Professional Learning Communities Help Prepare Future Teachers, Enhance Success of EKU Students

Workshop photo

Five professional learning communities have been established at Eastern Kentucky University to better prepare future teachers in content knowledge and to enhance the success of EKU students.

In response to Senate Bill 1, which seeks to improve college and career readiness in Kentucky, five professional learning communities (one each in English, mathematics, social sciences, natural sciences and teacher education) are studying the new Common Core standards to determine how they relate to introductory general education classes, the University’s developmental program, and teacher preparation.

According to 2010 ACT data, only 37 percent of Kentucky high school students met college-ready expectations for reading, 52 percent for English, 19 percent for science, and 25 percent for college-level algebra. Senate Bill 1 seeks to reduce the remediation rates by 50 percent by 2014, and increase the college completion rates of students enrolled in one or more remedial classes by 3 percent annually through 2014.

Because the PLCs reflect a bottom-up rather than a top-down approach to attacking the problem, EKU officials are optimistic about the impact of what they have termed The Eastern Initiative. “We are building capacity,” said Dr. Dorie Combs, chair of EKU’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction. “We believe that people will support what they help create.”

The Initiative is housed in EKU’s Teaching & Learning Center, and Dr. Hal Blythe and Dr. Charlie Sweet, award-winning veteran professors and co-directors of the Center, have joined Combs and Dr. Ginni Fair, assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, to serve as project directors. Their leadership is critical, Combs said, because “we’re also changing how we teach.”

Each PLC meets every other week and, for assessment and accountability purposes, the PLC facilitators as a group meet with the project directors every three weeks. Within a year, Sweet indicated, the PLCs are expected to revise the syllabi of 15 courses relevant to SB1 and teacher preparation.   

It is expected that more than 100 EKU faculty and professional staff will be directly affected by the initiative in 2011, and that the trained faculty will influence their departmental peers to enhance student learning and success.                  

“We hope that this becomes like a virus, that we’ll be able through these PLCs to get this down to the faculty at large,” Blythe said. “If we can ‘infect’ the disciplines in these five areas, then it will become a common culture element.”

One unique aspect of EKU’s approach, Blythe noted, is that the PLCs are incorporating a “hybrid” approach, melding elements of both the Stiggins-DuFour K-12 (focusing on formative assessment data) and the Milt Cox/Miami of Ohio model (collaborative research review).

Another bonus is how well the goals of the Eastern Initiative mesh with EKU’s Quality Enhancement Plan, which calls on the University to develop informed, critical and creative thinkers who communicate effectively.

“There’s not anything we’re asking faculty to do that doesn’t line up with the QEP,” Combs said.

Blythe termed the Eastern Initiative “infinitely doable. It’s not pie-in-the-sky. We have set forth something that we can accomplish. We’ve set up a structure that’s believable, and we’ll have a tangible product by the end of the year. We’re well on our way now to accomplishing it.”

Published on March 01, 2011