MANKATO — A few years ago, teachers and administrators at St. Peter High School were fed up with under-performance on student tests.
They had good teachers. They had smart kids. But things weren’t adding up, said Paul Peterson, the middle and high school principal.
That was St. Peter’s “why” on creating a professional learning community (PLC) culture in their district, he said — to help teachers be on the same page and, as Cindy Amoroso puts it, “laser focused” on what they want students to learn.
“It’s been shown to be one of the most significant change philosophies,” said Amoroso, Mankato Schools director of curriculum instruction. “It’s really recognized as one of the most effective frameworks for raising student achievement.”
PLC is a buzzy acronym in school districts and has been for years. (It’s the reason for monthly two-hour late school starts in the Mankato district.) What it boils down to is collaboration among teachers and administrators to share ideas about what’s working, what’s not and how to move forward with a shared vision.
Peterson presented St. Peter’s PLC structure and plan of attack Tuesday during one of the breakout sessions of the South Central Minnesota Educational Learning Consortium, focusing on regional student achievement and PLC training.
About 250 educators and administrators from 18 area school districts gathered at East High School and will again today to learn about the various components of PLC culture.
Amoroso said area administrators had been discussing ways to leverage the collective experience to foster professional learning communities for some time. Last summer was the first regional PLC seminar. And this year, various sessions at the consortium are aimed at both beginners as well as more advanced training for those who learned the basics last year.
“It’s rather unusual for this many school districts to come together,” Amoroso said.
Teachers gathered for large-group presentations as well as smaller breakout sessions presented by representatives from schools in southern Minnesota. The goal, Amoroso said, was to identify what they want students to learn, how to identify when students “got it,” what to do when students don’t get it, and what else to do for kids who do get it.
Part of the philosophy, in a nutshell, is many minds are better than one, as well as providing equity for students. Teachers bring numerous ideas to the conversation, and they all leave with the best of them to apply in the classroom, as well as specific assessment criteria. In a PLC culture, they all have a shared mission, vision, commitments and goals.
As a slide in a PowerPoint presentation pointed out, effective teachers have a profound impact on student achievement, and ineffective teachers can actually impede the learning of their students.
“It’s getting teachers to think differently about how they approach their students’ learning,” Amoroso said.
Part of a PLC culture is to have a system in place to provide interventions for students having difficulty grasping concepts and to provide advanced lessons for students already proficient. Peterson said the assessment is ongoing in St. Peter, so it should be no surprise to teachers how students perform on assessment tests.
Goal-setting is another helpful component, he said. St. Peter uses a fill-in-the-blank statement with criteria for increasing a certain skill for a grade level and subgroup of student, and also takes into account the assessment of having learned the skill by a specific deadline. All 11 groups’ PLC “SMART Goal Outlines” are posted publicly in St. Peter, which fosters healthy competition.
“Let me tell you, the 10th-grade reading team doesn’t want to low ball their goals,” Peterson said.