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Creating Intentional Collaboration
Laine Williams

Over the last two years, Altamont's Professional Learning Cohorts (PLCs) have become an ideal opportunity to create community and authentic collaboration between faculty. Co-facilitated by Rob Dominguez andJoAnna Laney, this year-long program provides intentional professional development and growth on specific topics. Providing a structured program that gives time to discuss and brainstorm ideas creates meaningful and long-lasting effects for students.

This year, the PLC topics were instructional classroom design and assessment. Participating faculty included Alex Melonas, Pattie Bank, Nadia Barajas, Katherine Berdy, Peter Rosborough, Lia Gerety, Niko Tsivourakis, Andrew Nelson, Eva Arellano and Laura Ottaviani-Chacón. This voluntary program extends over all grade levels and across all disciplines.

In the instructional classroom design group, projects ranged from a World War II podcast to interacting with students from Madrid to create a seven-day trip itinerary to creating a year-long plan on how to live in France. These practical projects resonated with both students and faculty alike. According to Sra. Barajas, "It was very rewarding to see them use the language they are learning in a real context with a real audience and a purpose."

In the living-in-France scenario, "students felt empowered when offered the choice of topic. They connected more deeply with it because it was their choice," said Mr. Rosborough. Mr. Dominguez discovered a similar situation. "My biggest takeaway is that learning in a way that prepares students for real-world experiences is the most impactful route to keeping them engaged, curious, and energized," he said.

The assessment group looked at what authentic assessment means. For some faculty, that meant revising existing assessments. Other faculty completely reworked their assessments, allowing their students to choose what parts they wanted to complete. Ms. O-C wrote twice as many math problems as needed for an assessment. The students could choose which two out of four problems at a minimum that they wanted to complete. If they completed more, she graded all the work and chose the best two problems to count toward the grade.

Mr. T's English assessment used an interpretation exercise that utilized photography to express personality traits. This assessment was submitted and chosen as a presentation at a national middle school conference this summer. Mr. T and Ms. Gillespie, who helped strengthen the art component, co-presented the assessment at the conference. For Sra. Arellano, the biggest takeaway was that "it is possible to create rigorous, stress-free assessments where students naturally apply their second language in a real-world situation."

Overall, the faculty value the PLCs because of the opportunities for collaboration and partnership with other colleagues. According to Ms. O-C, "my favorite part of this project was the give-and-take conversations with my colleagues. The PLC gave us set times, with the same group of people, so our conversations could continue and evolve throughout the year."

Even in a difficult year, PLCs provided an important outlet for our faculty. "Amid scheduling difficulties with virtual learning, the growth and congeniality still happened. It was powerful to see," said Ms. Laney. As this program continues to organically evolve, PLCs will continue to be a primary way Altamont grows as a community.

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