Paving the way for Deep Learning with PLCs

At our school, learning is multidimensional. It involves developing deep conceptual understanding, high levels of interdisciplinary competency, and embarking on a reflective journey towards self-discovery in the context of contributing to a larger community.” – AES New Delhi Definition of Learning, 2o21.

Radical educators in the flesh. Picture of AES Team 7, fall 2021. Photo by Alan Rubin.

Introduction: So, for my COETAIL post this week on Learning Deeply, I had been toying with the idea of talking about the importance of building a schoolwide culture for deep learning. I even found the above picture of my amazing and incredible professional learning community at AES New Delhi – the team 7 teachers, to show you what thoughtful and forward-thinking educators look like.

Then, I looked at my Feedly and saw Danielle’s blog post from week 2, “A New Frontier“, and it was like she had been inside my mind. I thought, “Oh, man, I was going to write about the same thing! Synchronicity!” Then I got worried about writing my post in the way that I had intended since I was going to write about THE VERY SAME THING!!

Ultimately, I decided that a similar post topic was OK because we are talking about pedagogical shifts, and new approaches to teaching and learning, and all of this stuff is happening at the same time everywhere.

Plus, remember my old post “All Hail the Copycat!” Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And we are working on becoming masters of the re-mix here in COETAIL.

I’m getting a little philosophical and rambly, but the spread of big, important ideas sometimes occurs from the ground up. It’s grassroots, baby! The ideas arise spontaneously (or via prompting), by individuals and small groups, in different places around the world at approximately the same time.

And then, person by person, the tiny seeds of change gain momentum. So instead of one person doing something ahead of the curve in isolation, it’s whole communities and organizations syncing up and working together to create big shifts in the fabric of society.

Connected learners doing deep learning. Image by Ahmed Gad from Pixabay.

I’m thinking now about all of the powerful protests in support of climate action going on this week in response to the Glasgow Summit. But I’m also thinking about the technological revolution and the way that it has pushed educators forward into new frontiers. And I’d like to think of myself as one of the educators leading the way.

Anyways, all of this context and inner monologuing to say that I planned to talk about the power of learning communities this week. I wanted to discuss how my PLC is helping me and pushing me to implement deeper learning in my classroom. And even though Danielle talked about it, I’m going to talk about it a bit too. Because we are both a part of the movement. Along with everyone else out there fighting the good fight.

How does my school support deep learning?

Last year, my school formed several retreat teams to work on school-wide initiatives related to strategic planning. One of our school-wide areas of focus was “Learning for All”. A learning retreat team was commissioned to do some foundational work.

The learning retreat team came up with the following: a definition of learning, a vision for learning, and a set of five learning principles to guide our work in this area. These statements provide a framework for what learning could and should look like at our school moving forward. They have, at their core, a belief in the power of deep learning to transform pedagogy.

To see our school’s learning principles, definition, and vision, click here.

I’ve also added a few images below to show you the vision for learning, and what a few of the principles look like. You can see the definition of learning in the blockquote at the start of this post.

Vision for Deep Learning. Source: AES Learning Retreat Team slides 2021.

Learning Principle – Ownership – Source: AES Learning Retreat Team slides 2021.

Learning Principle – Purpose. Source: AES Learning Retreat Team Slides 2021.

In her article, Six Teacher Moves for Deeper Learning, Monica R. Martinez says:

“Given the social and economic world they will be entering, today’s students need much less passive rule-following and rote memorization, and much more guidance and support in becoming self-directed learners.  Schools should focus on helping students take responsibility for their own learning and the learning of others.”

I love this quote because it fits so nicely with the vision for learning that my school has laid out. If our job as educators is to prepare students for a complex and technologically rich future, then the ways in which we teach need to be centered around giving kids the skills and attitudes they need to be successful in that context.

Every other Wednesday, we meet in our PLCs to talk about learning at our school. The conversations range from discussions around UbD and unit planning to learning hypotheses to MTSS strategies to support all students. At the heart of these discussions is our learning definition, vision, and principles.

Here’s an example: My vertical EAL team met last week and talked about what learning looks like in our discipline. We spent a lot of time discussing how, in the past, we might have solely focused on teaching the English language, along with specific content-area knowledge and vocabulary.

But now, with deeper learning, we place equal focus on helping students understand their identity and the ways in which their identity is shaped by intersectionality. We also talk a lot about culture, and how to support students to find their way in a new culture (while still honoring their home culture). Plus, they are all third-culture kids, which comes with its own challenges and questions.

Here’s the visual we created to show what learning looks like in our discipline:

Reflections on the EAL program at AES. Created by the MS/HS EAL Dept., 2021.

So you can see how these rich discussions about what it is that an EAL teacher “does” are rooted in the beliefs that the New Pedagogy is the way forward and that it encompasses so much more than just helping kids learn how to read and write.

I loved this graphic from the National Research Council that shows what needs to be in place in a community for deeper learning to move from theory into practice. I think my school has started to really put the foundational pieces into place this year, and the excitement is palpable.

I feel lucky to be in a school that is doing so much work in this area. In a few of my previous schools, I sometimes felt like I was the only one embracing the new pedagogy. And it was hard for me to gain traction because I felt like I was on my own. The power of PLCs is that they provide a network of support for teachers who want to take creative risks, engage in difficult conversations, and embrace new ideas.

Oh! The word count is getting up there so I’ll stop for now. I remember clearly the tips from COETAIL course 3 that mentioned that blog posts should be short and punchy. I’ve failed in that regard but, hopefully, you’ve found my missive interesting and readable.

Final Thoughts: As I stated above, my school developed five learning principles last year. They are:

  • Ownership
  • Community
  • Wonder
  • Purpose
  • Diversity

Tell me, dear reader, which one do you think is most important, and why? Let me know in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “Paving the way for Deep Learning with PLCs

  1. Hello Megan

    Right in your introduction, I like the word “multidimensional” and the explanation associated with it. I also like that you put your team in the foreground.

    I also always find it difficult to find a beginning and then I can not stop and often have the feeling that the fear of digressing from the actual topic.

    It’s so nice when new ideas come up. I love to watch the children’s minds as they discover, to give rise to their joy.
    “Andthen the tiny seeds of person-to-person change gain momentum. So instead of one person doing something in isolation in front of the curve, entire communities and organizations synchronize and work together to bring about major changes in the fabric of society. ”
    Thank you for that.

    A very nice PowerPoint. It is great to meet regularly in the team to work on the development of the school. We do that too, even if it can be more regular and more productive with us.
    I still find it difficult to find my way in the new world of education. I am in favour of the new, but there are still many teachers who like to mourn the old one.
    What always stands out to me is the many educational offers and possibilities. We are still in the discovery and development phase.

    I can understand exactly when you talk about your old schools. In addition to the teachers, I always find it difficult to pick up the parents. But that’s a completely different story.

    I don’t think you failed at all and that you did it just right.

    Why! Why does it have to be one?!
    I would put wonder and community on one level, connect. Not only that they are beautiful words, no, I would put them at the top. I find diversity increasingly important, especially in the rapidly changing world, where I find the topic of fugitives very political at the moment. I am unsure of the word ownership. What “ownership” is meant by this? Maybe I see it differently.

    Thank you very much and keep up the good work 🙂


  2. I love that our minds were linked while we were writing our posts! That has been one of my very favourite things about COETAIL, the connection and discovery of colleagues on the same pedagogical shifting journey. Love. It.

    I also loved learning more about how your school is intentionally building their road to embrace the new pedagogies through collaboration, community, and powerful think-tanks. It seems like schools that make this type of thinking and communal learning a priority and a part of their identity, are definitely ones that are leading the way in shifting the world of educaiton. It seems like your school, and the community members that make it up, value the process of learning and becoming collaborative partners with each other and global communities. It is purposeful, intentional, and a being built together. I think these types of environmnets grow collaborators and change-makers, not just with students but with everyone a part of the community. It’s exciting to know their are schools forging ahead with breaking down some of the traditional school structures and being successful.

    Also, I want to explore the princple of wonder along with your community! What does that look like for AES? What role do your learners play in making that come to life?

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