Employees from Blytheville Middle School who participated in the Professional Learning Communities Institute in Little Rock were (from left) math teacher Devin Chambers, math facilitator Debra Siegler, principal Mike Wallace, literacy facilitator Denita White and literacy teacher Sarah Hardin.
By DAVID COOKE
Blytheville Schools PR Dir.
Teachers at Blytheville Middle School have fully embraced as their mission the responsibility to “inspire all students to become fully prepared for life as productive, responsible and caring members of a diverse community”. In other words, they want the students to leave their school after the eighth grade able to work, manage themselves and be nice to an abundance of people. That is just part of the school’s efforts at becoming a Professional Learning Community.
A Professional Learning Community, or PLC, is a group of educators that meets regularly, shares expertise and works collaboratively to improve teaching skills and the academic performance of its students. It is often used in schools as a way to organize teachers into working groups of practice-based professional learning.
“It encompasses everything we do,” said principal Mike Wallace. “It is an ongoing, continuous process of conducting schooling that has a profound impact on the structure and culture of a school and the assumptions and practices of the professionals within it.”
Three substantial ideas are associated with the Middle School’s PLC: A focus on learning, true collaboration and a results orientation.
“All students can learn at high levels,” stated Devin Chambers, math teacher at BMS. “Our students have a rigorous curriculum where they’re reading at an increasing depth of knowledge. And if some students are having difficulty keeping current with the curriculum, it’s up to us to ‘scaffold’, or change, our questioning.”
True collaboration requires “give and take”, Wallace went on to say. “Because the culture of our school is so good, the teachers can be truly honest and become transparent with each other”.
BMS literacy teacher Sarah Hardin pointed out that because BMS is results oriented, “we keep what is working and discard what we don’t believe is working. A good example of this is reciprocal reading,” she said. “We saw great results from its data, so we decided to keep it going and even build upon it.”
BMS literacy facilitator Denita White said that when a campus becomes a “highly effective PLC”, the attitude becomes a mindset, a professional lifestyle change.“Once that happens there is a continuous dialogue with both the parents and community stakeholders,” White said.”
Wallace, assistant principal Louise Davis and a few teachers attended a PLC conference last July in Hot Springs, and Chambers reported that the conference, attended by more than 2,000 school employees, provided a “feel” of how a school’s culture could be changed.
“I could trace this back to 2017, when I heard from Blytheville Primary School teachers about a PLC grant,” Wallace said. Blytheville Primary School principal Jana Wilson also allowed the Middle School to use some of her seats at the conference, which provided significant information for the teachers to get started with.
A grant was secured for BMS teachers to attend three two-day conferences in Little Rock, with the third conference slated for March.
Following the second conference teachers, administrators and a few students were involved in meetings in which the vision and mission statements were revised. BMS’ vision is to “inspire everyone to take ownership of his or her learning by embracing the following: Involving the community, narrowing the achievement gap, succeeding in a safe environment, practicing productive change, implementing effective instructional strategies, realizing the importance of being results oriented and ensuring learning for everyone”.
“Our staff at BMS is much more transparent,” according to math facilitator Debra Siegler. “And as a result of this transparency, our culture has also improved dramatically.”