PLC: The Catalyst for Change at Eastside Elementary
The Arkansas Department of Education and Solution Tree have established a partnership to develop and expand the Professional Learning Communities at Work® process within select schools. These schools will serve as working laboratories of the PLC at Work process, conducting action research and sharing best practices with other schools throughout the state. Mandi Dunlap is the principal of Eastside Elementary in Greenbrier, Arkansas. Her school was selected to be in the first cohort of this partnership.
Change and education go hand in hand. As Principal of Eastside Elementary, I can attest to the positive change from the two years as a PLC pilot school partnering with Solution Tree and Arkansas Department of Education. President Obama stated, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” This quote rings true for my staff, because they have truly embraced the process. If you were to ask an Eastside team member, they would say change has taken place by our work becoming more clear and focused.
Last year, we became clear on what it took to become a PLC and began making strides to achieve it. We wrote our mission and vision, created common formative assessments (CFAs), and developed units of study. Also, the guiding coalition began to take on more leadership.
This year, we finished crafting our staff commitments. These commitments were a true collaborative effort that took over a year and a half. We wanted to ensure all staff members voices were heard. All of the work we have done at Eastside this year is linked to one of these commitments.
Eastside Staff Commitment 1: We commit to intentionally seek and share best practices with colleagues.
- Through CFAs, teachers began to share students. Following the CFA being given, teams analyzed data by student and by standard. The teacher that had the most success intervened with the students that struggled the most. Third, fourth, and fifth grade are departmentalized, so we have been strategic with vertical teams meeting to discuss content and assist one another creating formative assessments. These teams are seeing essential standards link up through the grades and understanding how to ensure a guaranteed and viable curriculum.
- School counselor Hogg stated, “To see every teacher in the building working together has changed the way we look at “our” students. All teams have strengthened this year due to a better understanding of the process and being intentional.” Second-grade teacher McNew added, “My team and I have a focused planning process and have created many CFAs to help our students reach learning targets.”
- Teachers have been observing one another. Teachers have voluntarily gone to other classrooms during their prep time to help co-teach a lesson. Recently, our third-grade math teacher co-taught a first-grade math lesson.
- We conduct lesson studies with Solution Tree associates Mrs. Jacqueline Heller and Dr. Tashana Howse. This has been beneficial to plan a lesson, try it with students, and debrief. After completing this and gaining confidence, teachers are eager to try this in their classroom.
Working as a team
- Working collaboratively is not something that comes naturally. I had one staff member share her team’s growth in this area. Kindergarten teacher Isom shared, “My team did not plan together. I didn’t trust my teammates enough, and we did not have a good relationship. This process has helped me to work with my team in a more collaborative way. We are sharing ideas, interventions, and centers. I am a very competitive person by nature, and I used to be in competition with them because I wanted to be better. Now, I want us to be better!”
Eastside Staff Commitment 2: We commit to building-wide collaboration to keep our work student-focused.
Collaborating around essential standards
- In the summer of 2018, the staff selected essential standards for K–5 literacy and 3–5 math with the assistance of Solution Tree associates Kim Bailey and Jacquie Heller. Although we had worked for a year prior, we did not develop essentials right away. Once we had all teachers in the room, the staff was able to collaborate to make sound decisions. After using these standards this year, teachers are eager to improve them. During this year, we began the process of working on K–2 math standards also.
- We have a 30-minute morning block when students receive intervention or enrichment. Most of the interventions taking place are Tier 3. This is a building-wide effort with every staff member having a group. First-grade teacher Newton noted, “I no longer think of my class as my sole responsibility. I realize we are all in this together and are working as a team to help each child.”
Tier 2 intervention time
- This was an element of our day that didn’t exist until this year. We noticed it was difficult to build in time to intervene with students after CFAs. Following the first semester, we devoted time to Tier 2 interventions in each grade twice a week.
Team meeting agenda
- Last year, I began to shift to the guiding coalition creating the agenda for team meetings. I realized having them construct their agenda outside of the meeting without their colleagues was not beneficial, so this year it is a norm to allow five minutes at the end of each meeting to develop the agenda for the next week together.
Eastside Staff Commitment 3: We commit to using data and evidence to improve student learning
- Kindergarten teacher Isom said, “We are using assessments to tell us specifics about students. Since we know our students, we can plan interventions based on what they need and not based off our assumptions.”
- Third-grade teacher Robertson shared, “I have used data to create small group interventions and to identify weak skills according to each student’s needs. I analyze CFAs with the intent of informing my future instruction.”
- Looking over the data of students receiving interventions, we have seen tremendous growth on end-of-year MAP assessments with kindergarten through second grade. Our second-grade students receiving intervention showed more growth than the students not receiving intervention (see Appendix A). Comparing students receiving interventions last year that met MAP reading benchmarks and students receiving interventions this year, all grades grew and second grade actually doubled their effectiveness (See Appendix B). About half of the students receiving PROWL interventions met their MAP reading benchmark this year (see Appendix C).
Eastside Staff Commitment 4: We commit to respecting all students and meeting their diverse needs: academic, social, and emotional.
Meeting students’ academic needs
- Prior to the PLC pilot, we had a designated 30-minute time for interventions called PROWL. This worked for interventions, but we wanted to add enrichment. Last year, we added kindergarten and first-grade enrichment groups. We now have all students receiving either interventions or enrichment. Our enrichment groups consist of STEAM, school newspaper, literature circles, brainteasers, and utilizing the computer lab for students. We have older students assisting kindergarten and first-grade enrichment. The staff has done an amazing job to make this a seamless process and provide engaging activities.
Meeting students’ social and emotional needs
- RTI has helped us see that we need to reach all kids, even beyond academics. During Tier 2 intervention time, our counselor works with groups on issues such as motivation or anger. The schedule allows her to not interrupt the instruction of an essential standard.
- We also work on relationships with students. Each Friday, grade levels focus on relationship building. This Friday, teachers and students were all smiles playing card games, dying eggs, and playing kickball.
Eastside Staff Commitment 5: We commit to setting goals to ensure continued student success.
Staff goal setting
- Last year, we set goals for end-of-year data. We have now made setting goals for essential standards part of our process. Just last week, we had a class of third graders that hit 91 percent on their CFA. They were so proud of themselves that we had to celebrate with dancing.
- When discussing goal setting, fifth-grade literacy teacher Krogman stated, “Setting goals helps me to have a crystal-clear vision. My students have a crystal-clear vision, and success will undoubtedly follow. The data and the success of Eastside is undeniable.”
Goal setting transferring to students
- Our student data notebooks have been a tool where we have seen the benefits of student self-efficacy. We have one student that carried a datasheet around for weeks to lunch, bus, and hallway. He wanted to make sure everyone knew about his growth.
- We were unsure when we started goal setting if kindergarten would understand. This year proved that they can set goals and achieve them! In Mrs. Graham’s kindergarten class, students were preparing to line up to take their MAP reading assessment in the computer lab. All of the sudden, students starting getting their data binders off the shelf. The teacher tried to stop them since they had looked at them yesterday. The kids wanted to look at them again. She allowed it and kids starting to talk about what their data was at Christmas and what their goal was for this test. This class alone grew 39 percentage points in reading and 500 total points!
Setting SMART Goals for PROWL
- With the help of Dave LaRose, our Solution Tree RTI coach, we discussed how the staff knew why kids were in PROWL, but the kids did not. We started being more clear with them on why they were receiving interventions and setting a SMART goal that they needed to master during intervention time.
Eastside Staff Commitment 6: We commit to engaging parents in their child’s education and making them feel welcome in our school.
- Through surveys, parents asked for ways to assist their child at home. This year, we began to use Facebook Live for each grade level to have a five-minute video to share strategies for parents to assist their child. Some of these videos have included decoding words, reading for meaning, and solving math problems involving fractions.
- We have student-led conferences twice a year. Students use their data binders to show parents their growth and their goals.
Making parents welcome
A parent survey we administered showed the following:
- 98.5 percent of parents feel welcome when they visit.
- 97 percent of parents would recommend Eastside to their friends.
- 96 percent of parents say that we are living our school mission daily.
Some parent comments included:
- The overall atmosphere here at Eastside is very welcoming. The staff seems to be very thoughtful of their interactions with students and parents. We can really see the staff’s focus on making sure our children learn and get the interventions they need.
- A parent survey we administered showed the following:
Eastside Staff Commitment 7: We commit to celebrating all success, large or small.
Celebrating part of the culture
- My staff and students were doing a great job. I was not recognizing that enough, but now a part of our culture includes having regular celebrations. We now have student PRIDE winners. Teachers fill out a PRIDE ticket and the student is recognized. We recognize teachers with two main awards weekly coinciding with our “Greatest School” theme. We recognize a team for their collaboration with the Big Top Team. Staff members recognize one another for those living out our mission by awarding them The Ringleader.
- During our PROWL assembly, we recognized some individual students that had grown during their interventions. Seeing those kids’ faces light up when their name was called will always be a part of our story!
- After hearing Tim Brown, a Solution Tree associate, share his attendance song, the guiding coalition created one for Eastside. Teachers sing the song when their whole class is present. We sang it building-wide last week due to great attendance by all grades.
- In our team meeting room, we have an assessment wall. We use emoji sticky notes to place on students that have grown due to interventions.
In conclusion, becoming a PLC was the exact catalyst we needed to make great change occur for students! Third-grade teacher Franklin said, “Solution Tree has changed the trajectory of my career and my thought process. The knowledge our staff has received has made us strong teacher teams, content teams, and as a school overall. We are all more open to change and get down to those four questions.” Fifth-grade teacher Krogman stated, “I appreciate all the team and staff time because it is an opportunity to grow as professionals and celebrate our students and each other.”
We are blessed to be the leaders of an amazing team of professionals at Eastside Elementary. They are dedicated to collaborating to learn best practices to create success for each individual child. We look forward to continuing our growth as a PLC as we work together to change kids’ lives!