Lincoln Heights Middle School

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

In the words of the great Robert Eaker, “Willy Nilly doesn’t work here anymore.” This was a strategic shift that Lincoln Heights Middle School faced approximately five years ago.  To see the LHMS of the past, one would see a building full of wonderful teacher, whole heartedly well-intentioned in their efforts, and willing to do what is best for students.  Those students came mostly from a poverty background, many from homes that do not speak English, and several with identified learning differences.  Teachers would “meet them where they are,” providing each child with love and encouragement, and taking great pride when any one would succeed. However, the experience of the student was largely based on the teachers to whom the student was assigned.  While teaching to state standards, Teacher A may teach this way, and Teacher B another way altogether. The strategies discovered through personal study or professional learning of one department might vary significantly from that of another one. While no approach to instruction was inherently wrong, teachers operated as independent contractors with a shared love of Lincoln, but lacking a shared vision for instruction. In other words, things were a bit, “Willy Nilly.”

But over time, and as some administrators moved on to other places, this lack of a cohesive vision became apparent. Data remained stagnant, failing to reach the levels of the affluent schools in the district, and indicating large gaps between all students and traditionally underserved populations. The new administrative team had a different vision, one in which ALL students could succeed and the backgrounds and demographics of the student body were no longer an obstacle.  Through some deep, researched-based study, and some important, heart-level discussions, the faculty of LHMS reached a point where, collectively, they were ready to check the “Bless their heart” philosophy at the door, and begin the real work of striving for success for ALL students.  To achieve the realization of this vision, the school began to organize itself as a true professional learning community. 

The Lincoln Heights Middle School PLC story began in 2017 when a partnership with Solution Tree began at the district level.  Hamblen County began a Learning Leader program that sought to develop a deep understanding of the PLC at Work process utilizing tools including the Global PD platform and the Learning by Doing text. At the same time, LHMS began a research-based focus on providing engaging, on-grade level work for every student, every day in Tier 1 instruction.   Immediately, the LHMS Learning Leader team saw the potential of the PLC at Work process to serve as the framework for implementing high-quality instruction, measuring student progress, and adjusting practices in response to student learning. After several months of developing understandings of the PLC at Work process among teacher leaders and administration, we were ready to organize our school in a way that ensured we were a learning community. 

LHMS has always had a collaborative school culture.  Teachers eagerly work with their colleagues and departments work both across grade levels and across disciplines. However, that collaboration lacked a structure that ensured a focus on student achievement. Early on, the administration noted the need to make bold changes to structures within the school in order to facilitate the work of the collaborative teams.  Planning times were rearranged to ensure that collaborative teams had the same, protected work time daily.  Professional development was provided at the school level to ensure all staff understood the basic tenets of the PLC process as we would define it including setting team norms, understanding the common formative assessment design process, development of a data analysis protocol, and a deep understanding of how the four questions drive daily instruction.  Each collaborative team curated and keeps a PLC notebook to house meeting information, common formative assessments, data analysis artifacts, and weekly team reflections on how the four questions are driving the work.  In this way, all team members are accountable to the work and processes and our shared understandings and work can be archived and assessed. 

The final piece in building our collaborative understanding and commitment to the PLC process was the creation of the Instructional Facilitator staff role one year after our initial roll out of PLC at Work.  Knowing that we were committed to the process for the long haul, we created a position for a knowledgeable veteran teacher who would serve as the PLC coach for all collaborative teams in the building.  Our instructional facilitator serves as the lead learner of all things PLCs and assists the administration in ensuring our PLC processes are backed by Solution Tree research and leveraging the available tools. The Instructional Facilitator along with an administrator meets weekly with collaborative teams, engages teams in conversations around where they are in the PLC process, talks through their meeting documents and artifacts, and makes suggestions for next steps for the team.  In this way, administrators are a very real part of the PLC conversation on an on-going basis. 

LHMS is organized and operates in a system of collaborative groups.  While the school functions as a Professional Learning Community, departments are those teachers that teach the same subject across all three grade levels (6-8), and collaborative teams are those teachers who teach the same course in the same grade level.  The school level PLC ensures that all professional learning is continuous and rooted in research. Each new school year, departments work together to set SMART goals for student achievement based on summative data from the previous year and district pacing guides. Each department then and writes a SMART goal which becomes the formal School Improvement Plan goals for academics.  Collaborative teams are where the PLC magic happens.  In collaborative teams, teachers work together to answer the four PLC questions about the content they are teaching, design common formative assessments, analyze data, and plan for re-engagement based on the results of CFAs. 

Related Arts teachers serve as a special purpose collaborative team.  With our schoolwide focus on rigor and relationships, the special area teachers (PE, music, art, etc.) are their own collaborative team for implementing and measuring the impact of relationships in the building.  They use the PLC at Work process to examine data reported by students on the state of their relationships with adults in the building and create schoolwide initiatives for building relationships for those students who are struggling and need extra support. 

Reflection and on-going training and conversations keep our collaborative commitments and common understandings intact.  Our annual PD is built to remind teachers of our work around the four questions, and provide them with training around practices that can enhance each one.  All PD sessions are framed around which of the four questions the strategies help to answer.  Weekly accountability meetings occur with each collaborative team and leadership.  Those collaborative teams that are highly functioning meet with a Solution Tree trained Learning Leader, and those may need more support with their PLC processes meet with the Instructional Facilitator and an administrator.  Following COVID, a school level PD Reset training was attended by all teachers.   

Today, our PLCs are very healthy and functioning, buttressed by the support provided by Solution Tree and the seminal pieces of our work, Learning by Doing, Collaborative Teams in Professional Learning Communities at Work, and Make it Happen.  Our principal meets with a Solution Tree coach both individually and in a group setting throughout the school year.  Our Learning Leaders continue to learn together and share experiences, and our Instructional Leadership team most recently attended the Summit on PLC at Work in Phoenix, Arizona.  In our mid-year PLC check-ups, a veteran teacher who is new to our school stated, “In other buildings, PLCs are a thing you’re told to do.  But here at Lincoln, PLCs are how we do things.” The PLC process is more than an initiative at our school, it’s a culture of learning and striving to get better, each and every day. 

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

Once we had a collective commitment to implementing the PLC at Work structure in our school, we began to construct our framework for how the structure would play out. The state standards serve as the starting point for teachers when discussing a guaranteed viable curriculum for all students.   In Tennessee, the state identifies the standards for learning in each course.  In ELA the state labels certain standards “Keystone Standards,” and in math “Major Work of the Grade” is delineated.  The standards become the starting point for teachers when discussing a guaranteed viable curriculum for all students. In science and social studies, collaborative teams and departments utilize reference guides to determine which standards are “power standards” that will require the most attention.  However, the state standards are only the foundational piece to constructing our curriculum.

            The next layer of curricular understanding is developed with departments identify the essential curricular goals and the dispositions we seek to develop in students of our content.  For example, social studies students need to learn to read and think deeply about primary source documents, and science students need to learn to analyze academic texts from the science field. Math students need to learn to persevere through multi-step application problems, and ELA students need to learn to analyze themes across texts.  Each department identifies the dispositions we seek to build, and sets instructional goals for how we will practice and develop these dispositions throughout this school year. 

The common formative assessment process is the cornerstone of assessment at LHMS.  Each team makes a collaborative commitment to not go more than two weeks without giving some sort of common formative assessment, analyzing the data from this assessment, and working together to respond instructionally to the results.  These discussions around the four questions happen on collaborative planning time and are documented in the PLC notebooks.  The CFA design process is built around this essential question: “How can I measure if students are able to do what the standard is asking them to do?”  While seemingly simple, this question guides the CFA development process with clarity around desired outcomes.  Teams then administer the CFA under agreed-upon conditions, then come back together to disaggregate data.  From the data discussion, teacher develop a plan for re-engagement of non-mastery students and enrichment of students who have mastered the standard.

            Formative progress is measured through the weekly to bi-weekly CFA process.  Combination formative/summative assessment is measured through quarterly district benchmarks. Upon receiving benchmark reports, collaborative teams go through a reflective process around which students are projected proficient and which standards need more attention. Teachers meet with administrators or the instructional facilitator to discuss these reflections and opportunities for adjustment moving forward.  Ultimately, end of year state wide assessments are used as the final summative assessment to the work of the school year.  The results of the state assessment are disaggregated and analyzed and used to set SMART goals for the upcoming school year. 

            Leaning heavily into the research of Solution Tree as well as research on the need for on-grade level daily instruction, teachers agree that we will align all Tier 1 work around on-grade level text and on-grade level work expectations.  This concept of identifying what constitutes mastery in student work drives our on-going collaborative team discussions.  Team members make the commitment to articulate success criteria before giving the assessment so that data can be analyzed in the same way when collaboratively scoring.  In this way, Tier 1 teachers remain on-track when developing lessons and activities that are reflective of grade level expectations. 

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

At LHMS, it is important that intervention and extension be timely, flexible, and effective.  There are several layers to the intervention and extension learning process at LHMS.  The first layer is real time, on time intervention based on results from common formative assessment. This responsive instruction takes place in the Tier 1 classroom on an on-going basis.  After analyzing CFA data in collaborative teams, teachers share strategies for quick re-engagement of students in the Tier 1 classroom. This standards-based re-engagement can take many forms: small groups, additional teacher support, strategic student partnering, reteaching or enrichment curriculum tools, or regrouping of students based on mastery among the teachers of the collaborative team.  During this re-engagement, students who did not master the CFA are re-engaged with instruction in a different way or with a different level of support, and students that did master the CFA are given extension activities to reinforce learning.  Because CFAs are short, focused, and only cover a few days of instruction, this re-engagement can be done quickly, and groups remain flexible as regrouping occurs with each CFA. 

            In this time of learning acceleration post-COVID, we recognized the need for additional standards-based remediation.  In the fall of 2021, a new collaborative team convened to create the Operation Acceleration afterschool program for students who were almost proficient on the previous state test but needed some additional support to close gaps.  This team oversees an afterschool tutoring program in ELA and Math that targets re-engagement with instruction around standards that students struggle with.  This team uses progress monitoring to ensure students are making progress within the program and disaggregates larger data sources to ensure progress of students in Operation Acceleration. 

            The next level of intervention is more intensive and skills-based.  When a student is continually struggling with standards based formative assessment, it could be due to a skill deficit.  Mastery of skills is initially measured using the normed AimsWeb Universal Screener.  Students who need intervention are placed in to RTI classes at either Tier 2 or Tier 3 based on their deficit for specific math or reading skills.  Students in RTI classes are closely monitored for progress until they close deficit gaps and exit out of RTI.  Students who do not show progress in RTI after a given amount of time are referred to the S-Team for consideration of more intensive services.  Decisions about the identification of students in need of intervention are a part of collaborative team discussions as driven by data. 

            Students in these levels of interventions become a part of their own improvement journey.  They work closely with the intervention teacher to become owners in their own success by understanding their specific skills deficits and monitoring their own progress along with teachers.  Intervention teachers are explicit about the skills students need to improve and what it takes to close gaps.  Students set goals and teachers have weekly one-on-one meetings with students to discuss progress toward goals and success criteria to get there. 

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

While the administrative and leadership team is passionate about the power of PLCs, ultimately, the magic is made by the teachers.  LHMS builds capacity of teacher through continual training and reflection using Solution Tree tools. This work is planned and, ultimately executed, by an Instructional Leadership Team. Each content area department is led by Learning Leaders. The Instructional Leadership Team, Learning Leaders and the Instructional Facilitator did a deep dive into Learning by Doing in order to calibrate our understanding of PLC practices.  Those learning leaders lead their departments in understanding the building level expectations for PLC meetings and the need for those meetings to focus on answering the four PLC questions on an on-going basis.  In this way, we are always looking through the lens of improving outcomes for students as evidenced by student work.  We hold ourselves accountable by keeping a PLC notebook (either hard copy or electronic by preference) that anyone can view at any time.  These notebooks house all documents, tools, and artifacts from the collaborative work. 

            Administrators believe it is important for us to always ensure we are focused on doing the “right work.” This year as we reset our expectations and practices post-Covid, the administration and Instructional Facilitator met with each collaborative team individually to do a PLC checkup using the “Evidence of Doing the Right Work Feedback Form” found in Charting the Course for Leaders. Each meeting included discussion of self-reflections teachers had completed individually, walk-through evidence as collected by leadership teams, and identification of next steps for each team to strengthen the work moving forward. 

            As a state, Tennessee has undergone many changes and shifts in education in the last few years including changes in assessment, new standards for all four core subject areas, and a significant shift to high quality instructional materials.  As staff, we are in a constant cycle of looking at student work and assessment data in order to ensure we are consistently looking through a lens of learning outcomes. Additionally, we are checking on the health of our collaborative teams to make sure we are focused on outcomes.  LHMS, like any other school, is tackling the challenges of accelerated learning post-pandemic, implementing new high-quality instructional materials, and ensuring high expectations for all students.  We believe that the path to ensuring that worthy initiatives occur with fidelity and in a way that improves student outcomes is to operate through a strong PLC culture.  At LHMS, PLCs are not something we do, they are the way we do things

Achievement Data Files

Additional Achievement Data

Despite a rapidly changing standards and testing landscape in Tennessee, there is much to celebrate in the data for Lincoln Heights Middle School.  First, in terms of achievement on the state standardized test, TCAP, our school continues to be relative to the state in terms of on track and mastery despite being a high-poverty school serving a large number of students representing underserved populations.  This includes during years of COVID-19 and an uncertain virtual and in-person learning plan.  Specifically, our SPED, ELL, and Economically Disadvantaged student populations continue to significantly outperform those same subgroups across the state.  We attribute this to the clear focus on providing on-grade level, standards-aligned instruction that we hone throughout the PLC process. 

Another source of pride is the TVAAS measures generated by the state to show academic growth. The data continues to indicate that students at LHMS learn at an accelerated pace than their previous rate of growth indicate they should achieve.  The TVAAS 3-year report ranks LHMS as Level 5-Significant evidence that the school's students made more growth than expected in the vast majority of subjects by the year 2021.  The school has earned a composite Level 5 distinction for 5 consecutive years.  

Finally, our intervention efforts are paying off as students are showing significant progress from the fall to the spring.  In the 2020-2021 report included students show great gains in response to the targeted intervention they receive.  This intervention is determined through the PLC analysis process conducted by collaborative teams.  


2021 Tennessee Level 5 School Recognition for Exceptional Student Growth

2018 Tennessee Level 5 School Recognition for Exceptional Student Growth

2017 Tennessee Level 5 School Recognition for Exceptional Student Growth

2017 Tennessee Reward School, recognition for being in the top 5% of schools in academic growth

2017 Shirley Hoard Learning Team Award for Professional Learning, Learning Forward, sponsored by Corwin

2016 Tennessee Level 5 School Recognition for Exceptional Student Growth