Professional Learning Communities & School Culture: One Piece of the Reform Movement or the Flooring that Supports Change

IcebergEverywhere I turned in the last few months in my work with schools and the Race to the Top reform initiatives (Common Core Learning Standards, APPR, Data-Driven Instruction and Culture) the conversations have always turned to talk about school culture.  I’ve heard statements like: “These kids don’t have the background in the Common Core so how am I supposed to teach them (insert grade level) (insert Math or ELA)?” or “What am I supposed to do with these kids that can’t even add or subtract (or insert read or write) and they’re supposed to be able to meet the new rigorous standards and be able to do long division (or insert read complex text)?” or “What do you mean I need to teach reading and writing in (insert any other course besides ELA)?” It’s not easy being an educator today!

So, how can we, as educators, make our schools a place where all students can learn at the highest levels?  How do we truly change a school culture from toxic to one in which all children are learning at the highest levels because the educators in the school believe it can happen?

I wish I had a magic wand that I could wave and say, “Ta-da!  Here’s the answer!” What I’ve learned is that there isn’t ONE right answer for every school, every educator and every student.  There isn’t an easy quick fix.  But that also doesn’t mean we should sit back and do nothing.

AllThingsPLCI just finished attending the PLCs at Work Summer Institute here at OCM BOCES.  Almost 200 educators gathered to listen to Rick and Becky DuFour and Mike Mattos as their keynotes were streamed in from Orlando.  We broke into sessions to learn more about Professional Learning Communities, how they are a process for bringing teachers together to collaborate and support high levels of learning for all students, and how to actually get the PLC process moving along in our schools and districts.  It was exciting to see large groups of educators from several local districts getting together to have these important conversations about not only student learning but also professional growth for teachers.  Through these collaborative conversations, a focus on student learning, and, the use of common assessment to gather data to support learning for all students, educators are finding their way through a process that will change the culture in their schools and districts.

Common Core GraphicI’ve been doing a lot of reflective thinking on how this all fits together.  Here’s what I believe, to improve student learning and effective teaching we need to build a structure resting on these four cornerstones: Common Core Learning Standards, Data-Driven Instruction (which includes RTI), APPR, and 21st Century Skills (The 4 C’s: Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Creativity and Innovation, and Communication).  Built on this foundation are PLC’s, the flooring that supports student learning.  The framework for the building is Project-Based Learning (a way to re-imagine education in which students are engaged in the 21st century learning of significant content) and the roof that covers this building is school culture.  Without a positive school culture, a roof, the structure begins to rot, the flooring cracks and that’s when students “fall through the cracks” dropping out of school or becoming disengaged from their learning.  If we can build this structure with all of these elements, our students will walk out the door College, Career and Citizenship Ready.  Isn’t that what we all want?

So here’s my challenge to those of you who really want to effect change and reform education.  Take that first step, learn about PLCs and start implementing the changes that you see can be made to make your school culture less toxic and more conducive to collaborative learning for all.  The OCM BOCES Network Team will be meeting monthly to continue the support districts, schools, and educators need to keep this process rolling.  Sign up on My Learning Plan for our first session on August 23rd, a PLC Kickoff Networking Event on School Culture. Come and share your successes, frustrations and concerns about PLCs and hear from your colleagues about what’s working right in their schools.  I’m looking forward to seeing you there and sharing more about what I’ve learned when it comes to changing the culture of a school.

Keim_Joanne_SMALLJoanne Keim
OCM BOCES Network Team Coordinator
PBL 101 Trainer

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