Professional Learning Communities

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Introduction
Schools are constantly looking for ways in which to improve. Research has revealed several attributes of a school that proves to lead towards student learning and higher achievement including strong leadership, clear and shared mission, vision, values, and goals, collective inquiry, action oriented, collaborative teams that work interdependently, a focus on student learning and results oriented. These ideas are represented within a Professional Learning Community (PLC). To become a PLC, a staff must make changes in their actions and work together focusing on student learning. PLC’s have evolved out of failed school reform measures. It attempts to make permanent changes to a school’s culture to affect change in student achievement. There are four main ideas in developing a strong foundation for a PLC. The four essential ideas include a shared mission, vision, values, and goals. A group cannot simply write a well formed mission, they must commit to following through with actions necessary to fulfill their mission. These actions become easier when a vision is created as to what the school should look like and then members list specific behaviors that must occur in order to become the envisioned school. Goals help guide the process and keeps people motived throughout the long journey. Overview of School Change and the Relationship to PLC’s

The structure of American education has changed dramatically since it’s inception. It traditionally sorted students by their abilities. During the Colonial Era, the educational system was built on tiers where only the top few continued on while the others were dismissed (DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker, 2008). During the 1900s, beliefs changed to the idea that the state had a duty to educate all children at least through elementary school, those that could afford to pay went on to high school. When Russia beat America into space by launching Sputnik in 1957, the educational system came under attack and higher standards were demanded, especially in science and math (DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker, 2008). Then, the report A Nation at Risk again blamed the educational system for problems in America and task forces were given the duty of researching ways to improve schools. This resulted in more requirements for schools including more days in school, more testing, and more homework. When President George W. Bush established Goals 2000, he released control back to the schools to be accountable. All of these initiatives failed because they didn’t focus on the individual student and their learning. Perhaps the most aggressive piece of educational legislation passed has been the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2002. This law increased testing requirements and mandates that schools make adequate yearly progress (AYP) or face punishments. Attention is brought to minority populations by reporting data for subgroups and seeks to narrow gaps in school performance for traditionally under-served groups of students. The constant changing of multiple school reforms has left the nation resigned to the fact that efforts to reform schools are doomed to fail. If schools are to make improvements, actions must be changed. Research for effective schools has revealed that all students can learn and schools can make this a reality. This is the foundation for the development of Professional Learning Communities (PLC), which evolved from school reform. If schools are to meet requirements of NCLB, then they must affect change. Research supports the idea of effective schools overcoming the effects of student backgrounds. Effective schools have a clear and shared mission, vision, and goals all focused on student learning. They provide opportunities for high academic standards throughout the school day. Assessment programs include multiple measures, it’s action oriented and there is continuous staff development. High expectations for students and staff across the entire school promotes open...
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