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Renowned expert adds to Professional Learning Community work in Cherry Creek

When it comes to gauging a student's academic progress, data can play a critical role.

That data can come in a wide spectrum of different forms, from statewide assessments to input from an individual teacher during a single class. It all makes for a massive amount of numbers and figures that can easily be overwhelming.

"Often times we think of data as 'The Big D' – that would be the ACT, the PARC Assessment, back in the day the CSAP or the TCAP," said Mary Shay, Director of Professional Learning for the Cherry Creek School District. "There's also the small data. That could be an interim assessment that a group of teachers offers to students, or formative assessments that happen on a regular basis in classrooms."

A fusion of all of this data is necessary in creating a clear picture of a student's status, and bringing that information together depends on close collaborations between teachers and administrators.

Dr. Thomas Many, an accomplished scholar, educator and administrator based in Colorado, detailed the importance of shared data in a Professional Learning Community, or PLC, during a presentation held Feb. 29 at the Student Achievement Resource Center. Many's work blends the perspectives of educators and administrators on the front lines of education with the latest in academic research.

"This goes in to how to implement PLCs at each and every level," Many said, referring to the philosophy that stresses collaboration between teachers, administrators and specialists. "Best practices are best practices, no matter what."

Many's presentation was about more than mere theory. Teachers and administrators from 34 Cherry Creek schools working with the district's Office of Professional Learning to implement the PLC model were on hand at SARC to learn from Many's extensive scholarly research. During the daylong workshop, these Cherry Creek employees worked to build knowledge they could bring back to their own schools.

The presentation was just a part of much larger movement in the district, one that's set to reach more and more schools in the future. Thanks to financial support from the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation, the Office of Professional Learning has been able to fund two PLC cohorts at 34 schools since last January. They've finalized plans to add a third cohort next year; Many is set to lead more sessions for CCSD PLC members over the summer.

The funding from the Foundation aligns with its basic mission, which is to support initiatives that impact all CCSD students, invests in innovation and builds partnerships with the community.

At SARC, Cherry Creek PLC members worked in breakout groups and received firsthand input from Many. They strove to understand just how data – in all its forms – can make the work of collaboration more effective.

"Today is really about having teachers understand using formative common assessments to best guide their instruction and their practices in the classroom," Shay said. "It's having teachers work together as teams to look at student data and to plan accordingly."

That work aligns with the larger mission of PLCs, Shay added.

"Teachers can't work in isolation anymore," she said. "We know now that teachers working in collaborative teams support student achievement. That collaborative piece is really foundational."

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