Board Meeting Update: Teachers Collaborate to Improve Learning

When Marc Johnson became superintendent of California’s Sanger Unified School District in 2003, the district was one of the state’s lowest performing schools. Two years later, it was exceeding state average scores on the state test and has since won both local and national honors.

The key to its success was collaboration, said Johnson, who is now retired and recently spoke to the West Des Moines Community Schools Board of Education.

Specifically, teachers began working in Professional Learning Communities. There are three “big ideas” that define Professional Learning Communities, often referred to as PLCs.

  • Big Idea #1: Learning for All
    • PLCs operate under the principle that education is not about ensuring that students are taught, but that they learn. Every professional in a school building works together to answer the following questions:
      • What do we want our students to learn?
      • How will we know they have learned it?
      • How will we respond when learning did not take place?
      • How do we respond when learning has already occurred?
  • Big Idea #2: A Culture of Collaboration
    • Educators building a PLC work together to achieve their collective purpose of learning for all students. They create a collaborative culture in which teachers work together to analyze and improve their classroom practice.
  • Big Idea #3: Results Oriented
    • PLCs judge their effectiveness on the basis of results. Every teacher team identifies the current level of student achievement, establishes a goal to improve student learning, works together to achieve that goal, and provides evidence of progress.

Some elementary schools have been working in PLCs, but all teachers in the district began the work last year. PLCs are part of the district’s strategic plan for student achievement. In sharing his story about the power of PLCs, Johnson said, “PLCs are not what you do, but who you are as an organization.”