From the Blog

The Value of Professional Learning Communities During COVID-19

by Dawn M. Stone, Appleton Village School

Dawn blog header image

Working with other school districts, I became familiar with conducting professional learning community (PLC) meetings via Google Meets. It was an alternative format to traveling 25 miles twice a month to meet with colleagues from the district. This also made meeting convenient during the winter months, or when other meetings interfered with the schedule. Even as a parent, I have watched our children conduct a remote learning day during a “snow day.”

Facilitating my own classes to third graders, and remotely participating in staff meetings on a regular basis over an extended period of time, amongst great uncertainty and with no preparedness, has been a significantly different experience. Teaching via Zoom, with third graders, was a completely foreign concept for me. I had no idea what to expect; I just knew that I needed to connect with my students and help them connect with each other. I nearly cried after the first day. The kids were so excited to see each other and to talk, both with me and with each other. They also helped me create all new remote classroom protocols and assisted in identifying how the protocols needed to be modified, usually on a daily basis. Even Zoom was modifying their protocols and safety measures, almost daily. Families were so completely grateful and relieved to have the opportunity to connect their children with their learning community.

I shared my experience right away with my PLC, also via Zoom. We had only a few days to prepare for an unprecedented learning situation, during which time we had agreed upon a format and protocol for conducting bi-weekly PLC meetings. Initially, we had only prepared learning packets for students. But our PLC quickly began to identify the benefits of engaging our students remotely, and began modifying our “at home learning plans” almost simultaneously with the teaching we were doing on Zoom. Being responsive and adaptable proved to be of great value to our students and our learning plans. We spent hours discussing what was working for us and what we needed to change.  Boy, did we get creative:

  1. One thing we discovered within the first few weeks was a decline in reading fluency. Since we could “share screen” and read together in our small groups, we noticed a marked difference across the board in our students’ ability to recognize or decode words and read fluently. So we discussed how we might manage 1:1 blocks of time to work with students in a format we used to do in person at school, called response to intervention (RTI).
  2. Though I missed the opportunity to teach our final writing unit (on opinions) in person, I still managed to find an opportunity to teach the subject online. The opportunity presented itself after I realized how interested my third graders were in “share time,” especially when they got to share their pets. This led to the development of a remote learning plan for an opinion essay on their favorite pets.
  3. Our class had been working collaboratively with the seventh grade class on a science project involving the care of over 400 salmon eggs. With the help of our middle school science teacher, we were able to continue our observation and study of the eggs. I even started a blog for the class, and made silly videos which were uploaded to the blog and which students were asked to respond to. We will videotape the release of salmon very soon!

2020 will forever leave an indelible mark on all of us. Despite the challenges, I will think fondly of the different kind of relationships we forged with our students, as well as with the people in my PLC. I don’t think I personally would have gotten through it quite so well, if not for having the motivation of my PLC and finding such purpose in the work with my students. I hope that in some small way that mark, though traumatic in many ways, proves to also raise a beacon of light and hope for all of us through our professional and educational learning communities.