Professional Learning Communities come together at middle schools

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Response to the COVID-19 pandemic has brought sweeping changes to education. Teachers at Canyon Creek and Jemtegaard Middle Schools are experiencing a small benefit of that change as they come together weekly for their Professional Learning Community (PLC) meeting via Zoom. PLCs involve whole-staff involvement in a process to reflect on instructional practices and student data, as well as monitoring outcomes to ensure success.

“The combined CCMS/JMS PLCs has been one of the few positives to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Tim Davis, JMS Math and Robotics teacher.  “We have always enjoyed working with the CCMS math team a few times a year for curriculum training.  We did a lot of sharing of lesson ideas, tech tricks, student motivation techniques and engagement ideas but ended each time saying we should do this more often.  It never materialized because we would lose at least 30 minutes of our valuable time driving from one building to the other.  Along comes the pandemic, the move to Zoom, and two forward-thinking administrators and here we are!”

The major focus of the PLC groups is to analyze student data to help determine if students are benefiting from lessons, and to adjust instruction for students who need additional time to master standards, as well as to plan instruction for those who have achieved mastery.  Davis, who teaches the only Algebra class at JMS, had never had anybody to examine his Algebra data and outcomes until the schools combined their PLC groups.  “Now with more minds focused on the data, we are able to see multiple ways to address students’ needs,” he said.  “We commonly work past our allotted time because it’s refreshing to have new ideas to explore.  I look forward every week to our Wednesday PLC time!”

According to Davis, the credit for the combined middle school PLCs goes to JMS principal David Cooke and CCMS principal Brian Amundson.  “I witnessed how well they worked together in the past when they were both at JMS,” he explained. “This is an indication of how well they will work together in the future.  I think we will see the two middle schools working together on additional exciting ways to help our students in the future.”

“Having an opportunity to hear what others are bringing to the classroom, and borrow a few lesson plans, has been a thrill,” said Jason Barnes, CCMS English Language Arts and History teacher. “This has also given us the chance to affirm each other’s practices, which is especially life-giving in the current isolation of COVID-19.”

“Washougal School District invests heavily in PLCs and believes in their power to help enhance teaching skills and the academic performance of students,” said WSD Superintendent Mary Templeton. “The combined PLCs allow more minds to get together and share and refine lessons to keep our students engaged and achieve higher levels of success.”

Barnes, who has been a part of the social studies PLC this year, explained that the group has a shared Google Classroom set up for an exchange of information and resources, and are able to ask for advice on lessons that would otherwise be challenging to navigate solo. “We have also been able to align our units more closely with each other, getting our middle schools in a better alignment as we prepare them for high school,” he said.

“I have personally found it exciting to hear about the various ways that some of our more senior-tenured teachers approach their history classes, left mesmerized at their thrilling unit plans,” said Barnes. “It really helps to know that we are all doing great things in our classrooms.”

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