Montezuma High School

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The Montezuma High School PLC Story

Why did your district decide to implement collaborative teams?

Montezuma High School began using professional learning communities (PLCs) in 2010–11 as a part of our Iowa Core Curriculum implementation plan. Secondary teachers (grades 7–12) were organized around content areas and would meet once a week during the school day to vertically and horizontally discuss the Iowa Core. Towards the end of the 2010–11, we realized the power of collaboration to influence the culture, climate, and practice of teaching and to improve student results. Teachers were asking for more school day time to collaborate and a more comprehensive process.

In the summer of 2011, we sent a group of administrators and staff to a Solution Tree PLC at Work™ Institute. Teachers who attended stated it was one of the most powerful professional events they had experienced. The DuFour PLC model gave us a vision of what collaboration is and how to get there. We implemented a DuFour PLC model beginning with the 2011–12 school year. The PLC process for our school focuses on four main questions: (1) What is it that we want our students to know and be able to do as a result of this unit or class?; (2) How will students demonstrate that they have acquired the essential knowledge and skills?; (3) How will we intervene for students who struggle and enrich the learning for students who are proficient?; and (4) How can we use the evidence of student learning to improve our individual and collective professional practice?

What was the driving force for implementing PLCs?

The driving force for implementing PLCs in our school was improving formative and summative student results. Our district-level summative results were generally inconsistent over time and not keeping up with a growth trend line. Our classroom formative results were generally not aligned with grade-level standards. We knew that staff and students were working hard at improving achievement, but the results just weren’t there. The PLC at Work™ Institute showed us that there were better ways to work at improving our results, and it all starts with how we work together.

How are your teams structured? (i.e., grade level, content area, etc.)

At the high school level, our PLC teams are organized around content. We have: math, English, science, social studies, fine arts (music and art), physical education, at-risk, and vocational (business, agriculture, and industrial technology). Special education teachers are a part of the math and English groups.

How have you made time in your daily schedule for collaborative teams to meet?

Providing adequate time certainly has proven to be a challenge, but it was extremely important to find time during the day to ensure positive PLC implementation. We do not believe we would be as consistent or productive with our implementation if PLC meeting times occurred outside of the school day or only on professional development days.

 

The high school has a modified block schedule. 1st and 5th periods are 45- or 55-minute periods that meet every day. Periods 2, 3, and 4 are 85-minute periods that meet every other day. The teams are spread throughout the day so that not more than one team meets during one period. For instance, math meets 1st period every day, and science meets 4B every other day.

Many schools ask about how we get the time to have teachers meet during the day. First, we went from an eight-period day to a modified block with eight periods over two days. Then we took study halls out of the day so teachers didn’t have to supervise a study hall. Teachers were required to teach six out of eight classes in the old system with one prep period. We tried to keep the same theme in the eight periods over two days. Teachers still teach six class periods, and instead of study hall supervision, they meet in a PLC group. Teachers get a prep period every other day or every day depending on the period of the day. It took some change in thinking of what we wanted to have happen at Montezuma, but the teachers at Montezuma embraced the change and have enjoyed the collaboration time.

In addition to PLC time during the day, all staff are encouraged to plan in multi-level teams on a vertical basis when necessary. This could be part of a day or an entire day for which substitutes are used. For example, there have been team meetings this year of K–12 language arts and math respectively.

Thinking back to when the PLC process just started, what were your first steps?

The most important thing we did to start this process was not spending too much time trying to get all staff to buy in. After the PLC institute, we had a core group of teachers ready to lead with complete administrative support. Some staff were not initially prepared or convinced that collaborating with others about these four questions was the best use of their time. We plodded ahead anyway. The administration outlined that teachers were going to collaborate and that they were going to collaborate in a certain way. However, the teachers had quite a bit of autonomy in determining what the collaboration looked like and how it actually worked.

Another important part of the process is that the each PLC was required to incorporate specific requirements into their work. Each group needed group norms, to use an agenda each meeting, and to establish a SMART goal (specific, measurable, attainable, results orientated, and time bound).

What are the greatest challenges of implementing PLCs for your school?

It is a challenge to develop groups for elective/non-core teachers such as vocational, fine arts, physical education, and counselors. Their work and student success is not easily defined as improving math, reading, or science, and there is usually only one person teaching in these areas. While a challenge, combining these teachers into productive PLCs does work. It takes a different perspective to see what they might have in common as teachers and how they can share collaboratively together.

Another challenge is developing meeting time during the school day. We felt that it was important to build the time into the school day. Each principal has had to be creative and strategic about staff assignments and schedules to make this happen, but it has been worth it.

If you were to start this process over, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently and why?

Knowing what we now know now, we don’t think we would do much different except start earlier, like years earlier. Becoming a PLC school is a process. Success has to build upon itself and just doesn’t happen because teachers are meeting and talking. Teachers need to meet and talk about the right things in the right way and then take action.

The best driver of systemic improvement has been the development of an overall district goal. Our goal for 2014–15 school year is: 85% of all students will meet the end-of-year RIT grade-level expectations on spring MAP (Measurement of Academic Progress) assessment in reading, math, and science. The district goal has led to a tighter alignment of building-level and PLC goals and has focused teachers’ efforts. It has been a very good way to hold all aspects of improvement accountable.

What advice do you have for a school that is just beginning this journey?

Our advice to a school just beginning this journey is get started. Don’t wait, don’t just dabble in the process, jump in, and get started. Use resources from Solution Tree and others to define the right work and what to do, but get started.

Do you have teacher leaders?

We have teacher leaders as a part of our PLC process. These are not paid positions but positions that a PLC group has given to one of its members or someone the principal has asked to be the leader of the group. The leaders facilitate their respective PLC meetings and meet on a weekly basis with the principal to discuss common group and implementation issues. Some groups prefer to rotate the leadership of their groups, and other groups stick with the same leader.

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

At Montezuma High School, we monitor student learning in the following manner:

  • We have a standards-based grading system. Grades are based on a student's performance related to a specific standard being taught in a unit. Teachers have reviewed their standards from either the Common Core or developed "Got to Knows" in a non-core area such agriculture, business, and social studies. This lesson is developed around what we call a unit scale.
  • The unit scale is developed by the teacher and gives the students and parents the standards and criteria of achievement. We use a 4-point unit scale based on Bloom's Revised Taxonomy. For example, 2.0 is "recall and understand," 3.0 is "analyze," and a 4.0 is "create and extend the learning." For each unit, the teacher gives this information to the students and to parents. The communication of expectations is important because then there is no surprise on the summative assessment.
  • Before the summative assessment, teachers will develop formative assessments for each standard throughout the unit. Students have several chances to prove mastery on these formative assessments. If the student does poorly on the first formative, the student can review, have a reteach, and take another formative to prove learning has taken place. This happens on all standards in the unit so teachers have a good understanding of what each student in their class knows and does not know before a summative assessment.

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

The system of interventions for Montezuma High School is:

  • Based on the principles of Mike Mattos and Solution Tree RTI at Work™ Institute presenters. We have one hour each day designated for students to get extra help or mandatory help. Students check in with an advisor for accountability and stamp checks (teacher names). Students have planners, and they are required to show the advisor their planner. The stamps from teachers are used to require students to come to that teacher's room for extra help. If a student does not have a stamp, then he or she can go to open rooms for guided study hall or computer time.
  • Guided study hall isn't always for extra help from the teacher. This time is for the student who refuses to do the work and needs a little encouragement from a teacher that keeps the pressure on to get it done too.
  • Teachers may also refer a student to the RTI team. The RTI team consists of the principal, counselor, at-risk coordinator, and school-within-a-school coordinator. The team meets with the teacher to determine the steps of stamping, calling home, and what is the area of RTI for this student. The two areas are skill deficiency or F.O.C.U.S. (Forgetful, Off-task, Capable, Unmotivated Students). F.O.C.U.S means students are not getting work done because they refuse for some reason. The teacher and the RTI team come up with interventions or supports for the student during the school day. Students are never taken out of a core class, but sometimes exploratory (junior high) or electives (high school) classes are used as well as before-school and after-school time.

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

  

We have found that in order to build capacity with your teachers.  It came down to four items for success: (1) time within the teaching day; (2) specific goals with an action plan; (3) useable data for teachers; and (4) teacher ownership.

In order to build the capacity for our PLC teams, the first lesson learned was the teachers needed time during the school day.  At the PLC institutes, we heard many times that teacher needed to work during the school day if a school wanted the PLC process to work.  This was a non-negotiable part of our new schedule. When the teachers saw that they were getting time during their workday to work as a team, they felt like it was a system and not another thing added on to their already busy day.

The second lesson in building teacher capacity to work as a team was setting goals and move toward attaining these goals.  We had so much data that was never used to improve our teaching.  We just kept doing what we did last year and expecting different results with a different group of students.  It took some time to find the right data, but once we did the efforts of our teachers were that of a team.  We had a goal that we could ALL move towards and pull together towards.

The third way we learned to become high performing team was to set action plans which aligned with our goals.  We decided to use NWEA assessment Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) for both summative measurement of our goals and formatively for checks along the way.  We used MAP because it is in direct alignment with our school curriculum and is untimed.  We give the MAP test three times per year (fall, winter, and spring).  With spring being our summative assessment.  In the fall and winter, we use this as a formative assessment to see where our students are at on the end of the year progress levels.  Teachers then use this data to find out exactly which student or students are on track or below the level.  In using this data, the process of our PLC teams working as a high performing collaborative team to ensure ALL students are being taught the skills needed to get them to the level needed to meet the goal.

Lastly, our teachers are highly invloved in the implementation, monitoring and decisions regarding our school improvement efforts. We do not have a formal teacher leadership program at this time but all our teachers are leaders and act like leaders within their classrooms, amongst their peers and with administration. 

 NWEA MAP Data: Percentage of student meeting end-of-year RIT expectations

READING

 2013

 2014

 2105

7th

  70

  58

  84

8th

  53

  91

  68

9th

  67

  68

  85

10th

  62

  88

  87

11th

  63

  89

  92

       

MATH

2013

 2014

 2105

7th

 70

 58

  76

8th

 65 

 76

  71

9th

 67

 71

  80

10th 

 71

 76

  81

11th

 68

 86

  83

       

SCIENCE

2013

 2014

 2105

7th 

 75

  71

  84

8th 

 55

  84

  83

9th

 63

  89

  86

10th

 79

  96

  87

11th

 68

  92

  88

Iowa Assessment Results - Percentage of student proficient (state of IA results in parentheses if available)

               

READING

 

     

7TH

8TH

11TH

2015

       

82

51

79

2104

       

59

74

83

2013

 

     

59(74)

 74(74)

 83(78)

 

MATH       

       

7TH

8TH

11TH

2015

       

87

61

83

2014

       

81

79

98

2013

 

     

80(83) 

81(75)

 92(83)

SCIENCE      

 

     

7TH

8TH

11TH

2015

       

82

76

88

2104

       

68

85

90

2013

 

     

79

85(83) 

90(79)

 

Montezuma Schools has been featured by Area Education Agency (AEA) 267 in a series of professional development videos on how to get started as a PLC.

Montezuma High School has been recongized by U.S. News & World Report at the bronze level of Best High Schools in Iowa for 2014–15.

Montezuma Schools was recognized as a Model PLC District by Solution Tree in 2014. 

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