Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Professional Learning Community: A passing fad, or something more?

In order to be current in their respective fields, all career professionals require some form of professional development. Physicians, law enforcement officials, and massage therapists all go through training or attend workshops that will help them become and stay effective in their positions. Educators are no different. They, too, attend trainings and workshops aimed at improving classroom effectiveness. For the past ten years or more, many schools have opted develop their staff by creating a professional learning community (also known as the PLC).  Many have considered the professional learning community the antidote to the one-and-done workshop model of professional development where some “more knowledgeable other” presents information and then teachers go back into their classrooms and do who-knows-what with it.

The PLC model of professional development calls for collaboration and cooperation among school staff. Depending on the school, the entire school community may be involved in professional learning, while in others, it may just be a team of teachers, or perhaps a mixture of teachers and administrators. These groups of professionals gather together for the purpose of learning and exploring together in order to ensure that students are in fact learning what is being taught. In order to be optimally effective, it is probably best that the whole faculty is included. Having the entire staff involved in a professional learning community is especially best when the school has to make school-wide changes, because it will be difficult to change organizational routines without changing the individuals within the organization, and that happens only when the school community comes together.

Just a fad?

Despite the obvious benefits that the professional learning community offer at the school level, there are certain groups of naysayers who are proposing that the PLC is a just a fad; some fancy newfangled idea that DuFour (rest in peace), a snake oil salesman, no doubt, has pedaled off to us. It takes no rocket science to figure out that the people who rail against the PLC model the most are the ones who have the most to lose by schools choosing the PLC model. That would be professional development organizations or even programs at local colleges and universities who all make their money from teachers who are mandated to acquire a particular amount of professional development hours in order to maintain their teaching certifications. These organizations don’t care if teachers really implement the techniques and strategies presented in the workshop. They don’t care if the students are actually learning. They aren’t invested in the teacher, or the students, or the school. They are invested in making their money.

Anyone who believes that the PLC model is a passing fad probably has not properly implemented it. At it’s core the professional learning community is reflection on teaching and learning. It is inquiry about data and best practices. According to John Dewey, reflection is the kind of thinking that consists of turning a topic over and over in the mind and giving it serious and ongoing consideration.  This is the kind of thinking that occurs in a properly facilitated professional learning community.

The professional learning community cannot just happen. The school that has a successful professional learning community must have a culture and climate that is open to inquiry, reflections, lifelong learning, and shared leadership. The leaders and administrators of the school must create a culture where the entire school participates in analyzing data and figuring out the implications for meaningful classroom instruction. Additionally, the school culture must be one of collaboration and cooperation. A school where teachers don’t hide behind closed doors, but instead invite in colleagues for feedback and suggestions. When teachers, experienced and novice alike, have opportunities for collaborative inquiry, reflection and the subsequent learning, the result is a body of wisdom about teaching and learning that could be widely shared.

Questions to consider

If the PLC is just a fad, then what would the alternative be? Would educators be forced to return to the traditional workshop model where some outside expert comes to espouse their wisdom? And if this is the case, can it really be considered professional development? Development is about growth and change. It’s about improvement. The professional learning community model of professional development allows for these. Through self-initiated, self-facilitated, and self-directed inquiry, research, and reflection, educators grow, change, and improve. Their classroom practices grow, change, and improve. And the atmosphere of the school, it’s culture and climate, grows, changes, and improves. Which traditional model of professional development can say they can do this on an individual, classroom, and school-wide level?


Friday, July 7, 2017

Does Technology Have a Place in the Early Childhood Classroom?

You know the saying Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater? Well, it can be applied to the use of technology in the early childhood classroom. With all the fancy, new-fangled gadgets available to us, we are often swift to toss the old tried-and-true technologies to the side. There is another common idiom that we can apply to this train of thought. It goes: All that glitters is not gold. 

Filling the classroom with technological tools seems to be primarily an American preoccupation. Lines of yearly classroom budgets are dedicated solely to adding newer and better tech toys and gizmos to the classroom. Strangely enough, the countries that rank the highest in education, that greatly outrank the United States,tend to have less technology in their classrooms.  

In the United States, there are very few schools that do not integrate some sort of technology. However, according to an article in the New York Times, there is a school in Silicon Valley, the very birthplace of most things high-tech, that does not use computers, or any screen-time for that matter. The educators at this particular school, the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, call into question the developmental appropriateness of technology in the classroom, especially at the elementary level.  

So, you can imagine that at the early childhood level, educators and parents wonder if digital technology is developmentally appropriate for the classroom. At the early childhood level, at all levels, in fact, the most appropriate use of technology is to expand, enrich, implement, individualize, differentiate, and extend the overall curriculum. We must ensure that technology is being used purposefully; it cannot simply be for fun and games, because without an educational component, technology cannot reach its full potential for supporting children’s learning and development. We have to establish learning goals for the children. These goals might include, but are not limited to, fostering children’s literacy and math or social-emotional development. 

I'm sure the tech tools and toys we already have at our disposal are enough to get the job done. The only thing we need to figure out: What exactly is the job we want done? Is our goal to teach our student the social skills, such as collaboration and problem-solving, that they will need to be competent 21st-century citizens, or is it to ensure certain academic skills are taught? Once we have our goals in place, it should be easy to find ways to align what technology you already have with what you want to accomplish. 


Sunday, July 2, 2017

How to Shop at Target

Deep to my core, I believe Target is in league with Satan. How else do you explain someone walking into the store with a specific objective, like buying milk, for instance, and coming out at least $200 poorer than when they entered? As a stockholder, I'm absolutely fine with this. But as a regular shopper, a teacher on a budget, and a practicing minimalist, the situation is quite problematic. So, instead of boycotting the place (I love Target! Plus, I'm a stockholder, duh!), I have devised a method for shopping at Target that will not leave you bankrupt. Try the following steps: 
  1.  Make a list and stick to it 
  2.  Leave the credit and debit cards at home. Use only cash. In fact, just leave your whole pocketbook in the car. Just take in your keys, the shopping list, and the cash 
  3. Avoid the dollar bin section, if possible. This seemingly innocuous area is actually the mouth to the gates of hell* 
  4.  Before you get to the register remove at least 10 items from your cart (we both know you are not going to stick to the list!) 
  5. When the cashier asks if you have a Redcard, say you do, but you that left it at home (this might be a lie, but it will stop his/her sales pitch in its tracks) 

 *If you are a teacher, then you already know that we are drawn to the Dollar Spot like moths to a flame. There are always super-cute accessories and materials that can be used in the classroom. Tread lightly and use sound judgment here. I mean, do you really need those miniature multicolored clothespins with the ribbons on top? Do you?? 

 If you can exercise some self-regulation and carefully adhere to these five simple steps, you just might leave Target with your wallet (and your soul) intact. Good luck, and Godspeed.