California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II

Time for Professional Learning Community Activities

Students are not the only ones who need more time. Teachers do as well. It is critical that teachers have scheduled time to work together to analyze the standards, map the curriculum, articulate with other teachers in subjects and grades, plan cross-curricular connections (such as writing), and analyze student data to improve instruction.

According to the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform’s Schools to Watch™ criteria and California’s Nine Essential Program Components (EPC #7) ), teachers need time to plan, evaluate, and collaborate if they are to be effective. They use student results to inform immediate next steps and instructional practice. “. . . Interdisciplinary teaming seems to have the most positive effect when teachers meet often throughout the school year, when they openly discuss their goals and when they plan curricula for a relatively small group of students (i.e., fewer than ninety). Common planning time, in particular, appears to be a key factor.”1 To underscore this point further, EPC #7 calls for ongoing teacher collaboration by grade level and vertical collaboration by subject. Scheduling time is critical for teachers to analyze

While the benefits of teacher collaboration within a professional learning community (PLCs) may not be in dispute, finding time for collaboration may be a challenge. Some schools have adapted the master schedule around a longer school day for students four days of the week. The fifth day is shortened to allow teachers a solid two- to three-hour block of time to work together in professional development and curriculum-planning sessions.2

In the Spotlight

Bernice Ayer Middle School, Capistrano Unified School District, a 2005 Schools to Watch™-Taking Center Stage Model School
Professional learning communities have helped Bernice Ayer staff members to raise API scores. The staff’s close working relationship started with staff retreats, school-based staff development, and frequent social activities. In fall 2004, staff members extended the school day slightly and scheduled one hour for collaborative planning on a weekly "late start" day. To govern their use of the additional planning time — called Articulation and Collaboration for Excellence (ACE)—the staff committed to team norms that have allowed them to stay focused and positive.

During ACE time, teachers collaborate by departments, common planning teams, and grade-level teams. Each type of collaborative meeting has a different purpose. For example, the leadership team agreed to study student suspensions broken down by ethnicity so they could better understand trends. Subject-matter teams aligned curriculum to state standards. Teams share best practices and work with district resource teachers to improve instruction. Common planning teams have focused on analyzing test data, defining course outcomes, developing assessments and rubrics, examining student work, and mapping the curriculum to the instructional calendar. The grade-level teams focus on interdisciplinary planning, scheduling of major projects and tests so they do not conflict, and monitoring the progress of individual students.

Monthly meetings of school leaders from seven elementary schools, three middle schools, and San Clemente High School help the school provide for vertical articulation and planning.

Students quickly receive the interventions and support they need through grade-level teaming. Communication with parents has also improved through grade-level team planning. The California Department of Education recognized Bernice Ayer as a Distinguished School in 2001 and as one of California’s Schools to Watch™-Taking Center Stage in 2005.

John Glenn Middle School of International Studies, Desert Sands Unified School District, a 2004 Schools to Watch™-Taking Center Stage Model School
During the district’s professional development “August Buy-Back Days,” the school staff works on developing school wide rubrics and integrated lessons. For example, in 2005 the seventh-grade teachers created integrated language arts and science lessons.

At John Glenn, collaboration takes place every Tuesday from 12:30 p.m. to 2:25 p.m. A prep period and an instructional collaboration period are included in the schedule each day.


Related Links

Transportation issues

Data review to improve instruction

1Academic Achievement in the Middle Grades: What Does the Research Tell Us? (PDF; Outside Source) Atlanta, GA.: Southern Regional Education Board, 2003, 9.
2David Farbman and Claire Kaplan, Time for a Change: The Promise of Extended-Time Schools for Promoting Student Achievement (PDF; Outside Source). Boston: Massachusetts 2020, 2005, 12.

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