Sacred Heart Primary School
- Number of Students: 360
- Percent eligible for Education Maintenance Allowance: 10%
- Percent of Limited English Proficient: 6%
- Percent of Special Education: 6%
- White: 91.95%
- Black: 0%
- Hispanic: 0.3%
- Asian: 3.05%
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 0.8%
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 0%
- Multiracial: 0%
- Other: 3.9%
How we created a successful PLC
By 2013 Sacred Heart had successfully implemented the Response to Intervention (RtI) framework into the school and the system was functioning highly. At this juncture school leaders and staff came to the conclusion that, in order to continue the journey, a logical step was to build on the work already being done by embedding Professional Learning Community (PLC) practices and philosophies into the school culture. The belief that all students can learn and the systems to support this belief were in place and the school felt it was well prepared for the challenges of becoming a PLC. In essence, we wanted to continue to grow and improve student outcomes and felt that the optimal way of achieving this was to become a PLC.
In 2014 a new Principal joined the staff and we reconfirmed our commitment to becoming a high functioning PLC. We embarked on the process of evolving our systems, procedures and approaches and actively engaged in re-aligning our vision and mission, restructuring our systems and creatively resourcing the change.
Throughout the early stages of our journey we focussed on developing a guiding coalition & road map to lead our work. We emphasised professional development and ensured that all staff were cognisant of our plans. We consciously worked towards building consensus while putting systems in place to build our fledgling PLC.
All conversations and decisions were focussed on student learning and the four critical questions of a PLC:
What do we want our students to learn?
How will we know they are learning?
How will we respond if they are not learning?
How will we respond if they already know it?
With this in mind the staff collaborated to develop a PLC vision, mission and collective commitments that were unique to and representative of our school.
During this time school leaders engaged in significant professional learning, sourced from within the school and the wider community, enabling them to provide the support, resources and information necessary to assist teachers to operate as effective Professional Learning Teams (PLTs). Professional reading and development was provided and leaders carefully guided teachers as they familiarised themselves with PLC concepts. Leadership concurrently realigned structural and administration protocols to support this work. The school’s Annual Action Plan was written to reflect PLC outcomes and PLTs actively engaged in learning to work together to achieve common goals. Staff agreed on norms and protocols to guide meetings and we ensured all were familiar with the PLC glossary of terms, all the while engaging in continual reflection and discussion around our current reality and a constant review of our roadmap.
Over the next year we progressively became more deeply immersed in the work and continued to develop our shared understandings. Team norms were consistently revised, behaviours clarified and protocols to guide us in working together were explored, including learning to lead difficult conversations. Leaders refined the organisation of staff to create more effective collaborative teams. Additional resources were dedicated to exploring the difference between collaboration, cooperation, collegiality and coordination and we put emphasis on developing our ability to trust each other professionally. Clearly defined role descriptions were written to be reflective of our PLC and we developed an understanding of the tight and loose expectations of staff and leaders.
While this was happening we embarked on a school wide process of unpacking the Victorian Curriculum to identify the essential content within. We developed Power Standards (minimum level of achievement for every child) and Targets (the skills and knowledge required to attain that level) in the area of Mathematics. This work continued for an extended period of time during which we constantly revisited, challenged and refined our thinking until we were satisfied that we had created a clearly articulated, well documented and aligned school curriculum that was guaranteed and viable from Prep to Grade Six.
At this stage we ascertained it was time to closely reexamine our goals and future direction. We refined our shared values and commitments, aligned these with the school’s Vision and Mission ensuring this highlighted the primary focus of our PLC, high levels of learning and success for all. All staff contributed to the development of a staff charter detailing the actions and behaviours emphasised in this document. The charter reinforced the need to know our students, the curriculum and to use data to monitor the effectiveness of our teaching.
We drew on the work of current educational researchers and incorporated their work into our practices, always through the lens of PLC with the three big ideas (Focus on Learning, Focus on Collaboration and Focus on Results) at the forefront of our thinking. The Leadership Team sourced and attended professional learning opportunities that were offered by leading educational authorities and researchers whose work we knew we could use to help us create the most successful PLC possible. These included Dylan Wiliam - Formative Assessment, Anthony Mohammed - Improving School Culture and Chris Weber - Instruction and Intervention.
The school hosted a workshop run by Tom Hierck on Improving Student Outcomes. The event was attended by over one hundred school leaders and staff from all across our district and all benefitted greatly from his expertise. Also, in our effort to ensure our professional learning was of the highest possible caliber, we employed the services of accredited Hawker Brownlow training associate Colin Sloper. Colin conducted a thorough review and provided us with a report which celebrated our many advancements and identified the next steps in our PLC journey.
Moving forward on our ever evolving, dynamic PLC path we are currently introducing English Learning Cycles. Our journey has led us to understand the value of learning by doing and the knowledge that the work is never done.
1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.
One of the first steps we took in our effort to better monitor student results was to develop learning cycles around our essential learnings. The consistent planning and delivery of these cycles enabled teachers to work interdependently to continually evaluate the effectiveness their teaching. At team meetings prior to beginning a cycle of teaching, targets identifying the specific skills and knowledge students needed in order to achieve the Power Standard were determined.This included developing a common understanding of prerequisite knowledge, steps to help those who were unsure and a pathway to extend those who already understood.
Pacing Guides were developed to ensure that sufficient time was allowed to enable students to achieve mastery of the standards. These guides were constantly adjusted in response to data and emphasised a focus on results rather than on covering content.
Proficiency scales reflective of the targets for each cycle were written and shared with students. These were in the form of ‘I can’ statements and provided students with a model of proficiency. The scales were used in classrooms to assist students to articulate what they wanted to do, to set realistic individual learning goals, to track their learning and to plan the next step they needed to take in order to reach their goals. Proficiency scales were also used as the basis of formative feedback from teachers to students and students to students.
In all team meetings emphasis was put on examining learning progress and teachers developed protocols to discuss and analyse data. Data was presented in a consistent format and shared openly to determine if the needs and goals of all students were being met throughout the cycles. The data was also used to give teachers insight into the learning of each student, the effectiveness of their teaching and what they needed to do to assist in the students’ continued learning. Teams developed consistent school wide ways to present and continually monitor progress before, during and after each cycle.
An integral part of this process included collaboratively developing Common Formative Assessments (CFATs). These were administered pre and post cycle and protocols were put in place to ensure CFATs were delivered and assessed consistently. Pre assessments were developed to align closely with the levels of proficiency expected and assessed the student's knowledge of essential skills, concepts and vocabulary needed to be successful in the upcoming cycle that had not yet been taught. Post assessments measured success.
Meetings were always held in a space where data from CFATs could be displayed and seen clearly by all. The data was collated by classroom teachers and put in a ‘traffic light’ format prior to the meeting so it was easy to read and interpret from the screen. While displayed student data was thoroughly analysed by the whole team and used to decide the best way to approach the current cycle and if targets and standards were being achieved. Post and pre CFAT data was also transferred to Learning Cycle planners. Students were grouped according to current levels of proficiency and teachers shared the responsibility of teaching the students and designing lessons that met their needs. Sometimes this entailed teaching in their own class, sometimes it meant the students were divided into proficiency (or flexible) learning groups across year levels and the most appropriate teacher to support that group worked with them. This process was repeated for each cycle of learning.
Teams wrote SMART goals for each cycle of learning based on the results of the pre-assessment. These were always focussed on making gains in student learning. The goal indicated the level of proficiency the team was aiming to achieve and, once in place, was used as a way of monitoring the success of the teaching and determining whether the cycle needed to be extended, revisited or if the team could confidently move on to the next cycle. The team linked goals to annual school wide goals as set out in the school’s annual action plan.
Mid cycle check ins (using a variety of formative assessment strategies such as exit passes and traffic light cups) were done mid cycle to ensure all were on track to achieve desired outcomes. Instruction was adjusted based on this information and may have included restructuring teaching groups, tasks or accessing support from a boost teacher. In addition to setting goals to ensure targeted teaching, teams we conscious of being engaged in professional conversation about best practice and approaches to learning prior to planning lessons for each cycle.
A common set of proformas were developed, records of conversations, decisions and actions were kept in documents created by the collaborative team at all stages of the cycle and made available to staff, including leadership, through the use of Google Drive.
As we became increasingly proficient at using Common Formative Assessment Tasks (CFATs) for ongoing and targeted assessment it became apparent that our approach to summative data required reviewing. The following schedule was set in order to ensure a balance between the use of formative and summative data:
Summative Assessments (NAPLAN, PAT tests) are administered in May and November respectively, on an annual basis. These will be used to determine student growth over a 12 month period and rank students within their cohort.
ROL, CAP, AIST/SWST, Text Levels, Writing and Maths Tests have dual purposes and are administered in February to inform learning and teaching (Formative). The same tests will be repeated in September to determine growth (Summative) and to enable a response during Term 4 if a student is deemed to be above or below the standard expected of them. This will also allow teachers to reflect on the effectiveness of their teaching over this period.
CFATS are used on an ongoing basis to determine the current level of understanding of each of our students, the effectiveness of our teaching and to inform learning tasks that will lead to improved student achievement.
All student data was stored using a software program and through the use of Google Drive which enabled results to be uploaded and accessed by staff.
2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.
As mentioned earlier, Sacred Heart has had the RtI framework operational within the school since 2011. The staff had a deep understanding of the principles of RtI and were cognisant of the approaches, systems and structures required to ensure all students learn at high levels. Due to being familiar with RtI, the concept of providing additional time and support in response to students’ learning needs was not new to teachers. The PLC process served to strengthen this practice and further embedded the need to focus on results in order to drive and differentiate teaching. In short, the school successfully combined PLC and RtI to create a robust, cohesive system of support for all students.
Highly experienced and skilled boost teachers and intervention teachers were employed and timetabled to provide additional instruction and support the core learning of classrooms. Their work was targeted towards the students of greatest need and involved both support and extension, as required by the final two of the four critical questions of a PLC; How will we respond if they are not learning? How will we respond if they already know it?
Using the PLC process teachers differentiated their time and support for students as they had the required learning data to do so. The school devoted considerable resources to its intervention programs and developed structures to ensure resources were coordinated to target and support students’ learning needs. These resources were timetabled to ensure they were targeted to the greatest needs and teachers were aware of when these resources were available to support them in their core learning program. Teachers were responsible for planning this extra support during core instruction thus ensuring each support was used to strengthen the class’ learning program.
Boost teachers attended team meetings where they assisted with the identification of students in need as determined by the data gathered through CFATs. They worked collaboratively with classroom teachers to plan for the provision of extra support and time. They became an additional human resource in classrooms to enable the formation of smaller and more targeted student groups and continued to do so until all students achieved proficiency in the learning cycle. This may have involved a few lessons or regular ongoing support to develop core skills. These human resources worked within classrooms and offered extra time and support for students and focussed on supporting them to learn the skills and knowledge associated with the current learning cycle.
Intervention teachers provided a range of well established, researched and evidenced based tier two and three supports for students. Student data was carefully tracked and monitored across the school and when results indicated they were in need students could be withdrawn from non-core instruction and received extra instructional time in key learning areas such as literacy and numeracy. Intervention teachers also had in place a range well established tier 3 interventions for implementation as needed.
3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.
To begin the work of building high performing interdependent teams, school wide timetables were designed that enabled teachers to meet during the contractual day, to collaborate and plan together. Classroom timetables were reviewed to ensure enough time was allocated to allow students to reach proficiency in core learning areas. Leadership roles were restructured and a leader worked closely with each team to guide and mentor their work. Protocols for effective communication were developed and school leadership made it clear through their words and actions that the work of Professional Learning Teams (PLTs) was of the highest priority.
In the initial phase of building high performing collaborative teams we focussed on understanding the true meaning of collaboration. Staff engaged in tasks and discussion aimed at developing the culture of professional respect and the sense of shared ownership required to work interdependently. The need to provide quality learning for our students and to continuously seek ways to improve and refine practices was reinforced along with the belief that all students can learn.
Meeting structures and timetables were created to enable teachers to meet weekly for extended periods of time. Two PLTs were established, Prep-Year 2 and Year 3-Year 6. Collaborative planning time during the contractual day was assured by specifically timetabling specialist lessons to release every member of each team from their classroom at the same time, for an hour once a week. A further hour was timetabled for teachers to meet with their year level partner teacher to plan and collaborate.
Roles and responsibilities within each team were clearly stated and a set of norms detailing the specific behaviours required of each team member were aligned with our school wide norms. Agreement to adhere to the norms was sought. A focus norm was chosen at the beginning of each meeting and this was referred to to ensure the meetings were as productive as possible. The degree of success in achieving the selected norm was reflected upon at the conclusion of each meeting. Protocols for breaches of the norms were established and implemented as necessary.
While we went about the work of building teams focussed on improved student outcomes, we were deliberate in our efforts to make the shift from teaching to learning and leaders consciously challenged staff to develop this mindset. We emphasised the concept of ‘our’ students and discouraged teachers from thinking in terms of ‘my’ students. Our teams ensured the same content was being delivered in each classroom and that structures were in place to enable each student to reach proficiency. Staff were encouraged to openly discuss their successes and failures, to ‘learn by doing’, to share this journey and learn from each other. As teams became more proficient at the work our PLT meetings developed and we began to meet for one and a half hours, with the time being divided between Mathematics and English.
PLC professional learning became an ongoing component of weekly staff meetings which were divided into two sections, administration and professional learning. Professional learning was facilitated by members of the leadership team and was focussed on PLC and always aimed at developing the knowledge and competencies of teachers with the view to improve student outcomes.
Student Achievement Data Summary
Prior to becoming a PLC Sacred Heart Primary School, Mildura enjoyed a position of relatively high achievement so did not begin its PLC journey from a deficit model. The decision was made to become a PLC to ensure that the high standard of learning we had attained not only continued but was built upon well into the future.
School wide summative data from 2014-2016, drawn from National Assessment Program- Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) and Teacher Assessment of Student Data (TASA) demonstrates stable results which are generally above state and national averages. Our aim is to achieve a gradual upward gradient of results in core curriculum areas and to horizontally expand the breadth our students’ knowledge and skill.
NAPLAN data demonstates that over a period of three years we have maintained an average of 79%-86% of our students achieving at or above state average and we are consistently performing at, above or well above national standards in all curriculum areas.
TASA data shows a steady gain in the attainment of progression point levels. Over the three year period in question every student in the school has achieved more than 12 months growth, 87% are performing at or above standard in core curriculum areas and the percentage of students achieving at this level has increased by up to 14%.
During the three years referred to we were undergoing a period of transition in an effort to develop clear and consistent school wide data gathering practices and formatting procedures. As a result the availability of PAT R & M data over this period of time is limited due to inconsistencies in administration and collation. We are currently developing procedures to ensure this particular form of assessment is delivered and recorded in a consistent format from this year onwards.
Please note that student achievement data documents are posted under the 'Resources' tab.