Author Unknown, International School of Curitiba, Brazil
Democracy must begin at home, and its home is the neighborly community. —John Dewey
For the past year and a half at ISC, a group of teachers representing Biology, English, History, Technology, Art and Integrated Sciences, has been participating in a dynamic and effective new strategy for enriching their professional development and learning: a PLC or Professional Learning Community.
According to the book Learning By Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work, a PLC is an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve. The definition above captures the essence of the ISC PLC, which operates under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous job-embedded learning for educators.
Basically a PLC is a group of teachers who come together voluntarily to improve their practice for the benefit of students. A PLC is a “process,” not an event or a club or a team—a process. The emphasis on process is critical because PLCs are continuous, recurring, ongoing—perpetual: will we ever reach perfection in our teaching and learning? Of course not, and that is why the PLC process will never end either.
How PLCs work at ISC
“…the fundamental purpose of school is learning, not teaching.” ― Richard DuFour
Professional development for teachers, when done correctly, is a mirror for best practices in student learning. Therefore, as ISC has ramped up its efforts to integrate technology, increase self-learning and develop “21st Century Skills” among students, we have made concurrent efforts to do the same among teachers, and our PLC is the nexus for this learning and development.
During the 2013-2014 school year PLC participants have learned about management in the iPad classroom and how to use tools like Google Docs, Nearpod and the Apple TVs installed throughout the secondary school. We have also discussed what the “school of the future” will look like (and how ISC can get there) and interdisciplinary technology projects. We also held ISC’s first “unconference”: an open learning space where teachers bring multiple ideas and tools to share freely with their peers.
All of these sessions have been initiated, facilitated and evaluated by teachers and we have been lucky to have the support of administration that realizes that the best professional development happens when teachers are left to themselves. The ISC PLC has, from the start, been a space that administrators support and teachers manage to enhance student learning.
Benefits for students and teachers
“In a professional learning community, educators are committed to helping students acquire the same essential knowledge and skills regardless of the teacher to whom they are assigned. Once again, the first of the big ideas of a PLC is that the staff is committed to helping all students learn, and the first critical question educators in a PLC must consider in addressing that big idea is, ‘Learn what?’ The only way the curriculum in a school can truly be guaranteed is if the teachers themselves, those who are called upon to deliver the curriculum, have worked collaboratively…” –Richard Dufour.
For the past two years, the ISC PLC has emphasized technology integration. The need to ensure that students acquire “the same essential knowledge and skills” prompts us to learn those skills ourselves. If we require our students to use Evernote, Google Drive and Prezi, and if we want them to create screencasts, e-portfolios and PLNs (personal learning networks), we must learn the use of these tools ourselves. Moreover, we must master them and integrate them into our own learning plans.
For students, this may begin to sound like a “one-size fits all” learning plan. Nothing could be further from the truth: through mastering these skills and tools, teachers can both model how to be independent learners and train students to take charge of their own learning. Also, teachers who communicate frequently about their practice and how it impacts their students are far better prepared to address their students’ needs. The ISC PLC gives teachers a space for collaborative inquiry, conversation and action that break down the walls that often grow up between different departments and different professional cliques. This encourages our staff to be congenial and collegial. In this way the PLC serves as a catalyst for new ideas to be developed and spread—like the use of Google Apps, Nearpod and our “traffic light” classroom management system—and grows teacher skills to the benefit of student learning.
Where we are going
In the 2012-2013 school year we have four more PLC sessions ahead of us. Our plan is to focus on continuing to help teachers develop their own personal learning networks, developing teacher mastery of key student tools like Evernote, and working together to build the necessary expertise for teachers across the curriculum to design and deploy their own educational screencasts via YouTube and iTunes U.
Next year we hope to enrich the PLC with breakout groups in Portuguese so that more teachers are inspired to participate. We also hope to continue to bring what our students are learning and creating in their Academic Leadership seminar—PLNs, e-portfolios, professional branding—into the PLC so that the growth experienced by our students parallels that of their teachers.
Ultimately, a democracy of growth finds its home in a neighborly community of learners that transcends distinctions of age, specialty and birthplace: a perfect microcosm of ISC’s mission and spirit.