Early release

When Durango School District 9-R implemented its Professional Learning Communities in 2007, there was no small amount of outcry from parents whose work days would be affected by the abridged school day the program spawned. That was certainly a valid criticism, but the district – and many others across the country – insisted time for teachers to gather and strategize on how to be more effective in the classroom was essential for improving student achievement. The question became when to do it, and the answer for the first five years was on Fridays. Now, it is Monday. Inconvenience aside, it makes sense.

PLCs, as Professional Learning Communities are known in the education lexicon, are defined by their beholder. For 9-R, the concept is: “a team of teachers who get together at least once a week to analyze how well teaching strategies and curriculum are working, how well individual students are learning what they need to learn and to generate ideas on how to improve each student’s performance.”

As it turned out, utterly unsurprisingly, Friday afternoons were not the most effective time to undertake such intensive strategy sessions. At the end of a long week in the classroom, teachers were not at their most energetic in terms of generating new ideas, nor was the time properly calibrated to implement those ideas in a timely fashion – a critical component of PLCs’ effectiveness. Mondays are just the reverse. Teachers are presumably not worn out after the weekend and, after the collaboration time, can get straight to work improving student performance Tuesday mornings. There is no longer an intervening weekend to slow the educational process.

Further, the inconvenience to parents is ultimately the same, regardless of which day it is administered. While Friday afternoons allowed families to begin their weekends earlier, that presumes a work-day flexibility that not all parents enjoy. For those whose presence is required at a workplace, it is really of little consequence whether additional child care demands are levied Fridays or Mondays. And if the inconvenience is balanced by improved educational outcomes, as Superintendent Dan Snowberger claims, it is defensible by 9-R. After all, that is the district’s raison d’etre.

There is, perhaps, a need for some deeper explanation of the data upon which Snowberger is basing his decision to continue the PLC program. The district cites improved scores on the state TCAP test as well as the ACT college entrance exam as testament to the PLCs’ efficacy, saying in an announcement last week that the improvements, “could not have been achieved without this critical time.” While the improved scores are an unmitigated good, correlation is not causation. Nevertheless, there is no arguable position – aside from inconvenience to families – for ending the PLCs.

Given that, Mondays are the appropriate day to schedule collaboration time for teachers. Beginning the week with a plan to focus on improving outcomes makes sense: The rest of the week can then be spent implementing that plan. And students can enjoy both an eased re-entry into the school week, followed by four full days of focused education informed by collaboration among their teachers. Snowberger and 9-R made the right decision.

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