I am fortunate to live in a community with active support for those of us who work with young children. With a state university, community college and tech school in town, there are numerous professionals teaching classes and offering workshops. But there is nothing like a professional learning community made up of members that work together.
PLC’s are not new to the K-12 world of educators but they are rare for early childhood teachers. Most early childhood teachers work alone in sites with only 2-3 staff members. They might attend workshops or conferences but don’t have real opportunities to confer with colleagues on a regular basis. Our PLC, made up of teachers in Early Head Start, Head Start and teachers from our child care partners, come together once a month for a 4 hour session of learning. It is an incredible opportunity for real learning and work to happen but it takes effort on several fronts to make it happen – and be a worthwhile enterprise.
Today was a great example of good work. This is the second year of embedding an early childhood class into the session so those of us who need credits can get them. The class this year is Language and Literacy Development led by a community college instructor who is also a local kindergarten teacher. Not only is the class material aligned closely with the work that our agency is doing with David Matteson, but the sessions are also designed to support the work we do across age groups and with families.
Figuring out how to do this has not been without growing pains. This group of early childhood teachers includes people with and without college educations, people who have been in the field for a quarter of a century and those who are brand new graduates. Some work closely with families through home visits, some are in daycare centers and others are in preschool classroom settings. For some, this format of being in a “class” instead of a “training,” is new; they are not used to seeing themselves as “community of learners” and often need encouragement to connect to the content and make it relevant to their work.
I can identify some key points that have been helpful in making these sessions more successful:
#1 The administrators have worked hard to identify key teaching points for each session.
#2 These administrators have also taken on the risk of being transparent about their own learning this year, i.e. at one session, an administrator spoke about how she was taking a class and what it felt like to be learning new things; at another session, an administrator modeled how she was practicing drawing stories for children.
#3 The session incorporates different ways of grouping the participants. Sometimes we are in “expert groups:” teachers are mixed up by what age they teach, where they work, etc. At other sessions, participants are grouped with their “home groups:” the team of teachers they work with. There are also break out groups for those who work with the 0-3 year olds.
#4 Reflection, reflection, reflection! This is done through pair-share experiences, written responses, quick post-it notes reflections. The team that coordinates these sessions uses these to guide their planning for the next sessions.
A four-hour class is a long session to participate in. I like to have time to connect with other teachers as well as clear expectations for how I am to participate and what the goals are for my learning. It helps me to have an agenda and reflection sheets that I have to turn in so that I stay focused on the issues at hand and process the material that is being presented. All of those were in place today, so even though I am tired, I feel like it was all worth while.