Crimson Cliffs Middle School

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

Will Rogers said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This shows how vital it is to set the right tone at the beginning of an important journey. Few journeys are as important as the mission of Crimson Cliffs Middle School (CCMS): . . . to ensure all students gain essential academic knowledge and life skills.

This is why, on the very first day teachers return for a new school year, the principal makes time to teach and review the important principles of an effective Professional Learning Community (PLC). For returning teachers, this is a familiar yet important review of effective PLC at Work practices. For teachers new to the profession, school, or district, this is an important step in building shared understanding and commitment to the PLC at Work process. 

The preparation for this happened months and years before. The importance of hiring the right people can not be overstated. A team of teachers, administration, and counselors conduct interviews of teacher applicants. Questions focus not only on the applicant’s knowledge of the PLC at Work process, but also on the applicant’s commitment to the process and the mission of the school. Applicants’ references are also contacted to try to find the absolute best fit for the school. So when the teachers (new and veteran) gather in that first faculty meeting, the shared commitment is already strong and continues to grow throughout each school year.

As a school community, we take our roles seriously as represented in the action statements: 

  • Provide a safe and inviting learning environment,

  • Make students and student learning the focus of our efforts,

  • Involve parents and the community in the learning process, and

  • Use the Professional Learning Communities framework to improve instruction and student achievement in our classrooms.

Instruction, collaboration, and modeling regarding effective PLC at Work practices continue throughout the year through faculty meetings, content team meetings, learning walks, and community council and PTA meetings. 

Shared commitment to the PLC at Work process begins when collaborative teams engage in weekly collaboration, data analysis, and instructional planning. Shared and sustained commitment continues when students learn. When students learn, there is a desire on all stakeholders’ part to learn more about, revise, and refine the effective practices in order to help students achieve even more. This naturally leads to a strong shared commitment to the PLC at Work process. A focused and caring school community with a shared understanding and commitment to the PLC at Work process will always work toward high levels of learning for all students.

 

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

An essential skill for students to learn and master is the ability to effectively prioritize tasks. For example, for students it means that the not-necessarily-enjoyable essay due this week needs to be completed before the choose-your-own-topic presentation that is due in three weeks. For teachers, it means that skills which

 are “nice to know” are less important than skills classified as “need to know.” 

At Crimson Cliffs Middle School (CCMS), this prioritizing begins with the state core standards for each content area. The state of Utah reviews and revises the standards every 10 years on an alternating schedule. For example, the current biology standards were adopted in 2019, and the new English Language Arts (ELA) standards will be adopted this year (2022-2023). 

The first step in determining a guaranteed and viable curriculum (GVC) is commonly referred to as “unpacking the standards.” Content teams, on a school and district level, go through each standard to break it down into learning targets, specific knowledge or skills students need in order to be proficient in the specific standard. Some questions that a team may ask include, Does it [the standard or skill] have endurance? Does it have leverage? Does it develop student readiness for the next level of learning? And what content do we currently teach that we can eliminate from the curriculum because it is not essential? Part of the analysis also includes identifying academic vocabulary students need to know; identifying question stems to help guide teachers in planning instruction for a specific standard; and looking at authentic and reliable ways to assess student proficiency, including both formative and summative, and pre- and post-assessments. 

Content teams enjoy some freedom and autonomy to “unpack” the standards using methods and tools that make sense to them and work best for them. The goal is determining the GVC, not having each team determine their GVC following the exact same process. In a culture of continuous improvement, there is never really a time when a team can say that they are “finished” determining the GVC. Analyzing, reviewing, and revising various components of a team’s GVC is an ongoing process. 

Teams continue planning instruction, learning activities, and assessments, all designed to help all students learn at high levels. Again, this is where some creativity and autonomy come into play. Teams develop pacing guides, curriculum maps, activities, projects, and assessments based on what works best for the team. A math team, for example, may plan a strict pacing guide, with each class using the same learning materials and instructional styles on the same day. Closer to the other end of the spectrum, a U.S. history team may decide what information they are going to cover for a specific unit or time period, but the instructional styles and learning activities used are left to the discretion of each teacher. The teams participate in sharing what they are doing, engaging in collective inquiry regarding student learning data, and revising any or all of this. Team members often adopt colleagues’ strategies and activities that prove the most successful to help students learn at high levels. 

Throughout the entire process, teams monitor alignment of all components to the GVC that serves as the foundation for the course. 

 
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As with all components of the PLC at Work process, monitoring student learning is a crucial ongoing process that involves all stakeholders working together to ensure students at Crimson Cliffs Middle School (CCMS) learn at high levels. 

          Eighth grade special education teachers meet with their incoming students’  seventh grade teachers to start planning the best schedule based on the students’ unique needs, and to start getting to know the students and their families. Together with counselors and members of administration, schedules are built to set these students up for success from day one. Some Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings are also held before the first day of school. Similar steps are taken for students classified as “at-risk,” and facing other unique academic and personal challenges.

           Teams review district benchmark reading and writing data and state assessment results, all to prepare for another year of high levels of student learning at Crimson Cliffs Middle School (CCMS). From the first day of school on, the timely monitoring continues. 

The first few weeks of school, students participate in school and district benchmark and course pre-assessments. Teams analyze and compare student learning data in order to prioritize and plan instructional strategies and learning activities. Through the use of common formative assessments (CFAs), teams can not only analyze and monitor the progress of the students, but they also use the data to discuss, dissect, review, and make in-the-moment decisions and adjustments. 

Inside each classroom, teachers help to build their students’ individual capacity to monitor their own learning, some of the most important monitoring that can take place. Students study work models and are taught to self-advocate and ask questions in order to be able to do their best. They participate in peer review and self-assessment. Students also reflect on, and set improvement goals for, various aspects of their learning: commitment level, study habits, preparation, performance, and adjustments to make next time. Teachers also communicate with parents/guardians in order to gather information and collaborate to help the student improve. Teachers and their teams also plan remediation and intervention activities to help address learning gaps, and enrichment and extensions for those who already demonstrate proficiency. 

Outside the classroom, administrators and counselors meet weekly to review lists of students who are not succeeding in one or more classes. Student learning data, both quantitative and anecdotal, are reviewed, and each student is assigned to an administrator or counselor who will meet with that student within the week to see how things are going, and what can be done to help them get back on track and enjoy the success that comes from learning.

 

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

Crimson Cliffs Middle School (CCMS) continues to work very hard to provide systems of intervention, enrichment, and extensions to provide students with additional time and support for learning. One of the biggest commitments the school community makes each year is devoting time for a homeroom period for all students.

After second period, ninth grade students go to lunch and eighth grade students go to their homeroom class. After lunch, ninth grade students go to their homeroom class. All students are in their homeroom class for a few minutes in which school announcements and other business are conducted. Then eighth grade students are dismissed for lunch, and ninth grade students stay in their homeroom. Homeroom creates additional in-school time to provide students with extra learning support.

Teachers are responsible for a homeroom class made up of students from their other class periods. For all students, homeroom is a time when they can work on current or missing assignments, study for upcoming assessments, or read if they have everything current.  All teachers make sure they update their grades at least every Friday, and every Monday the home room teachers distribute missing assignment reports or meet individually with the students in their homeroom. For targeted groups, each department gets one day a week reserved for targeted interventions. The teams determine which students will be targeted, the objective for the intervention, which teacher will run the intervention, and any additional assistance needed, such as another teacher covering the homeroom that day or the teacher conducting the intervention. 

On the day of the intervention, students receive a paper detailing their assignment and are excused to go to that intervention at the beginning of homeroom. The administrators make sure that the required students receive their notes and make it to the right room. Individual students may be given or request a pass to visit another teacher for targeted instruction, to make up an assessment, or to complete a project or lab. The homeroom program is constantly reviewed and revised based on stakeholder input.

Enhancement classes are another response to intervention (RTI) intended to help any student who demonstrates a need for extra time for math, or who is struggling in one or more classes. This class temporarily replaces an elective and places the student in a class with a teacher who offers personalized tutoring in math and other subjects, and also helps students keep track of their work in other classes in order to catch up and keep up on all work. Once students demonstrate that they no longer need the extra assistance, they are able to go back to their elective class. One of the most important things students learn through homeroom and enhancement is that there are numerous adults in the school who are concerned with their success, not just the classroom teacher for one period a day. This is by design. School faculty and staff are constantly reminded that there is no such thing as “your students,” or “my students.” We are all responsible to help any students when possible, regardless of which grade they are in, or who their current teachers are.

Because communication skills are essential to success in any field, eighth grade students attend their English Language Arts (ELA) class every day, instead of every other day like all their other classes. This arrangement provides students with extra time to prepare for high school with a solid foundation of reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. This also provides more time for remediation and intervention activities during the school day.

Various teachers and teams offer a variety of enrichment and extension activities for students who already demonstrate proficiency in an essential standard or learning target. These activities involve increased learning opportunities, most often with the students involved in determining what the opportunities look like. There are also schoolwide extension activities including Science Olympiad; school, district, and region spelling bee; drama productions; and the history team created a yearlong “History for U.S. [Us]” extension activity. As part of the SMART goals they set, many teams include a goal of developing more extension activities.

 

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

Teachers receive explicit instruction in the PLC at Work process by attending conferences and summits. Washington County School District hosted a PLC Institutes at Work Summit in August 2021, allowing all district teachers the opportunity to attend. For many teachers at Crimson Cliffs Middle School (CCMS), this was not their first PLC conference. School administration has sent teacher teams to such conferences every year when possible. Teachers and teams selected are on a rotating basis in order to give everyone a chance to attend. Depending on how long teachers have worked with the current principal, some teachers have attended multiple conferences. 

Additionally, the principal reviews important PLC at Work information, strategies, and practices with the faculty at the beginning of every school year, and throughout the year when necessary and as time permits. Collaborative teams are organized by content areas with one teacher on each team designated as team leader. Teams follow a “Team Collaboration Guide,” a common pacing guide outlining various parts of the PLC at Work process and agreed-upon deadlines for completion. For example, in each team’s first meeting, they review the team’s norms. Rebecca DuFour explains team norms as, “. . . norms represent the protocols and commitments developed by each team to guide members in working together. . . Norms help groups become teams.”

The pacing guide helps collaborative teams work effectively, manage their collaboration time, and meet state, district, and school-required benchmarks. Some of these include a teacher self-assessment based on the Utah Effective Teaching Standards and Indicators, a Team Professional Growth Plan, and recording student learning data and team plans in a district-provided digital Consolidated School Improvement Plan. One member of the team also records minutes of each meeting and records them online for documentation purposes and so administrators can review the notes and quickly address any concerns or needs a team may have. The school’s learning coach also provides resources and support to the collaborative teams.

Due to the school district providing contract time for collaboration, all teams meet on Friday, an early-release day for students. Students are dismissed at 12:30, and teams have the afternoon for collaboration. Administrators visit team meetings each Friday, and this schedule also allows opportunities for teams to meet with other important school personnel including counselors, media center coordinators, learning coach, academic data coach, or to meet with teams at other schools. 

The expectations and support allow the teams to effectively pursue their main goal: increasing student learning. In these collaborative meetings, teachers address the critical questions of PLCs at Work.

1) What do we want students to learn? What should each student know 

and be able to do as a result of each unit, grade level, and/or course? 

2) How will we know if they have learned? Are we monitoring each student’s learning on a timely basis? 

3) What will we do if they don’t learn? What systematic process is in place to provide additional time and support for students who are experiencing difficulty? 

4) What will we do if they already know it?

To address the above questions, teams develop a Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum (GVC) for their content area; plan instruction, learning activities, and projects; develop common formative and summative assessments; engage in collective inquiry regarding student learning data; and plan responses to students who are below proficient, and enrichment and extensions for those who already demonstrate proficiency; all as part of a targeted, intentional, and ongoing process and culture of continuous improvement in order to meet the mission of Crimson Cliffs Middle School: “ensure high levels of learning for EVERY student.”

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With a vision of what can be accomplished accompanied by a shared understanding of and commitment to the PLC at Work process, a culture of continuous improvement develops within a school where students are taught the importance of improvement and progress over achievement of a specific score or number.

The example of continuous improvement begins with the school leadership. At the beginning of each school year, the principal reviews the PLC at Work process and those components already in place at Crimson Cliffs Middle School (CCMS). During the school year, the school leaders are constantly monitoring programs and practices, collecting quantifiable and anecdotal data. During the opening faculty meeting, the principal reviews the data and feedback with the faculty and proposes revisions and changes that are discussed, approved, implemented, and continuously monitored. 

The collaborative teams take their cues from school leadership and apply the same principles in all of their work including determining the GVC, instructional and learning activities, assessments, collective inquiry, RTI, learning enrichments and extensions, and more. Involving students in individual data analysis, learning reflections, learning predictions, and more make them understand the integral role they also play in the culture of continuous improvement.  

Once students recognize they are learning, there is a natural desire (in most) to continue learning, very often at a faster pace. Anytime students are excited about learning and their individual growth, the students, their classmates, their teacher, and other stakeholders share the excitement and all work harder to improve. An important part of this culture is recognizing students for their achievement and growth. Students are recognized for academic achievement (honor roll, National Junior Honor Society), personal and academic growth (Student of the Week), making the school community better (“Crimson Cash”), and other important contributions (leadership awards, awards for being involved, and so on). A very active Parent Teacher Association (PTA) assists the school with student recognition and also provides activities for all students.

Growth begets growth, and it takes all stakeholders to facilitate a powerful culture of continuous improvement.

 

 

 

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