There are three little words soaring around in the world of "education buzz," Professional Learning Teams. Anne Jolly, a former Alabama state Teacher of the Year, first introduced me to this concept several years ago at a meeting of southeastern state TOYs, sponsored by the SERVE regional education laboratory where Anne now works.
The idea of teacher-driven, job-embedded professional development fascinated me, and I longed to be part of such a team. Anne gave me a copy of her book, A Facilitator’s Guide to Professional Learning Teams, and I was hooked on this way for teachers to learn together. (John Norton, who helps me maintain this blog, edited the book, and it is a great read with very practical advice.)
From the day I came to Brighton I knew this was something we needed to have in place. Anne, who lives nearby, visited Brighton my first year here, and we briefly talked with our principal about implementing PLT. However, those first two years just did not seem the right time to initiate anything else new. This past summer my principal and I sat down with Anne and she walked us through this process. Our hope was to have the consulting money we needed for Anne to work regularly in our school. But we did not have the funds this year, so we started on our own.
I know what we have done has not met all the standards described in Anne’s book, but what has taken place in our monthly PLT meetings has been pretty amazing.
Following Anne’s steps, our teams decided what they would like to learn more about. Our teachers in 7th and 8th grade chose improving reading comprehension in the content areas. To get started, we read a couple of articles and then we watched and discussed Cris Tovani’s excellent videos on Comprehending Content.
In December, our 7th and 8th Social Studies teacher volunteered to videotape herself using two of Cris Tovani’s strategies. I was so pleased about her being willing to put herself on the line to do this.
I was really excited as I watched Ms. Billups present her video. The technical part was slightly jumpy due to a student serving as the videographer. However, the content was incredible. Our school librarian had assisted her in finding an appropriate article to support her content. Ms. Billups had provided copies of the article for each student as well as made a poster size copy and a transparency. She also made posters and transparencies of the two charts of the strategies. It was an excellent lesson.
As I watched her walk the teachers through the lesson, they began to light up and ask questions. The discussion that followed was really great. I said very little and my principal was not there. It was really about the teachers taking on their own learning. At the conclusion, they all decided they would try these same strategies in other content areas and bring back work samples to share at our next PLT meeting. One teacher volunteered to send the principal the notes from our meeting so she would have an update.
When they left, I literally was jumping up and down because finally we were putting the teachers’ classroom practice in their hands. For so long we have had a top-down model at our school due to the many sanctions of being a school under the state School Improvement sanctions. Now we are starting to build capacity among the staff—the type of capacity that will sustain change for continuous improvement.
The teachers left our meeting with a smile and a plan! Now I know for sure there is great power in those three little education buzz words—Professional Learning Teams. Thank you Anne Jolly for encouraging us to go forward with this and providing us with such a great guide book to make this happen. I cannot stop humming, Oh happy day!