By Jeanna Baxter White
William R. Davie Elementary School’s motto is “Every Student Matters, Every Moment Counts!” That sentiment was evident during a recent first-grade PLC meeting as the teachers clarified the next North Carolina ELA (English Language Arts) standard and brainstormed the best way to teach it to their students.
Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) allow teachers to meet regularly, share expertise, and work collaboratively to improve teaching skills and drive the academic performance of students.
These meetings are a fundamental component of DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed), the Mebane Foundation’s five-year, $2.5 million grant with Davie County County Schools to improve kindergarten readiness and to increase the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.
The grant includes funding for professional development and specialized support staff, including two full-time literacy coaches and two professional consultants, to develop and build the professional capacity of the kindergarten through third-grade classroom teachers in Davie County Schools.
The first year of professional development focused on implementing weekly grade-level PLC meetings to clarify standards. Although the process was frustrating at first, now in year three, teachers and students are reaping the rewards.
“PLCs were the perfect place to start because these meetings are foundational to teachers sharing expertise and collaborating around student growth,” said Nancy Scoggin, DavieLEADS consultant. She and fellow consultant, Barbie Brown, are both retired educators who have worked as classroom teachers, curriculum facilitators, and instructional coaches.
“Everything we do as 21st Century educators depends on this. Meeting as grade-level teams to gain a common understanding of our standards transforms us from good to great,” Scoggin said. “It takes time and commitment from every teacher and administrator in the school. When we started three years ago, meetings were happening, but there were no county-wide structures in place to provide the needed focus. Our teachers in each of the six elementary schools have persevered through the growing pains necessary to do this work. We have been leaning into the processes of questioning each other and learning from each other. This work is difficult at first but gets easier with practice. When we see student growth it is so rewarding. We are getting better at “getting better!”
Initially, the consultants facilitated the meetings. Now they take a backseat, supporting the teachers and instructional coaches leading the meetings.
During a recent PLC meeting at Pinebrook Elementary School, first-grade teachers analyzed the results of a common formative assessment (CFA), discussing the questions the students missed, whether they graded it consistently, and determining if any of the information needed to be retaught. They then discussed the next unit and how it should be taught and evaluated. Brown listened and asked a few questions. The teachers still appreciate her support but also recognize how far they’ve come.
“Our PLCs have helped focus my classroom lessons and enabled me to be more intentional about what I teach,” said Sandy Hendrix, a first-grade teacher at Pinebrook. “We analyze the standards to make sure that we are teaching all parts of the standards. Our PLC meetings have gotten easier over the last few years. We know how to break down a standard to make it’s understandable to our students. We bounce ideas off one another to decide what is best for our children. Barbie has been wonderful to guide us in our meetings. We have seen our students make progress in their comprehension skills.”
Pinebrook First-Grade Teacher Anita Bradshaw appreciates the collaboration and clarification on standards that PLCs and the coaches provide. “I believe it gives us even more confidence in the classroom.”
“PLCs have been a learning experience for classroom teachers,” said Bridgett Bailey, a first-grade teacher at WRD. “We have come a long way with our PLCs. When we first started, our PLCs were very basic and now we are breaking apart standards and planning lessons and assessments…”
“The concentrated focus of PLCs through the LEADS grant has helped us streamline how and what we teach across the grade level, so no matter whose class your child is in they are all getting the same content,” said Jennie Hughett, a first-grade teacher at William R. Davie (WRD). “The process has changed over the past 2.5 years because we have become more efficient at planning and going through all the PLC steps. We also dig deeper into the rigor of the standards because each year we get more and more familiar with each individual standard.”
Recognizing the value of the PLC’s for both teachers and students, both WRD Principal Karen Stephens and Pinebrook Principal Brooke Preslar sit in on the meetings at their school.
“PLC’s are a valuable opportunity to collaborate intensely while digging deeply into our understanding of the standards,” said Stephens. “I attend all PLC’s to support our staff in growth. I have enjoyed learning alongside our staff. I am amazed at the tools and input brought by staff members to ensure students are getting the best instruction possible…We also use that time to celebrate successes within the grade level on our CFA’s and student growth.”
“Every Student Matters, Every Moment Counts!”
Preslar agrees, adding that she has all the grade-level PLCs on her calendar and makes as many of them as possible. “The PLC process can have a significant impact on classroom instruction…This protected time each week makes our grade level teams stronger and our instruction better. It also gives teachers the opportunity to ask what’s working in other classrooms and get ideas from each other.”
“The connection that I make with my teachers in these meetings helps me understand the challenges they face in the classroom and what they need from me. Being part of the conversation sharpens my skills as an instructional leader and keeps me informed about what is happening in classrooms… It’s how I connect to the learning conversations that take place in my building.”