During the last quarter of the 2008-2009 school year, I was heavily devoted to rededicating my high school as a place of professional collaboration. Throughout the school year, we had a very dynamic Curriculum Council running; 19 teachers volunteered their time to meet as a full council four times and as sub-groups multiple times to tackle such goals as:
- Developing a Freshman Seminar course
- Developing an Option II program (Option II is NJ’s program for offering non-traditional learning experiences for credits. Things like internships, college classes, independent study, community class, and service learning)
- Developing a Pathways program (Pathways are designed to focus students in college directions – i.e. Humanities, Science and Engineering, Liberal Arts, Business and Technology)
- Developing an Economics/Financial Literacy course (this is the most pertinent goal since NJ has just mandated this course as a high school graduation requirement)
With the work they completed and the experience of working as a professional community, I decided to apply to be a PLC Lab School through EIRC. EIRC and the NJ Department of Education have teamed up to make the push for schools to develop strong PLCs (Professional Learning Communities). Schools selected as PLC Lab Schools would not only get the privelege of being named so, but would also receive professional development from Stephen G. Barkley. PLC Lab schools are also able to freely communicate with other PLC Lab Schools in NJ.
Proudly, we were selected as one of 33 schools in NJ as a PLC Lab School. We are also only one of five high schools in the state to be chosen. It’s quite an honor to be recognized for the efforts to bring a cultural shift to a community of professionals… but I am more proud of the faculty who made this become a reality.
So now that we have been recognized and selected to receive further training and support, what do we do? We keep going. This year we managed to do away with some non-productive duty assignments for teachers and instead build real PLC time into their schedules. We have ten teams of teachers working as Professional Learning Teams (PLTs) on such SMART Goals as revamping the Algebra curriculum, designing common assessments, continuing the Curriculum Council goals from last year, and examining and applying the new NJ Core Curriculum Content Standards to existing assessments and plans. It’s a tall order. But the faculty is ready to begin to own the construct of the school.
Creating a PLC – a true community culture in the building – can be rewarding… if the administration gets out of the way. PLT’s can’t be designed to fulfill the wishes of the principal, the supervisor, or the central office staff. Real PLTs gain momentum and strength from themselves once the administration allows them to pursue professional goals that pertain to the classroom, the curriculum, and culture. I tell my faculty that a PLC’s purpose is to empower the faculty and to allow them greater design over their profession. So far, they have taken the challenge.
As a “lab” school we see ourselves not as a fully formed PLC, but rather as a specimen; we are in a lab, experimenting, trying, searching, questioning, and looking for the answers.