In the spring of 2021, each of the seven schools in the Sheridan School District was selected by the Arkansas Department of Education to participate in the inaugural Professional Learning Community at Work Regional Network. A total of 59 schools statewide were selected through a competitive application process.

That training is now underway as the SSD begins the three-year program, according to Jerry Vaughn, interim Director of Teaching and Learning for the Sheridan School District. The district has received approximately $84,000 in grants to be used toward the program.

A professional learning community, or PLC, is a group of educators who meet regularly in small groups where members share expertise and experiences. They work collaboratively to improve teaching skills and, subsequently, the academic performance of students. The focus of a PLC is not simply to ensure that students are taught, but to ensure they learn. There is a shift from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning, for both the teacher and the student. Educators are also taught to hold themselves accountable for the results.

“We’ve had PLC training in the Sheridan School District through the years, but this is taking a more in-depth look at the process,” said Alisa Gray, Director of Federal Programs and Curriculum for the Sheridan School District.

According to Gray, there are four questions that drive the work of a PLC:

1.     What do we want our students to know and be able to do?

2.    How will we know if each student has learned it?

3.    How will we respond when some students do not learn it?

4.    How will we extend the learning for students who have demonstrated proficiency?

“Our journey toward becoming a Professional Learning Community will streamline the work of SHS teachers to ensure all students learn at high levels,” said Sheridan High School Principal Jason Burks. “Educational research over the past 20 years has shown that implementing PLC practices is the best roadmap to becoming a high-performing school. As we continue this work, we will be more equipped to provide effective student intervention driven by data and teacher collaboration. We are excited about the impact our Professional Learning Community will have on student achievement at SHS.” 

The PLC at Work Regional Network is built on the same foundational practices necessary to create a PLC at Work school, according to the Arkansas Department of Education. Each school’s participation in the network includes personal coaching sessions, event registrations, resources and extended support from Solution Tree, a leading professional development company, as well as the ADE.

“The assistance we are receiving through the PLC Network will provide support for collaborative teams and assist with clarifying team processes,” said East End Elementary School Principal Vickie Easley. “Our goal is to refine our collaborative practice to directly impact student achievement.”

The Arkansas Department of Education Division of Elementary and Secondary Education will support schools in becoming PLCs through professional development and partnerships with Arkansas practitioners. This three-year process, which includes seven days of network professional development each year, will guide schools in transforming their culture to improve student academic achievement, according to the ADE. Several teachers and administrators with the Sheridan School District will attend the seven-day annual PLC training at the Dawson Co-op in Arkadelphia.

Additionally, schools will receive individualized support from Arkansas practitioners who have demonstrated success in implementing the PLC Model in their local school districts. A trainer will come to SSD schools for 20 days of on-site instruction.

The following is the specific professional development focus for each year of the process:

  • Year One: Building capacity by creating a guiding coalition to lead the work.
  • Year Two: Utilizing data from rigorous assessments to guide instruction.
  • Year Three: Creating a system of responding to student learning through intervention and enrichment.

“Ultimately, we believe our participation in the PLC process will help us empower our students to become lifelong learners who are responsible, contributing citizens – and that mirrors our mission at the Sheridan School District,” said Sheridan School District Superintendent Jerrod Williams. “Additionally, this will be an outstanding tool for our teachers to develop their leadership potential and enhance their abilities as educators.”