What does it mean to be a Model PLC at Work School?

Before becoming The Lane School's top administrator in 2017, Brandon Todd worked in the northwest suburbs at a "PLC" district. Those letters stand for professional learning community, a philosophy that emphasizes teacher collaboration to advance student performance.

"Collective teacher efficacy has such a huge impact because it goes beyond one lesson," Todd said. "We need to know the students by name and by need."

He informed his new colleagues that they too would be joining the PLC ranks.

"Starting off it's going to seem like a ton of work," Todd told them, "but you're going to see results, it's going to make your job easier and it's going to make the students grow beyond what you could even imagine."

This summer The Lane was one of 12 Illinois school recognized as a Model PLC at Work School by the educational group Solution Tree, rewarding three years of work leveraging teachers' strengths and partnership to support student achievement.

"Last year we were the only school in the district to achieve above 80 percent (on assessments) in both math and reading," Todd related. "That was a goal we were really striving for, and you can't get those numbers without having an intense knowledge of every student."

The Model PLC at Work School ethos revolves around four main questions, Todd articulated.

"What do want the students to learn? How do you know they learned it? What do you do if they don't learn it?

What do you do if they already know it?"

When scores are strong, teachers gain confidence in their methods and can carry them forward. When performance dips, additional questions are asked.

"Is it because the test wasn't good? Is it because the teaching needed to improve?" Todd said. "How do we get kids to that next spot?"

Todd told staff early on if the PLC approach didn't yield results, it would be dropped.

"This is year seven for me, and we've made huge steps, even during COVID," he said. "It's just professional practice that I've seen in action."

The school's enrollment has even increased during his tenure, lifting The Lane's student body from among the smallest to one of the largest in the district.

"When you succeed, people start to say, 'Hey, we'd like to be part of that,' " he said, noting that projections indicate even bigger classes ahead. "I love it because it means I get to hire more staff."

Celebrating the fruit of the teachers' efforts was gratifying.

"In the end, they're ones that are doing everything with the students. They're analyzing the data, they're supporting the students, they're in the room all day, every day with them."

While the recognition is nice, Todd said there's always room for improvement.

"My team is like, 'OK, Brandon, what do we need to do next?' " he related. "I'm not here to have a good school. I'm here to have a great school."

- by Ken Knutson

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean