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When Neil Chatelain’s 11th-grade U.S. History students enter his classroom at Carl Wunsche Sr. High School, they know what to do. The day’s activities are already planned out and highlighted on the wall, while a syllabus for the full semester – handed out the first day of class – gives students the long view. They know what’s expected, Chatelain said, and a big part of his job is keeping them on track and moving forward.
“Everything we do long term, when they see the long-term work, they’re like, ‘It’s almost like there was a plan,’” Chatelain said. “It’s just a running joke I have with them, so that they feel more at ease.”
That planning in Chatelain’s classes is no exception at Wunsche, where all of the teachers are working on the same page to maximize student learning and success. That collaboration is part of the school’s systems of Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs.
“It’s really about building the ownership across the whole campus,” said Wunsche Principal Dr. Andria Schur, “and establishing a sense of creative collaboration and shared responsibility for student success. Everybody owns a piece of this.”
Since her arrival at Wunsche in 2017, Schur has overhauled the school’s PLC system, and to good effect. After scoring an 81 (B) overall in the 2017-18 state accountability ratings, the campus saw its rating jump to an A for 2018-19, with a score of 90 out of 100. Schur said that several factors are at play, but that there’s no doubt the intensive collaboration between teachers has served the school well.
“I have some great teachers, and some great administrators as well, that can help push the work,” Schur said. “We really try to respect the teachers’ times together, and I think it has helped with our culture tremendously.”
PLCs not only take place among teachers of the same subjects but among all teachers in each of the school’s three academic towers. These cross-curricular meetings give teachers a chance to compare notes on students who might be struggling and need extra help. Underscoring these PLCs is regular attention to relevant student data to refine instruction.
“Having these overlapping layers of professional communities that focus on students not just in specific academic areas but also in their overall pathway has been incredibly helpful,” Schur said.
According to Spring ISD Chief of Curriculum and Instruction Khechara Bradford, successful PLC systems like Wunsche’s help demonstrate the power of a collaborative planning model that empowers teachers to respond to their students’ unique needs.
“At Wunsche, they do a great job of collaborating with each other around the content, which is so important,” Bradford said. “They also have a great focus on the learner, and you can see it just in the gains that they’ve made over the last year. They really are laser-focused – not just on the big picture with data and curriculum, but also on ensuring that every student is making progress.”
On the Wunsche campus, Schur and Chatelain both stressed that buy-in is important in making PLCs successful, and that mutual trust between team members will always make things go smoother.
“If you can leverage the power of the team,” Bradford said, “then that level of cross-pollination of ideas and collaboration, that’s really what ultimately benefits teachers in their profession and also our students in their learning.”