Taroona High School

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

Knowing that Professional Learning Communities cannot be built overnight, they cannot be built by mandate,  they cannot be imposed against the will of the participants and above all else they cannot be fostered without high levels of trust, professionalism and a school culture and ethos that values both the learner and learning, in 2009 Taroona High School began its successful and ongoing transformational journey from a good school to nationally recognised  school catering to the diverse needs of 21st century learners. This is the story of that ongoing journey of building professional learning communities with an unwavering focus on collective responsibility, collaboration, innovation and capacity building and the cultural and structural shifts necessary to move the focus of staff to learning rather than just teaching.

To build a case for change in 2009 the whole staff, firstly in small discussion groups and finally as a whole staff  looked at the single question: “What is our moral purpose as a school? “ .  Having identified “successful learning for all -  students, staff and parents” as the underpinning core business of the school, the school  undertook an extensive review using external change management consultants to see how current practice aligned with this identified purpose. All staff, including, teaching, support, administrative and ancillary staff, a significant proportion of parents and approximately 10% of students were interviewed for 1 hour.  All students and parents were surveyed and encouraged to put submissions to the school for consideration. Questions were asked about the school, the good, bad and ugly!  People were asked if they identified with the moral purpose identified. Teaching staff were asked to write down their personal educational values and philosophy. The consultants using all the data at hand, student achievement data, school climate data, community perception data and the qualitative and quantitative data gained from the interviews and surveys prepared a report for feedback to staff at the beginning of 2010.  A detailed  data landscape was presented to staff that painted a picture of the schools operations and standing in the minds of staff, students and parents. More telling comments by staff using direct quotes but kept anonymous  (except comments related to the Principal, about whom they had been asked specifically) were presented.  Among them: “There is no teamwork in this school, nobody wants to work with me!”- from several staff members.  “Staff are lazy in this school I just sit at my desk looking out the window most of the time, I already know the stuff!” -  from a student. “I don’t think teachers really care when my son fails, they just blame him and tell him to work harder.” - from a parent.  In short the picture was one of the perception of a high performing school but in reality there were high levels of complacency and vast room for improvement. It was decided by staff that their needed to be a significant shift in the school culture from one focused on the school as a workplace for teachers to teach to a learning organisation with a focus on learners and learning.

The senior staff then worked as a PLC, asking the questions; What does the evidence say about teaching and learning?  How are we addressing the learning needs of ALL students?  What do we need to do in order to meet the learning needs of all staff and students?  What steps need to be taken to transform the school into a 21st Century learning organisation?  Using the data and through extensive dialogue a key set of values were identified. Using a SWOT analysis specific strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities were identified from the data.  Areas of concern were only tagged for action when they appeared in more than one data set or in more than one group of people. This information formed the basis for the next step, building on the schools strengths and identifying  courses of action to address concerns identified. The whole school staff then operated as a large PLC tasked with:

Clarifying a school vision statement: “To be a leading centre for innovation, creativity and excellence in teaching and learning.

Articulating a new school mission: “To enrich lives through learning.”

The values, the vision and mission statements articulated a strategic direction for the transformation of the school from a good school into a leading 21st century learning organisation. This goal became the foundation stone for the work of PLCs. The staff identified 7 perspectives as key areas for inquiry by smaller PLC’s these general areas were: collaboration, communication, staff professional development, student voice, curriculum organisation and delivery, the use of evidence, building capacity and future proofing the school.

These focus areas then became the work of the first round of PLCs.  All school staff were asked to identify which of the above areas they wanted to work in.  Participation in at least one PLC was mandated for all staff.  The PLCs were facilitated in all cases by a senior member of staff. The PLC were initially called Strategic Action Teams. These PLCs were given 10 weeks to complete their research, looking at world best practice and leading edge educational research. They answered the questions: What is it we expect student to learn? What structural and cultural changes need to be made to facilitate student and staff learning and ensure success?  What will be the milestones against we will measure our success?   How will we build the capacity within the school community to both facilitate the changes recommended and ensure they are sustainable?  At the end of 10 weeks each PLC made a detailed report to the whole school with recommendations for action.  The recommendation of these PLCs morphed into the following strategic action focii for the schools (Details attached)

  1. Know Every Students Story
  2. Develop Effective Systems for Learning and Communication
  3. Gather and Use Information
  4. Develop and Support Innovative Practice
  5. Focus on Staff Learning
  6. Building Team Capacity
  7. Future Focus

These recommendations from PLCs were wide ranging but in summary led to the following structural and cultural changes:

  • The school timetable was rewritten to facilitate a differentiated curriculum better catering to the learning needs of all students. Structures were implemented to guarantee that where-ever possible no teacher in any semester would teach more than approximately 75 students or three classes to enable greater staff focus on individual student learning needs.

  • The corporate ( teachers contracted time) week was restructured to create a weekly 3 hour professional learning block when all staff would attend and a 2 hour meeting time when individual PLCs could meet within corporate time.

  • PLCs were formed in both learning areas (across the whole school) and in grades to ensure that both the individual welfare of each student as well as their academic growth was at the forefront of staff discussion.  All teaching staff are members of 2 PLCs.  The learning area PLCs were responsible for the questions: What is it we expect students to learn? (Learning intentions, scope and sequence ). How will we know if they are successful? (Assessment) and What will we do when they aren’t successful? (Inteventions). The grade based PLCs are the first level of behavioural intervention asking the questions:  How can we support all learners in the grade?  Which students need either short time or long term support from either their home group teacher, the grade co-ordinator or specialist staff. How can we work with parents or other community members to support students in the grade?

Whole school PLCs were formed:

  1. Senior Staff – renamed to the Leadership and Strategic Review TeamOffice Staff  - Tasked with efficiently and effectively supporting the work of teaching staff.
  2. Student Support Team – To support students through the development of individual learning plans for all students identified by Grade Teams as in need of intervention.
  3. Ancillary staff -  Meet weekly to discuss how they can support the teaching staff in achieving their goal of success for all students,

As result of this work where in the initial words of many staff members; “There is no collaboration in this school, nobody wants to work with me.” To a school where structured collaboration is central to the way the school works. The school is working to provide a 21st century curriculum while ensuring that every student is not only given the opportunity to succeed but when success is not achieved that the school responds in a timely and effective manner.  Student courses are now designed to take account of prior learning, extension and enrichment is embedded in the daily delivery and organisation of the learning program.

In 2012 The Principal and several members of staff attended a PLC@Work Institute in Melbourne, this was the catalyst for greater emphasis within 'learning area' PLCs on the four driving questions: What is it we expect students to learn? How will we know if they are successful? What will we do when they arn't successful? and What will we do if they already know it?  At present staff are working on the construction of interventions that meet the learning needs of ALL students. Taroona High Schools' journey to create a collaborative culture spans the last 6 years.  As this journey has evolved the insights of Richard and Rebecca Dufour into the structure and operation of PLCs has become increasingly important and is the focus for the work of grade and subject based collaborative planning teams.

A number of data sets are provided to staff, and all staff have been trained in the analysis and use of data. Evidence based practice is a central tenant of the school. Extensive knowledge about prior learning is used to inform planning and design the most appropriate curriculum for students. The emphasis at all times is on assessment ‘as’, ‘of’ and ‘for’ learning. Learning intentions are clearly displayed in classrooms. The curriculum is differentiated and the learning is personalised.

 

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

 Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

Student learning is monitored on many levels at Taroona.  Collaborative Learning Area Teams LAT’s work on a weekly basis for 2 hours to identify core curriculum outcomes,  to look at data related to students learning, and to proactively plan relevant learning experiences for students based on this data. At the beginning of each semester (6 months) LATS review, and modify if necessary, the scope and sequence of content and skills to be developed during the semester, they co-construct learning tools and aids and ensure that there is both coherence and consistency in the curriculum from grades 7 to 10.  

All Taroona teachers have been trained in the analysis of evidence as a guide to their professional practice and are provided with longitudinal data about all students they teach in the areas of literacy and numeracy. They are also provided with a web-based toolkit to assist with the effective use of data.  Individual teachers study the previous assessment data for all students;  NAPLAN data (National Benchmarking data in literacy and numeracy) and previous assessments against the National Curriculum in Mathematics. English, Science, History and Wellbeing.  This data is longitudinal from Grade 1 so teachers are able to plan accordingly.  Qualitative data in areas of attitudes, dispositions and behaviour as recorded by previous teachers and parents is also considered. LATs  ensure that learning outcomes in grade 10 provide the academic requirements for study in senior secondary college, and work to ensure that the prior knowledge, skills and understanding of all students entering the school informs their learning program. The school conducts an extensive transition program for students entering the school. This program ensures students needs and aspirations are well understood by teachers before the student arrives in their class. Parent and input as a data set is of critical importance in the placement of students in class groupings and in identifying and articulating any special learning needs thatneed to be catered for by their new teachers..

On a 6 weekly basis staff in their LATS work through a professional learning cycle of  PLAN – ACT – OBSERVE – REFLECT.  During the PLAN stage staff work in their LATs to clearly articulate and document the learning intentions of the next unit of work, they address the question;” What is it we expect students to learn and how do we communicate this intention to students?  They construct rubrics to clearly articulate how students will be assessed, both quantitatively and qualitatively using a variety of common formative assessment tools. These rubrics encourage self-regulation and self-review on behalf of students who are encouraged to ask themselves;” What do I need to do in order to be successful?”. Students are encouraged to peer coach each other through the comparison of their work samples. LATs write common assessment tasks to answer the question; “How will we know that students have been successful?  ” and design common assessment tasks. During the ACT stage teachers deliver the agreed learning program and talk about their pedagogy; “What is working, what is not.”  What do I need to do as a teacher to improve the quality of my teaching? ”.  During the OBSERVE stage teachers collect formative assessments to aid in the personalisation of learning and differentiation of the curriculum.  They ask the questions;” Have the learning intentions been achieved by each student? ie Has the student achieved a “C” award“ against the appropriate National Curriculum Standard. (In Australia a “C” means “Has meet all the requirements of the grade appropriate standard.)  What intervention are necessary to assist those students who are struggling with the content and/or concepts being taught. What lateral extension is most appropriate for those students who have successfully meet the standard in order for them to move their grade to a “B” or “A”. 

During the REFLECT stage teachers review their success or other-wise in ensuring all students were successful in achieving the learning outcomes intended. They compare class results and identify areas for ongoing professional development, for pedagogical improvement or content adjustment.  This informs teacher who next teach the unit of work.

Teachers are encouraged to share assessed work samples with colleagues in other schools, both formally and informally, as an aid to moderation. The aim being to ensure consistency in learning outcomes across schools as well as within schools.  At times grade level formative common assessment tasks are administered in learning areas across more than one school to provide teachers with a degree of quality assurance, staff then meet with work samples to build their understanding of “What meets the standard? ”.

 

 

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 first level of intervention lies within the structural organisation of the school.  Built around the strategic focus of "you can't teach a student if you don't now them" teachers are asked to build a comprehensive picture of each student's past learning experience and to identify potential areas where the students might struggle or need special consideration.  The timetable schedules  in 1 hour of Advisory Time each week, a time when students can seek assistance or just work individually.  Pastoral Care teachers assist students with their organisation and work with students to ‘catchup’ or extend their learning.  In this time students are encouraged to develop their ability to self-regulate and identify how they might improve their learning outcomes.   An important contributor to  this process is the nature of reporting in the school.  Students receive both formative and summative reports.  Formal formative reports are issued approximately halfway through a course  and provide a “at this point in time” indicative progress assessment and written future focus comment from each of their teachers which details areas on which the student should focus their effort in coming weeks.  Students then work with their parents and staff to plan to proactively address issues identified by their teachers.  In the Junior School (Grade 7 and 8) in core areas (Maths, English and Science) the timetable is blocked to facilitate student movement and the re-organization of classes.  Teacher nominate “no-new content weeks” where student groups are constructed to cater for individual needs. Remediation, extension, project based learning opportunities and a variety of other learning opportunities are provide to groups of students identified by the LATs during their REFLECT phase.

In the senior school the students are offered a diverse range learning opportunities catering to individual preference. For example the school offers many Science courses; Human Science, Physical Sciences, Marine Science, STEM among others. In English offering include; English Literature, English Studies and English Communication.  Each of these courses offers a different pathway to the same outcome a result against the Australian National Curriculum in Science and English.  This highly differentiated curriculum enables students to pursue their passions.

The school established a Student Support Team consisting of The Principal, Assistant Principal (Student Welfare), all Grade coordinators, School Psychologist, Social Worker, Leader of the Learning Centre, and other specialist as required.  This team meets for at least 2 hours weekly to discuss high needs students referred by with Grade Teams or Learning Area Teams.  These teams refer those students who for a variety of reasons, both a lack of will or a lack of skill, who are presenting with learning difficulties that are inhibiting their success at school.

LATs review in depth the learning and needs of those students who were unsuccessful. ie did not achieve at least a “D” (marginally below the standard) and who may need referral to specialist support services.

For all of these students a case conference involving all subject teachers, their pastoral care teacher, grade coordinator, appropriate specialist staff  and parents is held to co-construct an individual learning plan (ILP)for the student.  This plan details all interventions that aim to ensure the student succeeds in the future. This plan details a partnership between the school, the student and the parents where each party has a particular role and responsibility.

It is also worth noting that Taroona has a high number of students who have significant physical and intellectual challenges.  In Tasmania almost all students, irrespective of disability, are in mainstream schools.  This includes students with high level autism, Downes Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, severe physical and intellectual; impairment and a variety of other conditions that affect their ability to successfully learn.  The school has established a fully staffed learning centre to provide this students with intensive support and occasional respite. This support extends into the classes they attend.  The learning centre also runs programs identifying gifted and talented students and provides support for these students.  It is important to understand that at Taroona High, the traditional notion of special education has been replaced with a model where ‘special education’ is a strategy that applies to all students in need of high level and timely intervention. Both those who are not succeeding and those who are.

When Grade 10 students are identified as at "high risk" of not making a successful transition to Grade 11 (in Tasmania this means moving schools to a Senior Secondary College or making a successful tranbsition to future training or employment),  then in all cases these students are referred to a pathways planning officer whose role is to work with students on an individual basis to construct a future pathways plan for academic study, entry top the workforce or post secondary training, this plan identifies key outcomkes that need rto be achieved for success and the student works with the patghwasy planner to ensure all staff are aware of the plan and the strategies negotiated with the student. A parnership agreement is constructed which clearly articulates the responsibilities of the school, the students teachers, their parents and the student themself.

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.

In building the case for the value of high performing collaborative teams, there was ample support within the Australian Teaching Standards and much anecdotal evidence from the school review but it was also felt necessary to broaden the knowledge base among staff to build a collective view about the need to work in PLCs. Research into effective learning has shows that learning is individually processed but socially supported (Vygotsky 1978). It is dependent on the reflection that comes from discussion, collaboration, sharing and building knowledge with peers, as well as with those who are more experienced or advanced in a topic or area of inquiry.  Newman and Wehlage, 1995, found that teaming reduces staff isolation, increases the sense of collegiality with colleagues, increases sharing of ideas and resources and capitalises on others strengths. Reported benefits for students have included improved academic performance and improved attitudes towards school and leaning.  Fulton (2007) believes that schools  need to create professional learning communities where there is a supportive environment created by teams of people working together to improve learning.

This research together with the work of John Hattie (Research Conference 2005) and Richard and Rebecca Du Four (Schools as Learning Communities 2004) focused staff thinking at Taroona built a compelling case for change and let to the question: How do we build a culture of collaboration that will ensure all students are successful learners?

To build a culture of collaboration at every level of the schools organization. Teachers at Taroona High were involved in the construction of a document titled “This is the Way we Work” (attached). The aim to build the capacity of every person to work collaboratively and productively in a team situation through the creation and operation of small and effective professional learning communities.

  • Professional learning was restructured to be site specific and regular with 2 hours per fortnight being allocated to whole staff professional learning. The focus on improving student learning outcomes through improvement in teacher quality and high levels of quality assurance in the delivery and assessment of the curriculum.

  • Traditional discipline based learning areas were renamed to Learning Area Teams and provided with training in the PLC model where conversations are structured, purposeful, time constrained and with an unwavering focus on student learning outcomes and interventions.

  • Grade area teams meet with the explicit purpose of addressing the needs of students where there readiness or will to learn was impacting on their success and design appropriate interventions

  • The Senior Staff in the school “ The Leadership and Strategic Review Team” are charged with the responsibility of ensuring staff have access to the resources they need and that the strategic direction of the school is continually responsive to student and community needs. They also provide ongoing support through the school performance management and coaching for improvement strategy. They maintain a whole school view of student data looking at trends and areas of concern. They also construct ways to add value to the work of teachers. They are responsible for ensuring that every endeavour is made to ensure school resources are focused on supporting students learning and that interventions strategies are well resourced.

  • A student support team was established to bring in high levels of expertise to individual students who were at high risk of failure or disengagement.

 

Today, our students represent an unprecedented level of diversity—in abilities, learning styles, prior educational experience, attitudes and habits related to learning, language, culture, and home situations. The challenge of educating these students requires that Taroona develops new capacities and new orientations for the educators who make decisions that influence students’ lives. Taroona High is commitment to basing these decisions on sound evidence rather than assumptions and subjective perceptions. The capacity to access and effectively use many types of data from multiple sources is critical to realising a vision of high school education that embraces the belief of high expectations for all students. The process of creating learning environments that support the individual success of each student incorporates both the willingness and the capacity of Taroona staff to continually examine the results of their efforts within their Grade based and Learning area based PLCs. 

Learning area PLC’s  focus on “Ensuring that Students Learn”  not just what is taught.  By collaboratively planning, common assessments and rich dialogue about students and their learning teachers work to ensure that every student is not only given the opportunity for success but that there is a strategy in place to intervene when students are not successful.

Grade PLC’s focus on supporting the whole child and the relationships that support learning.  By building social capital and “knowing every child’s story” pastoral care teams bring the combined knowledge and expertise of the team and student’s parents to ensure that “the will to learn” is supported and developed.

At Taroona High School no staff member works in isolation. All staff are a member of at least 2 PLCs one based on their learning area and one based on their grade level pastoral care. All staff work on strategies to improve the quality of student learning and staff learning as fundamental to  continuous improvement in the school.  

 

Data summary and explanation attached as a separate document.  To be loaded here.

Document titled Taroona PLC data

2009 -  Selected as a Microsoft Partners in Learning Pilot School

2010 - Won recogntion as a Global Mentor School - Microsoft Innovative Schools Program.

2011 - Principal awarded "Australian Secondary Principal of the Year" by the Australian Institue for Teaching and School Leadership

2012 - Recognised nationally as one of the highest performing schools in Australia both in terms of value adding and the overall performance of students.

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