If you’re an educator, chances are you’ve heard the term PLC or Professional Learning Committee, perhaps even ad nauseam. People use this term for a wide variety of situations in the K12 school system—grade-level teaching teams, subject area teams, or even an entire school district.
But PLC’s are working in a lot of school districts….
Who’s doing PLC’s right?
The answer came to me without asking that question.
Let me start from the beginning. I recently reached out to the top-performing district in Mississippi to understand how they have managed to show continual improvement in state test scores. What I found was a culture of successful PLC’s.
Petal, Mississippi (the Friendly City) recently scored #1 in the State for Accountability ratings. This blue-collar, small town has scored in the top of Mississippi’s results for years. Being #1 comes as no surprise to Petalites or anyone in the state really.
When I asked Dr. DeDe Smith, Assistant Superintendent and Director of the Center for Families & Children, what makes Petal different, her response was, “...this is what it boils down to. Our work is very organic and very grass roots...We are driven by the instructional learning standards.” Teachers at Petal create their own curriculum aligned to instructional standards, often making adjustments to their instruction to meet the needs of individual kids.
She attributes much of the success to the strong leadership in Petal Schools throughout the years, notably Dr. Jack Linton. “He led the way in implementing PLC’s at Petal,” says Dr. Smith.
“The foundation of all of our work is what we do in PLC’s.”
What does Petal do differently?
PLC’s at Petal meet as often as every day for high school and 5th and 6th-grade subject areas, and as little as four times a week at other grade levels. One might ask how Petal can afford the time for teachers to be in PLC meetings as often as they do? DeDe attributes that to a financial decision to hire more teachers to cover the schedules necessary, but also not purchase costly programs to facilitate instruction. “We invest our money in this organic professional learning opportunity on an ongoing basis, and it’s just amazing. It really is.”
Dr. Dede Smith and crew.
Dr. Smith shares that teachers K-12 share assessments, the text they’re reading, and writing assignments to continually look at vertical alignment. Smith explains that it hasn’t always been easy. It can be challenging to have the sometimes frank conversations with other educators who might need to improve, but a culture of learning always prevails at Petal.
“We see ourselves as one unit.”
It goes beyond PLC’s
Along with a culture of PLC’s, Petal also embodies a culture of instructional leadership, where administrators are constantly working directly with educators. “One of our cornerstones is instructional leadership,” says Smith.
Spending time in the classroom, observing, coaching, and supporting teachers is standard at Petal, and it requires district-level buy-in. Administrators participate in School Instructional Teams (SITs) and District Instructional Teams (DITs) spending hours and hours on the ground level---in the classroom.
DIT and SIT meetings then come full circle by following-up on observations to ensure administrators are continually providing quality feedback and support to teachers. Dr. DeDe Smith shares that last year Petal administrators conducted, on average, 13 observations per teacher using Feedbak by SchoolStatus, an iPad and web-based evaluation platform that facilitates two-way dialogue between teachers and administrators.
Reaching outside the school
It doesn’t end with teachers and administrators, parents in Petal take the extra steps to be involved. Daycare students can come three times a year to take the STAR Early Literacy test to gauge students’ readiness for Kindergarten. Dr. Smith says,
“They [parents] are so invested in their kids being ready for Kindergarten. They take it very seriously.”
It doesn’t even end with administrators, teachers, or parents. The community plays a vital role in the success of the school district. Everyone from the city council, the mayor, and local businesses and churches are credited with contributing to the success of Petal schools. “Our community is so invested in the schools. It’s almost if you talk about Petal, you’re talking about the school district.”
The Petal community--teachers, administrators, parents, and partners can all celebrate being #1 in the State for 2016-17.
Leslie Ortego is Head of Operations at SchoolStatus and one of the particular pleasures of the job is watching districts like Petal soar with creative and unique processes. To find out about improving student success with SchoolStatus, click here: