The School District of Clayton adopted the PLC model in 2004 as a simultaneous structure for building-based and district-wide professional development. The work of PLC flows from the assumption that the core mission of formal education is not simply to ensure that students are taught, but to ensure that students learn. Four key questions frame the process of a PLC:
What do we want students to know and be able to do?
How will we know students have learned it?
How will we respond when students are not learning?
How will we respond when students already know it?
Teachers engage in an ongoing cycle of examining data, asking questions, developing instructional strategies to address those questions, and writing common assessments to assess effectiveness of the strategies, all of which in turn leads to improved student performance. We have termed this cycle Plan-Do-Revise. Teams document their work to make connections and keep a trail of their learning. The work of Professional Learning Communities is not limited to specific times in the calendar, but instead are the way we do work here in Clayton.
The effectiveness of our PLCs has been greatly strengthened by professional learning around Data Wise, a blueprint for school leaders to help teachers examine and discuss data and how it can impact instruction. Our connection to Data Wise grew out of a professional learning experience of several of our administrators at Harvard, where they connected with the authors of the book. This resulted in a three-year commitment to focus on building data literacy with our staff, based on needs assessments and leadership observations. The Data Wise consultant, Dr. Anne Jones, visited Clayton regularly over three years to work with administrators and teacher leaders, and eventually staff members, on building our understanding of data and how to effectively use it to impact instruction and student learning. Each building was asked to create a Data Team to lead the data efforts in the building, fitting into the structures already in place. The language of Data Wise has been adopted into our PLC language and is embedded in every building and committee.
Administrators in Clayton have been conducting Learning Walks, or walk-throughs, to provide an impression about the quality of professional learning occurring. The goal of this structure is to provide opportunities to coach teachers, measure the impact of professional development efforts, support professional learning with data, and provide aggregate data about learning across the District over time.