students' reading achievement and she made sure that her students, especially, those students falling far below came daily. Students come to my office, sit on the floor, and read. It is a very casual time. I usually have at least fifteen students during each grade level lunch time. I read with as many as I can, but I don't always get to everyone every day.
The first time I had Osvaldo "read" to me I opened his book and pointed to the first word - The, and he looked at me. "Do you know this word?" I asked.
He shook his head no. "Do you know any sounds that the letters make?" I continued to probe.
He shook his head no. "Do you know what this letter is?" I asked pointing to the - T.
He shook his head no. "Do you know the name of any of the letters on this page?" I pleaded.
He shook his head no. I sang, "I guess we will be starting at the very beginning. It is a very good place to start." He didn't get my joke or my reference to The Sound of Music.
Osvaldo and Orlando came to Reading Zone just about every day and I tried to read with them both just about every day. There was a six-week gap when Reading Zone was canceled due to unforeseen circumstances.
The other day Osvaldo came into Reading Zone with a Magic Tree House book, Dinosaurs Before Dark! It is a chapter book. It only has about 70 pages, but it is a major step in reading beginning chapter books because there is only one picture per chapter, if that. My first thought was, 'No way! Osvaldo can't read this book, but I will let him try.' "Osvaldo, you are reading Dinosaurs Before Dark?" I asked surprisingly.
"Yes, I am. This is first Magic Tree book," he replied with confidence.
"This is the first magic Tree House book. Let me tell you something that is going to help you understand this book and all the other 45 magic Tree House books. The main characters, Jack and Annie, found a magic tree house with tons of books in it, and when they point to a picture in a book and wish to go there the tree house takes them there. They always face some kind of problem, solve it, and return home where no time has passed."
"I know, Miss Cattyham, my friend tells me."
"Okay, Osvaldo, then let's do it!" I say with hesitation in my voice because there is nothing worse than listening to someone trying to read a text that is way too hard for them.
Osvaldo, happily began, "Chapter one, Into the Woods, Help! A mooon - s-t-er, A monster! said Annie. Yeah sure said Jack, a real m monster in Frog Creek, Pennsylvania. Run, Jack said Annie. She ran up the road. Oh, brother. This is what he got for spending time with his seven-year-old sister. Annie loved pre tend stuff . . . ." Osvaldo continued to read the first pages with a slight hesitation to sound out one other word he didn't know. Osvaldo, the boy who read at DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment) level 1 one hundred thirty days ago. Osvaldo, who didn't know a sound for a letter or even a letter at the beginning of third grade was reading and comprehending with accuracy and fluency a chapter book.
One might be asking, "What does a boy named Osvaldo have to do with a Professional Learning Community?" Osvaldo is a result of a Professional Learning Community. Osvaldo has a great third grade teacher who works hard at first best instruction. But all the teachers on the third grade team and all the teachers including Art, Music and PE and the rest of the Tomahawk staff had a hand in Osvaldo's success.
LAS (Language Acquisition Specialist) and myself (Achievement Specialist). The three of us worked to improve first best instruction in her classroom. Osvaldo was given common assessments and put in a group depending on his performance on the assessment. Osvaldo participated in intervention during the school day planned by the third grade team. Osvaldo participated in third tier intervention on fluency by the MAP (music, art, and physical education) teachers the last twenty minutes of the day. Osvaldo attended after school intervention where students are placed in flexible groups based on specific standards. Osvaldo, also, participated in a special third grade intervention when data showed that the third grade wasn't going to make AYP (average yearly progress) as measured by the AIMS (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards) that every staff member at Tomahawk planned and taught after school for eight weeks.
Osvaldo was tested on the DRA two days ago by the testing team. He reached a level 30. Osvaldo went from a level 1 which is the first level in kindergarten and reached level 30 which is the first level of a third grade reader. Osvaldo made three years of progress in one year. Osvaldo is 1 out of 998 students, but he is not the only one that has made the progress that he has made.
Sometimes it is difficult for people to accept change. It is frustrating to have to do things differently and shift paradigms and philosophies. The rigor of a PLC is overwhelming at times, and there are days when I want to sit in my office and bawl, but I don't have time. A Professional Learning Community is work, but it WORKS! I have seen the results and so has Osvaldo!
Look what WE did!
We have to collaborate to keep Flip out of trouble. I have to come and get you when he isn't where he is suppose to be.
The Flip Side
That is not collaborating that is tattling!