California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II

The Middle Grades Community—Focused on Learning

Often, when people discuss teams or professional learning communities at a school, they are referring to the teachers. However, in the broader sense, all adults at a school constitute a learning community—they work together to support student learning. In this broader context, teachers, counselors, library/media center directors, special education teachers, paraprofessionals, teachers’ aides, administrators, classified staff members, and volunteers are all members of a learning community. Many of them are members of teams that work collaboratively to support student learning. For example, individual teachers might be members of the school safety committee or the school site council in addition to serving on a departmental team and on the Parent/Teacher/Student Association (PTSA). Each of these “communities within a community” work collaboratively to improve either the school climate or the instructional strategies that support student learning.

The National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform developed criteria for high performance. The School Self-Study and Rating Rubric (DOC; 413KB; 9pp.), is a tool designed by the Schools to Watch™-Taking Center Stage program to help schools analyze their progress toward excellence based on the National Forum’s criteria. The rubric states that a high-performing middle school “is a community of practice in which learning, experimentation, and reflection are the norm. School leadership fosters and supports interdependent collaboration. Expectations of continuous improvement permeate the school culture. Everyone’s job is to learn.”

The Single Plan for Student Achievement acts as a road map for coordinating the work of a school learning community. Ideally, the Single Plan consolidates the decisions contained in the school’s separate plans for safety, professional development, and other concerns. According to the template for developing a single school plan, the members of the school community must analyze student achievement and the instructional program before finalizing their Single Plan.1 In addition, the Single Plan must describe how all members of the school community will gain the skills they need to achieve the goals in the Single Plan.

For the school and professional learning plans to be effective, both must reflect the best thinking of the entire staff. Each member of the learning team must commit to the planning process and to the resulting plan. Their ownership of the work ensures their participation in strategies to implement the goals outlined in the plan.

The professional learning plan provides a coherent approach so that everyone has a map showing his or her path toward “continuous improvement in instruction and student achievement”—the focus of the Recommendation on professional learning. Creation of the professional learning plan allows the members of the learning community to prioritize what needs to be done and to show how they will implement the plan. For example, if assessment results show that many students need additional reading skills, then the professional learning plan helps each adult in the learning community link their goals, objectives, and lessons to those goals.

Recommendation 10 - Professional Learning—Reflection

What is a Professional Learning Community?

1 2013 Single Plan for Student Achievement--Part II: The Single Plan for Student Achievement Template (DOC; 251KB; 20pp.). Sacramento: California Department of Education, 2013.

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