St Mary's Catholic School Toukley

  1. PLC Story
  2. PLC Practices
  3. Achievement Data
  4. Awards
  5. Resources

Tell us how you created a successful PLC

Some years ago we read On Common Ground: The Power of Professional Learning Communities (DuFour et al., 2005).  It was the start of our PLC journey.  Consistently over the past 8 years, our staff has read numerous books and articles centred on the PLC at Work process (e.g. Revisiting Professional Learning Communities at Work: New Insights for Improving Schools; DuFour et al., 2008; Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work; DuFour et al., First, Second and Third editions, etc.).  Together with participating in multiple PLC Institutes, the readings have formed the groundwork for our school’s journey as a PLC at Work.  We (the staff) repeatedly put our learning into action.  We learn by doing.  Our actions are then continually adjusted as we drive forward in a constant cycle of review and reflection in which we, as a staff, continually refine our practices in light of our collective purpose: high levels of learning for all students.

Before the tenets of a PLC were established, our school’s classrooms operated as individual, autonomous dominions.  Pockets of excellence existed but a lack of clarity and cohesion were evident.  Teachers did their own thing.  Since then, together, the staff has been engaged in numerous professional learning sessions over many years which have resulted in us building a shared knowledge and understanding of the things that matter most – a focus on learning, a collaborative culture and results.  The ‘buy–in’ from staff has transformed our school’s way of working.   Our school is no longer an ‘educational lottery’ but a coherent team of learners always searching for ways to improve.

Our experience has taught us that weekly Grade Team Meetings are the most effective collaborative team structure.  We have deliberately structured time for teachers to meet regularly within the contractual day.  The weekly Grade Team Meetings allow teams time to meet for 1 hour per week for English and 1 hour every second week for Maths.  One of our learnings has been that the Grade Team Meetings needed to be weekly.  In earlier years, we met less frequently, and the subsequent impact on learning was not as strong as we would have liked.  Through our Grade Team Meetings we now have a shared ownership and responsibility for all students’ learning.

Our PLC journey has meant that we are continuously developing strong Tier 1 core instruction – building the capacity of teachers to ensure all students learn at high levels.  Put simply, our Grade Team Meetings’ purpose is to answer the 4 Critical Questions of Learning (DuFour, 2006).  Teachers use the syllabus/curriculum to identify what it is we want the students to learn.  Intensive planning, including writing/co-creating daily learning intentions, discussing a variety of teaching strategies that cater for the diverse needs of our learners and ‘point of need’ professional learning for teachers occur.  Each team sets and monitors SMART goals.  The progress and success of our SMART goals are shared and celebrated at both the Leadership Team and wider staff levels.  Grade teams have become astute at differentiating the learning.  If a student is already proficient, tasks are differentiated to challenge and extend them.  If a student does not learn, a scaffolded tier of interventions is available to help them ‘get it’ (acquire the learning).  Through Grade Team Meetings, Staff Meetings, Staff Development Days and ½ day Professional Learning sessions, the students’ learning is closely monitored.

Grade teams collaboratively set common formative assessments that serve as assessments both for and of learning.  Teams determine a pacing guide for units of work.  Teams collaboratively mark work, ensuring a shared understanding of what high levels of learning looks like.  We have determined that our Collective Purpose is high levels of learning for all students.  In being true to our collective purpose, our staff enjoys learning together.

Much work has been devoted to our staff having a shared understanding of the PLC at Work process and how it’s grounded in the 3 Big Ideas: learning, collaboration and results.  Repeatedly, as new staff join us, we revisit and review our PLC journey, ensuring new staff come to understand their responsibilities.  We depend on each other.  Such interdependence becomes the glue in our school.  Consequently, our Collective Commitments for Teachers are an integral part of our employment process.

Fundamental to the effectiveness of our collaborative structures is the clear presence of relational trust.  Such trust has been built through intentions, integrity, capabilities and results (Covey, 2006) and the alignment of our words and actions.  Early in the PLC journey we developed our principles of shared wisdom: “No one of us has all the wisdom.  Each one of us has a piece of the wisdom.”  Shared wisdom is integral to the collaborative culture we’ve intentionally built.

Parent engagement is also crucial in achieving our collective purpose.  We lead regular Parent Education Workshops which attract between 60-90 parents/carers on each occasion.  The workshops are centred on English (e.g. helping your child to read, strategies to help with your child’s spelling), Maths (e.g. strategies to help develop your child’s number skills) and Wellbeing (e.g. resilience).  Three Parent Teams have also been established: Mission, Learning and Teaching, Wellbeing.  Currently, a Parent Team is reviewing our Collective Commitments for Parents with the role of devising strategies for further strengthening them within our community.

In February 2016, our Principal was very fortunate in being able to visit both Mason Crest Elementary School (Fairfax County, Virginia) and Adlai Stevenson High School (Lincolnshire, Illinois).  The richness gathered through these visits and discussions with the schools’ leaders have helped ‘join the dots together’ in our journey as a PLC.

There is something very powerful and exciting about a team of people who are unified in their mission to help all students learn.  An incredible sense of purpose and fulfilment is present.  At our school, we have a moral imperative (Sergiovanni, 1992) to serve the needs of our students.  We are grateful to be in such a privileged position, able to help form the basis of success for our students’ future lives.  The PLC process has been life changing at our school.  We are certainly enjoying the ride.

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

Monitoring student learning on a timely basis

Our weekly Grade Team Meetings provide the collaborative structure for the ongoing monitoring of student learning.  Facilitated by either our Literacy Coach or Numeracy Coach, the English and Maths Grade Team Meetings are focused on the 4 Critical Questions of Learning:

   1.  What do we want our students to learn?

   2.  How will we know when our students have learned it?

   3.  How will we respond when some students don’t learn?

   4.  How will we extend and enrich the learning of those students who are  already proficient?

Daily learning intentions (learning goals) for English and Maths are collaboratively formed.  Success criteria that help students understand what learning they need to exhibit, in order to be proficient, is clarified.  Students’ learning is closely monitored through cyclical, ongoing assessments, e.g. co-constructed common formative assessments.  Weekly, in Grade Team Meetings, data from a range of assessments is analysed to determine which students need extra help and which students need to be challenged.  Teachers will then change instructional groups (e.g. guided reading groups) depending on the child’s needs.  Grade Teams set SMART goals based on essential learning outcomes and use accompanying assessments to reflect their team’s success in achieving such goals.  All SMART goals align with our School Improvement Plan (SIP).  The Grade Team Meetings serve as a means of ensuring that consistent, reliable assessment of student learning occurs.

2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.

Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning

The majority of extra support for students who do not learn occurs within the daily, designated English block (2 hours) and Maths block (1 hour).  Through Grade Team Meetings, teachers are equipped with differentiated tasks, tiered guided reading groups and a variety of strategies to ensure point of need learning for all students.  ‘At risk’ readers receive targeted instruction from their teacher every day.  Proficient readers only require 1-2 guided reading sessions per week.  When a student does not acquire specific learning, a scaffolded tier of interventions occurs.  When a child does not learn in a given period of time, Grade Team Meetings are used to ‘put the child on the table’.  The wisdom of the collaborative group discusses the child’s needs, providing suggestions for the classroom teacher.  If the child requires further intervention, they are assigned to a ‘Closing the Gap’ small group (literacy or numeracy) of students (3-5 children) for targeted intervention and support.  We also have Extending Mathematical Understanding (EMU) intervention groups for early years and middle years’ students (3 children per group).  EMU groups meet daily for 20 weeks (30 minutes per day) of extra Maths instruction.  Students receiving interventions do not miss any new classroom instruction.  A further tier of support exists in the formal referral of a student to our Learning Support Team.  Such referrals may result in expertise external to the school being sought, e.g. paediatrician, psychologist etc.  Open communication with parents is inherently important throughout the above processes.

On a needs basis, Literacy and Numeracy coaches mentor individual teachers.  The coaches work alongside teachers in their classrooms, modelling strategies, providing small group instruction for struggling students or teaching the larger group while the classroom teacher provides students with intervention.  Our coaches lead regular professional learning for teachers.

 In both English and Maths, intentional questioning helps challenge students at their point of proximal development.  Open ended Mathematical tasks are also used to help students reach their learning potential.

3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.

Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students

The role of our Leadership Team is to build the collective capacity of teachers to ensure high levels of learning for all students.  The means by which we fulfil this role is through our collaborative Grade Team Meetings.  Each grade sets its own team norms.  The norms are a blueprint for how teachers act in the meetings.  Though led by the Literacy or Numeracy Coach, the wisdom of the group is critical in the ongoing problem solving that is required.  No one of us has the expertise to adequately serve the learning needs of all their students.  Grade teams have become interdependent.  To be effective, we rely on each other’s wisdom and contributions.

Collaboratively, our Grade Teams plan daily learning intentions; develop SMART goals, collecting evidence to determine their effectiveness; intentionally group students in order to provide ‘point of need’ learning; create common formative assessments, together analysing the resulting data; and importantly, learn together.  ½ day professional learning sessions in English and Maths for all stages are also timetabled during the school year, enabling teams of teachers to learn with and from each other.

Staff Meetings and Staff Development Days are also used to build the capacity of teachers.

In our team structures, personal credibility has become the foundation of all trust.  Teams focus on the issue and not the person.  We’ve learnt that together, we can be successful but in isolation we cannot.

All teams examine their effectiveness in light of our school’s collective purpose: high levels of learning for all students.

Achievement Data

                                                NAPLAN DATA

Year 5 NAPLAN 2011

Year 5 NAPLAN 2012

 

State

Like Schools

Our School

 

State

Like Schools

Our School

Reading

496.1

485.3

534.7

Reading

500.1

492.7

538.6

Writing

492.7

497.2

516.1

Writing

486.2

491.3

509.1

G+P

509.1

504.6

539.9

G+P

503.7

494.4

544.8

Numeracy

500.6

487.5

540.4

Numeracy

498.8

484.8

525.3

 

Year 5 NAPLAN 2013

Year 5 NAPLAN 2014

 

State

Like Schools

Our School

 

State

Like Schools

Our School

Reading

507.0

501.0

537.4

Reading

504.7

495.3

517.8

Writing

484.1

492.1

507.6

Writing

474.1

480.4

494.8

G+P

508.4

504.3

538.8

G+P

512.4

508.4

524.8

Numeracy

495.1

481.7

529.4

Numeracy

494.3

484.5

513.0

 

Year 5 NAPLAN 2015

Year 5 NAPLAN 2016

 

State

Like Schools

Our School

 

State

Like Schools

Our School

Reading

502.0

495.5

520.6

Reading

502.9

501.4

515.3

Writing

483.5

489.6

497.8

Writing

477.6

481.4

485.9

G+P

509.1

505.1

528.0

G+P

512.2

505.0

516.9

Numeracy

498.5

490.4

522.1

Numeracy

499.4

492.3

509.2

 

 

Year 3 NAPLAN 2011

Year 3 NAPLAN 2012

 

State

Like Schools

Our School

 

State

Like Schools

Our School

Reading

423.8

417.4

462.2

Reading

426.9

419.0

447.6

Writing

429.2

434.8

464.2

Writing

425.0

430.5

466.0

G+P

430.8

424.7

450.0

G+P

434.5

432.7

457.0

Numeracy

406.6

397.3

437.9

Numeracy

405.7

396.5

434.9

 

Year 3 NAPLAN 2013

Year 3 NAPLAN 2014

 

State

Like Schools

Our School

 

State

Like Schools

Our School

Reading

424.8

417.8

445.3

Reading

423.3

414.0

429.8

Writing

422.7

433.1

463.3

Writing

409.0

415.4

434.8

G+P

437.0

432.3

467.1

G+P

436.0

433.9

456.0

Numeracy

404.6

394.2

410.7

Numeracy

407.9

399.1

423.7

 

Year 3 NAPLAN 2015

Year 3 NAPLAN 2016

 

State

Like Schools

Our School

 

State

Like Schools

Our School

Reading

430.3

427.0

430.6

Reading

429.0

427.2

426.8

Writing

423.1

431.2

454.0

Writing

424.1

429.0

434.0

G+P

439.7

438.6

452.7

G+P

441.5

443.3

449.2

Numeracy

402.5

397.6

401.3

Numeracy

406.7

397.2

401.9

N.B. G+P means Grammar and Punctuation

We are a low Socio-Economic-Status (SES) school.  Repeatedly, our NAPLAN results have exceeded those of the State (NSW) and Statistically Like Schools.

NAPLAN GROWTH DATA

NAPLAN growth data from 2014-2016 as compared to our district:

 

District

Our School

Reading

79.8

83.1

Spelling

73.4

84.2

G+P

61.6

59.6

Numeracy

83.8

86.1

 

OBSERVATION SURVEY DATA

Observation Survey data (Year 1 students) for the years 2015-2017 displays substantial improvement:

At Risk Students

 

No.

% of Cohort

2015

18

24%

2016

11

17%

2017

3

4%

 N.B.  The Observation Survey is a multi-faceted literacy assessment administered to Year 1 students.

 

 READING GROWTH DATA (SMART Goals)

Our growth in the reading levels of students in who commenced in Kinder (2014), as compared to the district set benchmark levels reflects substantial improvement:

Under Benchmark Readers

 

No.

% of Cohort

Kinder, 2014

30

37%

 Year 1, 2015

12

16%

Year 2, 2016

5

7%

 

ACHIEVEMENT DATA SUMMARY

We believe that our school’s data reflects consistently strong results over an extended period of time.  Years 3 and 5 NAPLAN results are indicative of this.  We are also pleased that in the period 2014-present there has been a significant reduction in the number of students in Kinder, Year 1 and Year 2 who are below benchmark in their literacy skills.

 

STAFF PERCEPTION

In a March 2017 survey of staff, when asked how our journey as a PLC helps them in their roles as teachers, responses included:

 “It helps us come together as a collaborative group and have common goals that benefit the children’s learning.” (Year 3 Teacher) 

 “It helps me as I get to work collaboratively with my grade partners – formulating common learning sequences, assessments and having an understanding of all students in our grade.”  (Year 4 Teacher)

 “It allows me to interact with my grade partners in a formal setting to plan point of need teaching for the students in my class.” (Year 2 Teacher)

 “It allows us to share with, and learn from colleagues.”  (Specialist Teacher)

 “It helps me (and us, as a collective) to formulate strategies for effective learning experiences for my students.”  (Year 6 Teacher)

 “……. to take ownership of the students as a grade.”  (Year 4 Teacher)

 “It enables me to provide high levels of learning for all students and, through shared wisdom, to confidently cater for individual learning needs.”  (Kinder Teacher)

 “Collaborating with grade partners and literacy coaches assists when I am unsure of where to go to next with certain students.”  (Year 1 Teacher)

 “It is great to be able to bounce ideas off each other, ensuring our focus is on moving the students’ learning forward.”  (Year 5 Teacher)

 “It helps me plan and design lessons that are at the point of need of my students.” (Year 2 Teacher)

 “Improved lessons due to collaborative approach and the drawing on of many people’s knowledge = better learning.”  (Year 3 Teacher)

 

To date, we have not applied for any awards.

Within our system (Broken Bay Diocese), we are recognised as a high functioning school whose results have been consistently strong.

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