Helensvale SHS

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

Our journey to build a professional learning community at Helensvale SHS began in 2013 a little over three years ago. At this time staff had experienced frequent leadership changes and as a result were hesitant to engage in whole school change initiatives. Reputation within the community was poor and student outcomes were dependent upon student ability rather than any intervention processes. The PLC at Work process was a key trigger for change implementation and one which greatly inspired the newly appointed Principal. As a result of this work we now see significant improvement in student outcomes, staff morale and community engagement. Our journey to a PLC is outlined below and achieved through sustained efforts and progress.

1. We began by confronting the brutal facts about where we were 'at' as a school. We first needed to acknowledge that we were a good school, but we could be even better. We used the narrative of ‘good to great’ as an ongoing theme to underpin the notion that it was about continuous improvement.

Initially we used time in staff meetings to collaborate about where our data was placed in comparison to 'like' schools and national standards. Staff worked in small teams to look at different aspects of our data and to identify trends and opportunities for improvement. This was the beginning of the cultural shift needed with the idea that the focus on continuous improvement is a given, and a results orientation is what drives and informs our purpose and strategies. This required significant capacity building with executive and middle management team members, particularly in the areas of data analysis and establishing the new cultural norm of being uncomfortable with the status quo.

Confronting the brutal facts also involved some difficult conversations about our culture and what type of team(s) we wanted to be. From this evolved two things; confronting the idea that we could be a better school for the students and community that we serve and secondly that our present behaviours were holding us back from being the collaborative 'results oriented' school that we needed be.

2. We deliberately and formally began to use the language of PLCs (using Learning by Doing, DuFour, et.al) with the purpose of laying the foundation of a PLC by creating a new mission, vision, trademark values and explicit improvement goals and timelines. What emerged was a deeply contested discussion about what our fundamental purpose was and the ultimate creation and launch of our new 'One student, One community, Many futures' mission. Underpinning this was our school vision  dedicated to personalising learning which states that  'Each and every student will achieve at high levels of success (One student), as a collaborative learning community (One community) and we will prepare all our students for a future of change (Many futures).

This provided us with a definition of the ‘business of our business’ and a moral reference point for our decisions and strategies. It also provided us with a  narrative for our students, parents, and community about what we believed in and how we viewed success and how we align our practices with our mission.

3. We explicitly focused on the culture of our organisation and drew on the work of Anthony Muhammad (Transforming School Culture) to ensure the cultural shift aligned with technical change. We were clear about our trademark values of respect, responsibility and resilience and these behaviours provided a way of ‘doing business’ at our school and provided the foundation for a more collaborative, results-oriented culture. This focus on behaviours then enabled us to move effectively and authentically towards establishing team norms and SMART goals when creating our collaborative teams. We spent time undertaking intensive professional learning to upskill middle management to confront the reality of their faculty cultures and to align their beliefs and behaviours to our school mission of ensuring all students achieve at high levels.

4. We deliberately created time within the Queensland teachers’ industrial award to enable staff to collaborate for up to 2 hours and 10 minutes every Monday afternoon. This Professional Learning Team (PLT) time fundamentally shifted how we operated as a school as it structured non-optional collaborative time each week where all staff could focus on the four fundamental questions of a PLC – What do we expect our students to learn? How will we know if they have learnt it? How will we respond when some students do not learn? How will we respond when some students already know? Please see 'Helensvale- A PLC at Work' infographic in Resource File.

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

The key strategy implemented to monitor student learning was the creation of a 2 hours and 10 minutes block every Monday afternoon through providing a lunch break for staff during the students normal period 3 assembly time (see Helensvale Timetable in Resources file). This effectively allows students to be an hour ahead on the timetable where they leave school at 2.15pm when teachers engage in period 4 being collaboration time. This fundamentally shifted how we could monitor student learning in a structured setting that complied with teacher union expectations.

We created our 'Success for One Student' (SOS) model (See 'Success for One Student' model in Resources file) which specified the focus of collaboration on addressing the four critical questions .

The SOS model requires staff to:

•    Know the essential learnings at the beginning of each unit of work and to collaboratively present to peers where students in their classes are 'at' regarding reading, level of achievement, attendance, behaviour and other performance indicators.

•    Implement pre-assessment with a focus on the pre-requisite skills and processes aligned to unit objectives, curriculum, and summative assessment.

•    Engage in collaborative enquiry where teaching peers present problems of practice stemming from the ongoing monitoring of student learning outcomes.

•    Respond to common formative assessments embedded within the units and follow through with agreed action in  dedicating time for response to intervention (RTI) and a collaborative response to questions 3 and 4 - How will we respond when some students do not learn? How will we respond when some students already know?

•    Engage in moderation processes occurring before and after summative assessment to build reliability and validity in teacher judgments and comparability of student work.

•    Participate in faculty-wide analysis of the level of achievement data (A-E) at the end of each term to identify patterns, trends and opportunities.

 Other strategies to monitor student learning include:

•    Undertaking term by term performance conversations with Senior students regarding their Overall Position (University Entrance score) estimation. This process involves treating students as insiders in the process and collaboratively creating strategies for improvement with a focus on 'skill and will' behaviours.

•    Semester awards for students who have shown improvement in GPA (grade point average), consistent high achievement, good behaviour and effort and high attendance (>99%)

•    Positive Behaviour for Learning (PB4L) team meets each week to monitor behaviour, attendance and engagement. A Dean of Students is assigned to each year level who presents weekly data in a PLT led by the Head of Department Positive Behaviour. Timely and comprehensive response plans are enacted to support students socially and academically at risk.

•    Formally reporting to students and parents four times every year (once every 10 weeks) on level of academic achievement, behavior, attitude, and attendance. We are currently trialling a goal setting process that is closely aligned to the learning essentials of units and Tier 2 intervention.

  • School-wide ‘sight-line meetings’ (addressing key performance indicators) have been introduced where faculty heads and deputy principals share term by term data. Analysis of this data (e.g. attendance, welfare, behaviour, certification, graduation data, etc.) is used to create an action plan.

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

Initially Helensvale SHS had no systematic school wide intervention processes. If we were to be authentic in achieving high learning for all, we needed to establish a response to intervention model to provide students with additional time and support. Our process began in developing an understanding of the guiding principles that underpin a whole school approach. We were aware that our intervention needed to be systematic, practical, effective, essential and directive. (See ''Guiding Criteria to RTI' in Resources file)

The main aspects of our RTI process are:

  •  Ensuring a strong Tier 1 foundation through our Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum (GVC). The school has invested considerable resources in establishing GVC across the school. For example, we now have a GVC lead teacher who works with 10 subject co-ordinators at a time who have been released to audit current units so that they comply with GVC standards set by the team and lead the collaborative planning process. (See 'GVC Implementation' in Resources file) Having clarity around Critical Question 1 and 2...What do we expect our students to learn and how will we know if they have learnt it, as this is the starting point for  effective Tier 1 intervention strategies. Collaborative teams specifically define the essential learnings that need to occur in each unit of work, focus on classroom intervention strategies in response to formative data and then provide a differentiated approach so that the ‘needs to knows’ are achieved by every student. These team discussions are guided by the whole school 'tight properties' regarding PLT conversations (See Example Weekly Guide Sheet in Resource file) 
  • The viability of the curriculum at our school is also a fundamental issue. Collaborative teams define what is viable and deliberately factor in time to stop and respond so that re-teaching can occur before moving forward. This is evidenced in a significant structural change in Junior core classes where we have added a fourth class to the week specifically for reteaching. Ensuring strong consistent classroom practice at Tier 1 reflects the cultural shift we a making - a focus on learning over teaching. 

 •    Our Success for One Student (SOS) model also embeds an RTI approach. The development of this model has a definite purpose- to ensure that teachers are collaborating about the 'right things' and are continually addressing the 4 critical questions. In response to questions 3 and 4, teams must analyse ongoing common formative data (see 'Data Placemat' in Resource file) to collaboratively schedule Tier 1 intervention time in each unit of work. Teachers are required to present their intervention strategies to PLT groups and reflect on the impact of the intervention through collection and analysis of outcomes data. It is through PLT's that students are identified for Tier 2 support.

  • Tier 2 interventions are addressed on a 'skill' and 'will' basis and students are guided to study sessions accordingly. Sessions that address 'skill' issues are co-ordinated by  subject experts and run parallel to assembly time and on Fridays during period 1. These students may be escalated to Tier 3 if needed and are provided with strategies targeted to address severe learning gaps by specialist education staff. Sessions that address 'will' issues are co-ordinated by Administration, Guidance Officers and year level Deans with a Positive Behaviour for Learning (PB4L) approach and these presently occur in student lunch times and Mondays from 2.20-3.00pm when other students have the early finish time. Failure to meet these directional requirements results in escalation to mandated participation in sessions co-ordinated by executive administration, normally on a Tuesday/ Thursday afternoon after school. (See Helensvale Timetable in Resource file)

PLC philosophy has caused us to re-evaluate our current Tier 3 interventions and how they align with Tier 1 and 2 processes. Acting upon the research of Mattos and Buffum, we no longer remove Tier 3 students from core instruction and have created additional time throughout the timetable to address these specific needs. We are presently instigating a timetable change for 2017 that will involve Tier 3 intervention for severe learning gaps in literacy and numeracy to take place instead of an elective choice.


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

 Addressing the significant culture shift required to become an authentic PLC at work began with the formation of our collaborative teams. Many staff did not see the value in collaboration and working in isolation was seen as a preferred and familiar option.

To achieve the culture shift required to move from co-operation to collaboration within highly performing teams focused on improving student learning outcomes we: 

  • Initially started with a process (three years ago) where teams of four met three times a term. These teams focused on specific school-wide problems of practice (e.g. questioning, learning intent, success criteria). This began to yield some higher levels of engagement in collaboration and staff found this learning timely and directly relevant to their practice. 
  • In 2014 we initiated an innovative change to our timetable to include teacher collaborative time within rostered duty time. (2 hours 10 minutes per week) These are structured PLT's with agendas outlined and facilitated by trained personnel. (See Helensvale Timetable in Resources file)

These teams have continued to grow in the following ways:

  1. We developed more meaningful subject specific PLTs which allowed a focus on the curriculum and assessment processes for the subjects which provided commonality for discussion. This again improved confidence in the process as teachers could see the relevance of this time to the classroom curriculum and assessment. Through this process, we started to introduce norms and explicitly defined behaviours that we wished to see. We have also extended this to non-teaching staff. (See Non-Teaching staff PLT Guide in Resources file)
  2.  Added the need for formal presentations where outcomes data from a selected class could be shared with PLT members and this added accountability to the process. We set up further norms (See 'Ethics and Etiquette' outline in Resources file) and protocols to build trust in the data sharing process. Teachers received warm and cool feedback on the strategies they had suggested to respond to this data.

 •    Continued to build capacity in middle management to drive the quality of collaboration each week. We set clear expectations and strong accountabilities regarding the use of collaboration time. Following extensive development with middle management, Heads of Department can now customise faculty collaboration time (within certain tight properties) to meet the needs of students and teachers. At middle management level, we have now started to share faculty best practice regarding the leadership of PLTs.

 •    Introduced the SOS model as the road map for PLT activity. Staff established norms, set smart goals, set formative tasks and discussed formative data, shared strategies, reflected on the success of these strategies and formally presented their summative data each term. Norms and protocols are established in each group and the PLT receives feedback each term on their performance using the Helensvale SHS PLC Reflective Quadrant. (See 'PLC At Work Quadrant' in Resource file)

The next iteration unfolding is to develop greater precision around skill identification and aligning teaching strategies to address the specifically identified skill deficiencies. It is also moving towards analysis of the skill and/or will dilemma to a greater depth and whole school ownership of these students and their difficulties.

Finally, through our performance development process, we are seeing a shift to job-embedded and data driven professional learning. (See 'Professional Learning Framework' in Resource file) Staff are seeing challenges in their data, identifying problems of practice and then seeking professional development to support their teaching and promote further student learning. We see the cultural shift away from a focus on teaching to a reflection on practice and a focus on learning.



Additional Achievement Data

  Please see 'Helensvale Data Gains' in Resource file due to uploading difficulties. Thank you.

  • Queensland South East Region Senior School Vocational Educational Outcomes School of the Year 2015