PL-I Didn’t Learn This In College!

February 3, 2022

A Coach’s Perspective On The Professional Learning with Impact (PLI) Project By Sarah Bombick with an introduction from Teresa Lien

The Danielson Group (DG) is partnering with Learning Forward in a U.S. Department of Education study with the American Institute for Research. The project is called, “Professional Learning with Impact” (PLI) and schools in the study are implementing a system to synchronize professional learning communities and coaching. The Framework for Teaching (FFT) serves as the anchor for instructional language within PLI to advance student learning.

This. 2022. The past two years. If there was a college course called Teaching in a Pandemic 101, I must have missed it.  

Teaching the last few years has been hard, very hard. Teachers, along with every other staff member in the building, are facing new challenges and wearing new hats every day. We’ve all gone to school and were prepared to wear the “teacher hat”. However, we didn’t go to school for the many other hats that we find ourselves wearing— including but not limited to: accountant, mentor, nurse, referee, counselor, therapist, janitor, parent, comedian, detective, event-planner, entrepreneur, cheerleader and the list goes on. On top of those, we definitely weren’t fitted for a teacher-during-a-pandemic hat.  Teachers are constantly spinning in different directions.  And I’m not even one of the heroes that is constantly spinning – I’m just a coach, cheering them on from the sidelines.

The challenges we are facing are most often out of our control. We can’t change the situation, so we must focus on how we react to it. I try to live by the mantra, “You grow through what you go through.” I look at everything as a learning opportunity. And teaching in a pandemic is definitely a learning opportunity. In order to survive as an educator in 2022, being open to new learning is crucial.

In our district, we have teams of teachers that are using Professional Learning with Impact (PLI) to guide new learning. Through our work with PLI, we have been able to focus our energy on effectively gathering, analyzing, and responding to student data. In our school, utilizing student data to drive instruction has long been the expectation. However, when we thought about how we were going to respond to that data, that is where our new learning took place.  

For example, this year our team set goals for fluency growth in reading and math. The PLI Framework helped to guide our learning in how to reach those goals – it helped us to build the plane that we are now learning to fly. To increase fluency, we focused on understanding the Science of Reading, researching strategies to increase multiplication fluency in math, and determining how to apply the learning we’d gained to our daily instruction. We worked together in weekly meetings, we worked independently, and we continued to share our learnings with each other each week. 

Another part of our learning focused on increasing intellectual engagement. As a team, we took steps to learn what intellectual engagement looked like in a reading and a math fluency lesson. After working collaboratively, we used PLI to guide us in implementing our learnings. Through coaching sessions, we discussed application of new learning strategies and what we might see happening with students during a lesson. Using the KASAB (Knowledge, Attitudes, Skills, Aspirations and Behaviors) Framework, we were able to learn about teacher needs and determine our next steps. After applying these strategies, our team used reflective conversations in order to guide our next phases in our continuous learning cycle. As a coach, the time I get to spend each month with my PLI coach is a bright spot on my cluttered calendar. She pushes my thinking and helps to guide my new learnings, as I am supporting our teachers through our growth together.

And now, I want to bring you back to this. Teaching in 2022. Teaching in a pandemic. We weren’t trained in college on what to do when a student or teacher has to quarantine or how to teach through a computer. But it is because of the struggles that we’re facing – and our participation in programs like PLI – that we’re also learning how to react and showing tremendous growth. PLI took us from simply gathering data to leveraging data to learn, grow, and increase our impact on students. While each day is a challenge, when you see 100% of your students progressing or the excited smile of a student (and the tears of joy from his mother), you know you’re doing something right. The guidance of PLI has supported our teachers, and in turn, but most importantly, our students, in discovering, applying, and analyzing new learning. While we don’t know when, or if, we will get back to what teaching was like before 2020, we do know that we will continue to grow through what we’re going through.

Sarah Bombick (Clarksville-Montgomery School District, TN) is one of the PLI coaches who leads a team of teachers through the PLI stages and 1:1 Coaching. Through the Danielson Group (DG), Sarah receives monthly coaching and attends monthly PLI Professional Learning Communities to support her leadership. We’re excited to share Sarah’s thoughts this month about teaching in 2022 and how participating in and leading PLI within her school has catalyzed learning and growth for both teachers and students.