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Early Release Provides Time for Teacher Collaboration

January 16, 2019
The Essex Westford School District continues to grow with a focus on enhanced and expanded educational opportunities for all students. Starting this past fall the District initiated Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), a research-based practice whereby teachers are brought together under a set of facilitated protocol to discuss student learning each Tuesday afternoon.


PLCs offer an opportunity for teachers to share resources, strategies, and tools with colleagues, reflect on their own work to learn and grow, all while seeking better ways to achieve mutual goals and improved learning for all. Continuous, job-embedded learning for educators helps improve learning for students and with PLCs, effectiveness is driven by data to inform instruction and interventions.


This early release format is consistent with what many other districts in the region are currently taking part in, as the Champlain Valley School District and Burlington School District also have early release dates scheduled weekly throughout the year.


“All teachers do something really well and when we pool that knowledge, our students greatly benefit,” said Essex Middle School math teacher Karen Nee. “From lesson planning at grade levels to logical scope and sequence planning across disciplines and grade levels, to common assessments and analyzing student work; our students reap the benefits of multiple layers of expertise.”


PLC teams develop learning targets using the EWSD K-12 proficiencies and indicators to define what proficiency looks like at points throughout the year and to help develop common formative assessments.


After looking at student assessment data and student work, gaps in student learning are identified. This knowledge assists in the next stages of planning, implementing, reflecting, adjusting, and sharing instructional strategies to apply modifications to ensure success for all students.


You want to eliminate gaps when students get to high school by tightening up the curriculum along the way so that an eighth-grade science unit at ADL is essentially the same eighth-grade science unit at EMS,” said Essex Elementary School Principal Peter Farrell. “It may be taught differently in those different classrooms, but they are all looking at the same assessments to see if it’s working.”


With an eye towards equity for all students, PLCs aim to identify areas where students can be further supported and challenged.


“The PLCs provide a two-hour block and those chunks each Tuesday are like gold for our teachers,” added Farrell. “We have seen improvement in student achievement in this building in math and in reading already this year.”


Content specialists also meet monthly and while not formally designed as PLCs, the common district time gives these teachers, who often are the only person in their school teaching this content, the opportunity to meet across schools with other job-alike faculties.


“When you hear about schools in some of the toughest neighborhoods in the nation finding a way to help 90% or more of their students achieve standards, you can’t help but wonder how they do it? One answer came from a conference I attended in Georgia - form and maintain PLCs,” said Westford School humanities teacher David Goss.