Assignments Matter, but So Do PLC's
Assignments Matter, but So Do PLC’s
Assignments Matter 2.0 is an initiative undertaken by the National Writing Project, whose goal was to reach 300 teachers over a two-year period by providing professional development focused on creating meaningful, purposeful writing assignments. Core tools for the work included Assignments Matter, by Ellen Dougherty as professional literature and the Literacy Design Collaborative, as a digital component. A team of teacher leaders from Birmingham, Alabama and New York, New York, two geographically, socially, and population distinct areas of the country, were tasked with creating small professional learning communities (PLC’s) within local schools to train about the potential impact of writing assignments and how to use the core tools to create strong assignments.
PLC’s are defined as groups of educators that meet regularly, share expertise, and work collaboratively to improve teaching skills (edglossary.org). As a part of the national teacher leader team through this work, I must note that we, ourselves, learned significantly what it means to be a part of a PLC, and not just a team. This learning took place through our various experiences of the following: monthly virtual meetings, various modalities of sharing resources, yearly meetings, and site visits.
Every month there was a meeting via Zoom or Google Hangouts. They were added to our Google calendars, and we were automatically reminded of these meetings that included the link or a phone number to the call. Through these consistent monthly meetings, we stayed in contact, shared current happenings at our sites, discussed the progress of the work within the schools. We shared “glows and grows” honestly. Although, we had technology issues -calls were dropped and phones went dead- we didn’t let those issues stop us from meeting. Running notes were always made and could be easily referenced at any time. This constant, recurrent contact kept us on each other’s minds and held us accountable for positively progressing the work.
We used various modalities of sharing resources. The primary modalities were Google Drive and email. Here, we shared important documents, links, and high importance directives. However, we also created and shared Powerpoints across sites to highlight special moments, successes, and samples of professional development session information. We also used a G+ community created especially for our work. Teacher leaders and teachers posted and responded to teachers at the opposite site or schools outside of their respective districts to understand that they were not in the work alone. As a gesture of encouragement to the other site teacher leaders, we created a video highlighting special moments and clips of teacher leaders sending well wishes.
National leadership team members and all teacher leaders from New York and Alabama attended yearly meetings at the National Writing Project Annual Meeting, and we also attended our separate work session meetings in various destinations such as Savannah, Georgia, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, to keep abreast of any major changes, progress of the work, plan for conference presentations, collaborate to develop resources, and make necessary changes for improvement of the work. However, the face-to-face meetings also served as way to build relationships, camaraderie, and a shared vision for the work.
We participated in site visits from a national team leader. The national team leader visited both sites to witness the work itself, meet the participating teachers, and view the collective efforts of the teacher leaders in progressing the work. These visits also aided in community building, were examples of leadership support, and the continued focus on successful completion of the work. They also reminded us that our sites were interconnected under a common goal. The national team leader highlighted each site’s successes and strengths, which promoted high morale and continued exchange of ideas across sites.
In the beginning of this work, we were recognized not as a professional learning community, but as simply a team. Through the process, we met virtually monthly, shared resources in a variety of formats, and physically met around the country. Initially, we were called upon to create, establish, and maintain PLC’s within the schools we served. However, the process had the reverse effect. We ourselves became a powerhouse, hybrid team. In the true sense of a PLC, we met regularly, shared expertise, and worked collaboratively with energy, excitement, and built strong relationships across sites. The process that lent itself to this was innovative. It was special. It was necessary. So, call a thing, a thing. We became more than a team. Ultimately, the team became a true PLC for this work…and it was worth it because assignments matter!