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A Place for Teachers to Grow: Professional Learning Communities in MUSD

This story is the second in a series highlighting Manteca Unified’s Plan for Instruction structured by Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, known as MTSS. This series will explore Tier 1 of MTSS, which is the District’s baseline of inclusive instruction. Tier 1 supports ensure that all students are able to achieve essential academic and behavior standards. 

We all know that teachers spend the majority of their workday in a classroom with students. But have you ever wondered how teachers connect and learn from one another – even when they teach at different schools?

In Manteca Unified, this is achieved through Professional Learning Communities.

Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs, are teams of educators who share ideas and strategies to help support student success. Teachers are often grouped by grade level at elementary sites and by subject area in high schools for in-person and digital meetings, so that participants can connect with peers to further their best practices through collaboration.

According to Julie Hollander, MUSD’s Director of Teaching & Learning, PLCs “give teachers the opportunity to have time together where they can develop common formative assessments [tests] and discuss the data to refine instruction and meet individual student needs.” As such, these PLCs play a big role in larger District goals to help ensure all students can work to achieve grade level standards.

For example, 5th grade teachers may meet to discuss Map data which is gathered by assessments taken three times a year by students. During their meeting, the educators can compare how they’re using this MAP data to adjust English language arts and Math activities to differentiate instruction for each student, helping them meet student needs for their specific grade level.

In other words, PLCs provide a space for teachers to discuss the challenges and opportunities they face, and what practices they can implement to address these situations. 

Music staff collaborateDuring an Elementary Music Staff PLC meeting in late August, organized by Visual & Performing Arts Coordinator Anthony Dahl, music staff from various elementary schools discussed the complexities of their profession and sought guidance from their fellow educators. One complexity the group mentioned is that several music educators teach at more than one school this year, which presents a unique challenge that others in the room not only understood but could provide advice for. 

The group selects a “Public Learner” for each meeting to bring up a problem of practice for the group to discuss – and by the end of the school year, each teacher will have served as a public learner.

Shannon Beattie, an educator at both Walter Woodward and Joshua Cowell, is the group’s most recent public learner. Mr. Beattie shared that by “using the public learner framework in our PLC, the teacher is not told how to fix the problem, but rather asked questions by peers so that everyone can better understand the issue and see how different solutions might resolve the problem in a judgement-free setting. To me, this process encourages openness and honesty because all teachers are working to find the solution together.”

As Mr. Beattie described, feelings of reassurance and gratitude filled the room during these discussions – the result of having meaningful time with their PLC peers to talk through personal experiences.

As Mr. Dahl states, “PLC Wednesdays give the elementary music staff an opportunity to meet as a group and discuss problems of practice that are unique to our subject area. This year we have partnered with Lead by Learning of Northeastern University to help facilitate our meetings. Our teacher-led design team works with our facilitators to create opportunities for each music teacher to explore a personal learning goal around helping students to feel safe, be engaged, and find relevancy within our music classes.”

The Elementary Music Staff PLC is just one of MUSD’s Professional Learning Communities – In total, the District has over 180 PLC groups that meet in person! This number reflects Manteca Unified’s dedication towards Tier 1 inclusive instruction for all students and the commitment of MUSD’s teaching staff.

Interested in learning more about Professional Learning Communities? Reach out to your school office today!