Teachers are overwhelmingly pleased with the results of Claremore Public Schools’ first year of early out Fridays for professional development.
In June, 2018, CPS Superintendent Bryan Frazier announced that for one hour a week teachers across the district would participate in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), a program which creates collaborative teacher teams to focus attention on plans and strategies to improve student learning.
An hour a week, Frazier said at the time, “Allows us to determine what standards we are going to teach, how we are going to teach them, how we’re going to know whether or not students have actually learned the material, and, the most important part, what are we going to do if they haven’t.”
Freshman English teacher Stephanie Greenland said, “In order for educators to facilitate a learning environment of critical thinkers and continuous learning, we must engage in learning, as well. What sets PLCs apart is it is a practical and continuous opportunity to provide the time and tools we need to insure the best opportunities for teachers and students.”
“I am feeling better and better about PLCs as time goes on,” said Westide Elementary third grade teacher Cynthia Nicks. “I am enjoying time to collaborate with my team and coming up with more ways to help our students learn and grow. Also, I like getting to meet with other third grade teachers within the district and sharing information to help all of our Claremore students succeed.”
Teacher teams use data and exchange best practices with one another.
Elementary school teachers are grouped based on grade level and meet both within their school and with teachers from other schools in the district.
Junior high and high school teams are grouped together based on subject to ensure students are progressing from year to year.
“Teachers have always done this but when the district sees the importance of these discussions and sets aside dedicated time for us to collaborate, I believe we make more strategic and targeted decisions and see improvements faster,” said Catalayah Elementary kindergarten teacher Jessica Stolusky. “We have also been allowed time to collaborate with other schools which makes a strong and more cohesive district with a clear shared vision.”
Seventh grade English teacher Dallas Lyons said, “During PLC meeting times, we are able to come up with student lead lessons which allow students' full ownership of their learning, and we are able to review the data from these assignments.”
“With this mindset, we are looking at student's continued growth and ability to thrive in any environment. We are examining shortcomings and what factors went into these shortcomings,” Lyons said. “In our PLC meetings we are able to look and compare, suggest and restructure. It is refreshing to know we are all working toward the same goal, and we are willing to help each other get there.”
PLCs are a product of Indiana-based k-12 professional development company Solution Tree.
Solution Tree representatives Scott Carr and Mandy Barrett, EdD, met with teachers during their professional development day March 29 to discuss PLCs and other strategies to help teachers and students.
Barrett, who met with the elementary schools, serves as an elementary school principal in northwest Arkansas. She has over 20 years of experience working in high-poverty schools and schools with large populations of students for whom English is a second language.
“Something that stuck with me from Dr. Barrett's presentation was the emphasis that we are all accountable for all students,” Stolusky said. “When PLC is truly implemented they are not your kids or my kids they are our kids. She even mentioned that Claremore students are now her students and she is invested in our journey and making us successful in our process.”
The biggest takeaway for Claremont Elementary second grade teacher Vicki Millsap was learning to build an effective intervention schedule and the great expectations that can be met when everyone is working with student success in mind.
“It takes everyone working collaboratively across the district to achieve success for all students who attend Claremore Public Schools,” said Westside Elementary second grade teacher Jennifer Collins.
Carr, who met with junior high and high school, serves as a middle school principal in Liberty, Missouri, with more than 25 years in education and school administration.
“Carr gave us some awesome ideas of how to break down standards to help kick-start developing common formative assessments. Our team was stuck when it came to actually creating assessments to go with the essential standards that we developed. Now, we feel confident in the ability to make assessments that accurately measure the knowledge gained by our students,” said high school algebra teacher Sarah Litterell. “By going through the process of working as PLCs, we have switched our mindset from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning. We make all of our decisions based on our students' needs, and by doing this we can promise our students that they will receive the same quality of education no matter whose algebra class they take.”
And for eighth grade English teacher Lauren Crabtree, “One big takeaway for me was to celebrate what we are doing well as a school, faculty, and in our classrooms. Being reminded of what we are excelling in can help us continue to improve in other areas.”
“Our work is never done,” Nicks said.
“It has been eye-opening to work with and deeply consider the applicable objectives, then approach the curriculum with not only those objectives, but also with the new mindset that it is all about student learning, not just disseminating information,” said high school business and computers teacher Cass Huddleston.
In sum, AP US history teacher Joe Green said, “The exchange of thoughts and ideas about how and why to teach different historical events and the concepts that connect to them has been invaluable to my continuing development as a classroom teacher. Because of the extended opportunities for peer teacher interaction, I am now teaching in ways that I have never taught before.”