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November 28, 2012

Board receives update on Professional Learning Teams

By Maria Allard
C & G Staff Writer

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Longacre Elementary second-grade teachers Sarah Lewandowski, Andrea Hughes and Judy Parzych discuss a variety of topics during a Professional Learning Team session.

FARMINGTON — Six times during the school year on half days, Farmington Public Schools teachers get together to jointly examine student achievement.

During the meetings, they study data, share ideas and open up dialogue on various teaching strategies that can be taken back into the classroom, in an effort to increase student achievement.

The groups are called Professional Learning Teams, and at the district’s Nov. 13 Board of Education meeting, Michele Harmala, FPS associate superintendent for Instructional Services and Organizational Leadership, gave a presentation to the school board on the teams’ progress.

“The district has been working on implementation for years,” Harmala said. “Every school is implementing this a little bit differently. The expectation is every staff member will be a member of a Professional Learning Team this school year.”

Understanding and utilizing assessments and instruction that are aligned to the standards and curriculum, as well as supporting all students in getting what they need, are among the focuses of the district’s PLTs.

And the teams are not limited to instructional staff. Support staff — including bus drivers, maintenance staff and technology department members — can help support the PLT concept. There are three basic goals of the district’s PLTs.

“We increase student achievement for all students,” Harmala said. “We provide effective and efficient support services. That’s where the non-instructional side comes in, and we support all staff in growing in their roles. Everyone’s work interconnects.”

For instance, a group of third-grade teachers can gather to assess reading data on a particular test or assignment.

“They can see what the students knew and were able to do or what the students struggled with,” Harmala said. “They create some common lesson plans and create different ways on how to learn.”

Once, when visiting with a team at one of the district’s high schools, Harmala said several math teachers prepared a common final exam to be given to the students.

“The final looked the same among the teachers,” she said. The test was based on various factors, including how the concepts were taught and from studying student learning.

On the non-instructional end of a PLT, a bus driver, for example, can help get students off to a good day by welcoming them onto the bus first thing in the morning.

“They can ask how they are doing,” Harmala said. “That supports them.”

Longacre Elementary second-grade teachers Andrea Hughes, Sarah Lewandowski and Judy Parzych agree their PLT is “valuable” by giving the educators time as a group, which they feel is more efficient than working alone. Their time together, they collectively said, can “drastically improve our teaching.”

Meeting together as a group allows time to look at data and make instructional decisions based on it. The teachers also can plan field trips and discuss their students and strategies. They also said there is always more to discuss than the time allotted for the PLT meetings.

Each member of a PLT in the district has talents to add to the group. Some teachers are visionaries and see the big picture, while other PTL members are very detail-oriented.

Hughes, Lewandowski and Parzych said such a combination helps to define and manage the goals they set and lessons they create. It’s really encouraging to be able to synergize using the strengths of each member, they said.

Educators would like to see the PLT concept grow.

“Teachers are generally with kids 100 percent of the time. You have to find other times to give teachers time to do this type of work,” Harmala said. “Six half-days through the year — that is nowhere near enough.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Maria Allard at allard@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1045.