A growing body of research supports the experience of a number of educators that when a fully functioning Professional Learning Community is established within a school, improvement in student learning is achieved. According to the National Commission on Teaching (2003), ‘Quality teaching requires strong professional learning communities. Collegial interchange, not isolation, must become the norm for teachers. Communities of learning …must become the building blocks that establish a new foundation for America’s schools.’ 1
Besides increasing the academic success of the students, moving from isolation to the support offered through Professional Learning Communities contributes to a work climate that promotes professional growth, job satisfaction, excellence in teaching, and retention of qualified teachers.
During each of three school years, 2010-2011, 2011-2012, and 2012-2013, LoveLight, Inc. sponsored a Professional Learning Community (PLC) Academy in partnership with Kent State University and Solution Tree. Educators from Northeast Ohio schools, who attended in teams, had the option of receiving graduate workshop credit and participating in online discussions, guided by Dr. Lisbeth Justice, Executive Director of LoveLight. Each year, the four days of the PLC Academy focused on the three BIG IDEAS of professional learning communities, described below.
1. FOCUS ON LEARNING
What do we want students to learn? How will we know if they have learned it? What will we do if they have not learned it? What will we do if they already know?
2. BUILD A COLLABORATIVE CULTURE
No school can help all students achieve at high levels if teachers work in isolation. Schools improve when teachers are given the time and support to work together to clarify essential student learning, develop common assessments for learning, analyze evidence of student learning, and use that evidence to learn from one another.
3. FOCUS ON RESULTS
PLCs measure their effectiveness based on the evidence of results rather than intentions. All programs, policies, and practices are continually assessed on the basis of their impact on student learning. All staff members receive relevant and timely information on their effectiveness in achieving intended results.
Workshop sessions were presented by author and educational consultant Anthony Muhammad, Ph.D., who has been a teacher, assistant principal, and principal at the middle school level as well as a principal at the high school level. Named Michigan Middle School Principal of the Year in 2005, Dr. Muhammad led Levey Middle School in Southfield, Michigan from an academically struggling to academically successful institution: over a five-year period, student proficiency, as measured by state assessments, more than doubled and Levey has now received recognition as a National School of Excellence.
Some of the sessions were presented by Luis F. Cruz, principal of Baldwin Park High School, located east of Los Angeles, California. He has been a teacher and administrator at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. In 2007, Dr. Cruz led a collective effort to secure a $250,000 grant for Baldwin Park from the California Academic Partnership Program for the purpose of effectively utilizing “courageous leadership” to promote a more equitable and effective organization.
Since becoming a public school educator, Dr. Cruz has won the New Teacher of the Year, Teacher of the Year, Administrator of the Year, and other community leadership awards. He and a committee of teacher leaders at Baldwin Park received California’s prestigious Golden Bell Award from the California School Boards Association for significantly closing the achievement gap between the general student population and students learning English as a second language.
Following are just a few of the many positive responses to the question, “What was the most valuable aspect of the workshop?”
- “Discussion was inspiring – it made me feel that maybe change can occur.”
- “Great examples, good explanations of the ideas, activities, etc. and then group time to process, and try out new ideas.”
- “Discussions with my team that never could have taken place if we didn’t attend [the] workshop.”
- “All aspects of the workshop were valuable.”
- “The presenter is always so dynamic and quickly engages us. I appreciate that his SMART steps are so user friendly and easily duplicated.”
- “Dr. Muhammad was excellent in presenting information that was relevant and helpful.”
- “Presenter comes from [a] background similar to the district in which I work. He knows that success can be achieved.”
- “Dr. Muhammad has been outstanding- so inspirational.”
- “Dr. Muhammad provides examples and reasons to validate the information he presents. My most compelling topic was on analyzing data. How to do it and how to use it.”
- “I thought Dr. Muhammad did an awesome job. He had no problem addressing tough conversational items for school staffs.”
- “Thank you for being so specific and sharing data from your former building. Your presentation is so believable.”
- “Excellent application” “Relevant stories”
- “The explanation using actual examples on the implementation of the PLC was great. The content covered was very informative. Loved the research-based data presented.
- “Your presentation was superb. You incorporated a balance of facts, examples, humor, serious information, and practical applications that can be used by everyone in the audience.”
- “You are so motivating and affirmed my beliefs. I learned so much today and you were the shot in the arm I needed.”
- “Excellent information that will transform our school into a culture where caring, sharing and concern for our students becomes our mission.”
- Dr. Cruz was amazing. I never quite thought of teaching as saving lives. He was insightful and I am excited to start PLC’s in our school. Thank you!”