- Number of Students: 240
- Percent eligible for Education Maintenance Allowance: 50%
- Percent of Limited English Proficient: 25%
- Percent of Special Education: 3%
- White: 22%
- Black: 6%
- Hispanic: 0%
- Asian: 45%
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 11%
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 0%
- Multiracial: 0%
- Other: 16%
Prior to our journey to improve student learning through substantive professional collaboration, we experienced a period of increased student welfare and management issues. This made it difficult, if not impossible to prioritise high quality teaching promoting best practice. We viewed school management solely through the lens of discipline without accomplishing our fundamental goal of improving student learning. The children effectively prescribed the day-to-day running of the school through their behaviour and our reactionary responses.
A crucial change of thinking occurred with our adoption of Restorative Practices to codify a more inclusive and nurturing approach to student welfare, moving away from the previous punitive, teacher-centric approach. Teachers were frazzled and isolated during their APT (Assessment and Planning Time) in their own classrooms. Teachers planned independently and differentiation was limited or non-existent, meaning children were engaged neither with their learning nor their peers. Apart from addressing ongoing disciplinary issues, Restorative Practices also actively sought to build and strengthen relations both between students but also between staff and students.
With improved student management measures in place came an opportunity for staff to increase focus on quality instructional practices and explicit teaching. To facilitate this, teachers moved to open-plan offices and APT was aligned in blocks during the day.
In a Professional Learning Community, constructive and thoughtful professional relationships between staff are fundamental in all aspects of the systematized approach. Instructional coaching reflected this prerequisite in that it focused not only on effective content delivery but also in fostering productive unions between (sometimes mistrusting and reluctant) staff members. This was a crucial foundation on which to build the professional collaboration where staff would be willing to share data, assessment strategies and importantly areas where they were failing to achieve the desired outcome.
Our instructional coach frequently attended APT to assist teams in moving away from discussion of housekeeping and logistical matters, and move toward identifying, analysing and acting upon various forms of data. APT was transformed into PLC meetings addressing the critical questions of student learning and instructional practice. Team norms were established for each Learning House to ensure staff interactions were productive, and that all staff shared collective responsibility for student learning. Feedback to peers which was previously mandated through our Professional Enhancement Cycle was systematized, meaning teachers actively began to seek feedback from peers as opposed to concealing perceived deficits. We began to establish collective inquiry into best instructional practice for our students.
Along with Team Norms to guide staff interactions, we established a set of expected practices to standardise instructional practice and collaboration. This document guides behaviour in a wide range of areas and enhances accountability.
Our budding collaborative culture was spurred on by the construction of our new buildings, which were completed in October. These buildings were part of a nation-wide stimulus package and feature well lit open-plan learning spaces. Having made countless logistical, collaborative and instructional changes prior to moving into the new spaces, the actual moving day was seamless, typified by an ant-like procession of students bringing all manner of items from the old buildings to the new. Children resumed learning by midday.
Our principal and assistant principal attended the PLC at Work Institute: Ahead of the Curve in December 2012. Excited by the possibilities and realising that this was the logical next step in our journey, our leadership engaged a PLC consultant for a day of whole school professional learning early in 2013. Buoyed by the logical and systematic approach of PLC, we began reflecting on current practice and considering which aspects would best complement our approach at Harrisfield. Enthusiastic about the concept, but unsure of how it would be implemented in our setting (particularly delivering no new content during Intervention sessions), a group of teachers including our principal and assistant principal travelled to the United Stated to attend a PLC at Work summit in North Carolina in September 2013. It was a great joy to work with the institute faculty (not to mention other summit participants’ novel enthusiasm about a group of eager Aussies who were instantly recognisable by their accents and the obvious effects of jetlag). This set the stage for full scale immersion in the big ideas of PLC and we altered timetables (akin to moving heaven and earth!) to incorporate a daily intervention session!
1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.
Initially when we began our journey toward becoming a PLC, assessment was unwieldy and time consuming, without necessarily providing timely, or indeed any feedback to children. With an increased focus upon explicit instruction of strategies came a renewed need for quick identification of necessary skills aligned with our curriculum, as well as ongoing evaluation of the efficacy of instructional practice.
The assessment we undertake now is for specific purposes, either ‘as’, ‘for’ or ‘of’. The need for ‘for’ assessment (prior to commencement of teaching) has diminished due to improved data gathering, storage and analysis. This has the dual benefit of allowing teachers to smoothly transition from one topic to another without time-consuming diagnostic assessment, but also to allow children to rely on unitormity of delivery, vocabulary and expectations.
Assessment ‘as’ (during the course of a learning and teaching cycle) is conducted against identified power standards, allowing teachers to focus solely on key skills and strategies.
Overall, assessment that was considered summative has moved towards a variety of formative uses including grouping, providing feedback to the student, assessing teacher effectiveness and prescribing subsequent teaching and learning.
2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.
Our first step on the road to a successful and systematic intervention program was differentiating our content delivery into smaller groupings for Reading, Writing and Maths, this being staffed not only by classroom teachers but also an EAL (English as an Additional Language) teacher and specialists. Our already packed, precariously arranged timetable was rearranged yet again to allow for a forty minute period of intervention, and to prioritise and protect Reading, Writing and Maths sessions.
During the intervention sessions, no new material is delivered and teachers take care to plan engaging and open-ended tasks to maintain session momentum and student motivation. Within the allocated intervention time, apart from working in small focus groups with teachers, children also are allocated specific tasks tailored to their areas of need, either independently or in small groups.
Children may be referred for intervention for any skill, as long as the referring teacher could provide an explicit focus and the specific curriculum entry point. During the first years of our intervention program, we were inundated with a massive variety of identified ‘gaps’ throughout our student body, meaning that we had a tremendous backlog to clear before we could do more timely and targeted interventions whilst the content was still being taught in mainstream classes. We are confident that we have remedied the large majority of these areas. We are now able to respond promptly to children who need additional time and support to supplement their learning in the classroom, ensuring they remain engaged in the mainstream curriculum.
3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.
Upon commencing at Harrisfield in 2009, learning and teaching was roughly ‘on par’ with the geographic area and certainly no better or worse that equivalent socio-economic schools with such a richly diverse cultural mix as ours. Behaviour, teachers’ nerves and our 1950s era buildings were in disarray, with various ‘band-aid’ solutions being trialled endlessly with varying degrees of success. Staff at SMR Region deemed our school to be ‘at risk’ of failure and ‘in need of additional support’. We became proactive, having been prompted by this assessment. Beginning with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we sought first to cease the punitive ‘Assertive Discipline’ measures of managing student misbehaviour, instead engaging teachers and learners in a student-centric, collaborative approach to discipline.
With the steady decrease of overall distress and misbehaviour came the ability to gradually prioritise high quality learning and teaching, which was bolstered by the appointment of literacy and numeracy coaches, followed by the employment of an Instructional Coach. Simultaneously we began moving classes from their ‘egg carton’ single classrooms into whatever open-plan collaborative spaces we could find within the outdated structures of our building. After a thorough and comprehensive curriculum audit, we established a set of expected practices to refine and unify the teaching of key curriculum areas. Our initial success in open plan learning spaces prompted us to roll up our sleeves, and a meeting was called for school council, leadership and interested teachers to demolish walls to create our next open learning space. All teachers received coaching on various areas, with our ‘guinea pigs’ receiving intensive instructional coaching in differentiated delivery, explicit teaching, engagement of learners with a significant emphasis on modelling the thinking progress though oral language and verbal responses.
After our initial foray into team teaching, we enthusiastically embraced the approach by blocking off hallways, erecting new walls, annexing the library and computer room and ensuring classroom doors remained open at all times! Behind the scenes, teacher desks were scrapped in favour of communal teacher work-spaces to firstly force, then facilitate substantive discussion about learning and teaching with non-face-to-face contact times aligned to really stimulate collaboration.
The GFC brought with it economic stimulus in the form of new open-plan buildings, which was very conveniently the next step in our trajectory toward building high performing collaborative teams. The buildings allowed us to differentiate more widely throughout and between cohorts, with fluid groupings meaning children can move dynamically within and between grouping as dictated by their abilities and deficits. Shared ownership of students was enhanced by the move to open-plan learning. As well as frequent ongoing qualitative and quantitative discussion of learning and teaching, all staff manage all children though the establishment and maintenance of relationships built upon trust, consistency, respect and a significant emphasis on continual growth and improvement. Both students and staff are afforded ample opportunity to observe peers, exposing them to a broad range of learning and teaching styles through vertical and horizontal groupings
NAPLAN (National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy) Tests are conducted for all Year 3,5,7 and 9 students.See attached resources tab for examples of trend data in some of the areas tested.
March 2015 we received the following email from Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority,(ACARA)-
The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) is responsible for Australia's national reporting program, which includes My School.
ACARA intends to update My School 2015 on Thursday 5 March 2015.
Based on My School data, and using a methodology explained below, your school has been identified as demonstrating above average NAPLAN gain compared to schools with similar students. This gain is deemed to be statistically significant and worthy of highlighting and acknowledgement.
To identify your school as demonstrating this above average gain compared to schools with similar students and to deem this statistically significant, ACARA employed a methodology that considered three key factors being:
1. Your overall gain compared to previous years;
2. Your gain compared to schools with similar students based on the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) level; and,
3. Your gain compared to
other students at similar NAPLAN start points.
On August 5th 2015: A photograph (see attached report) appeared in The AGE newspaper because Harrisfield Primary was identified as a "high-gain school" by ACARA earlier this year after recording significant improvements in year 3 and 5 numeracy.