Westland Elementary (2023)

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

Six years ago, I was assigned as a new principal at Westland Elementary School.  Having worked in a building with high functioning professional learning communities before, I had a level of expectation for where Westland's teams would be in terms of their collaborative work.  As I began working there, I realized that, for whatever reason, teachers there had not been trained in the philosophy or processes of professional learning communities. The only move the previous principal had made toward PLC work was to arrange the master schedule so there was time for team-level collaboration meetings.

 That first year was frustrating for teachers and for me and necessarily focused much more on the need for collaboration and the rationale behind improving teaching practices in order to improve student outcomes.  We focused on the instructional cycle and using that model to plan collaboratively for student success.  What I had come to think of as an intuitive way to proceed in the profession of teacher came as something new and foreign to many of the people I was working with.

 Westland is a magnate school for Jordan District’s gifted and talented program.  This means that roughly one third of our students in grades first through sixth are in a specialized classroom with a teacher who is endorsed in gifted and talented education.  Unfortunately, in these early days some of my GT teachers, while collegial with other teachers on their teams, did not see their place in this process since our focus was improving student outcomes and they worked with students who were generally very successful academically.

 In year two, we continued to focus on collaboratively working through the instructional cycle, but also began to focus heavily on unpacking essential standards.  I also took what I thought was a crucial step and took all of the teachers on my school leadership team to the Solution Tree conference in Salt Lake City.  Once a core group of people had that training and gained a whole new perspective on PLC work, our efforts on improving and refining our processes have been consistent. 

 Although not without pitfalls and setbacks, our work has progressed over the intervening years from unpacking essential standards to developing common assessments, analyzing dats to plan for tier two instruction, building proficiency scales, and having students track their own progress toward learning standards.

 Westland is facilitating a culture of continuous improvement by focusing on purpose, process, and product.

 Our purpose is simple – to improve instructional practices in order to improve student learning. 

Process:  Over time and with hard work, we have developed a process of identifying and unpacking essential standards in the areas of language arts and math.  We studied the instructional cycle and implemented 15-day cycle strategies.  We developed common assessments and began to dig into student data to facilitate decision making.  We have implemented a reading program at Westland that has helped us further refine our tier one, two, and three processes.  We are able to use screener data to identify specific deficits in student’s reading skills.  We have a system of small group, tier two supports targeting those specific skills for a 15-day cycle. At the end of the cycle students are retested and regrouped.  Students who do not need reading interventions on specific skills receive practice in fluency or participate in extension activities.  This program has been in place for a year and a half and we are already seeing positive outcomes in both proficiency and growth scores.

Product:  In the beginning, we focused on product in terms of what teachers have produced – essential standards charts, common formative assessments, proficiency scales, etc.  We are now trying to shift our focus to thinking in terms of what students produce.  Given a learning target and proper support, students are able to use data trackers to show their progress toward learning goals.  This has been an exciting shift for us and is showing dividends already.  Student engagement increases when students become an active participant in their learning journey, not just a passive observer. 


1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

Westland’s journey to provide students a guaranteed and viable curriculum began with a collaborative and critical look at grade level content standards.  Teams identified essential standards in the areas of language arts and math, then began the work of unpacking those standards.  This was slow going at first because the work was new to many of the teachers at Westland.  Our teachers of gifted and talented students (one per grade level) sometimes questioned their part in the process because their students often worked on curriculum that was above grade level.  Through continued discussions, professional development, and the use of tools such as the essential standards chart, most teachers came to see the value of the work and the work became, in some ways, easier.  With the new vision of how powerful collaborative work could be, teams developed common formative assessments and began looking at the data from those assessments to inform instruction.  Teachers began to see how and why they should plan for interventions for students not meeting grade level standards.  Because roughly one third of our student population are in specialized gifted and talented classes, the question of thoughtful and rigorous extension became and important part of collaborative discussions as well. 


Eventually we were ready to take a hard look at the instructional cycle and intentionally using this framework as a basis for our teaching processes.  Teams began mixing grade level groups for intervention.  At first this practice did not show the gains that we were hoping to see.  With professional development, we were able to see that remedial skills had not been targeted in a focused manner and that was why we weren’t seeing results.  This began a renewed discussion on student learning targets and making those targets visible to learners.  This included developing proficiency scales and, most recently, student data trackers.  These tools are helping us to change our philosophies and practices from a teacher-centric to a student-centric view of learning and achievement.

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

Creating systems of intervention and extension to provide student with additional time and support for learning has been our goal from the very beginning.  While most teachers saw the need for this, most struggled with finding a way to make it work in the practical, day-to-day, schedule-driven model of public education.  The advent of Covid further complicated our efforts to provide tier two RTI to small, targeted student groups. 


Help for this problem came in an unexpected way.  Last year, Jordan District adopted the reading program Walk to Read by 95% Group in all elementary schools.  This program uses screening tests to identify deficit skills in reading and then provides materials to deliver targeted support.  This model reinforced the work we had been doing and gave us a new look at how tier two and three instruction can be targeted and efficient.  We have seen gains in student reading scores since this program has been in place.  Teachers work collaboratively to plan for on- and above-level readers during Walk to Read time.  The processes learned through this program will help us as we continue to provide effective, targeted RTI in other content areas.

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

As a new principal, I heard many conversations among principals expressing frustration over teachers’ unwillingness or inability to work collaboratively for student success.  I knew that I didn’t want to fall into that trap and, instead, asked myself what my teachers needed to be successful.  First, I tried to focus on the crucial ideas of collaborative work.  We had many discussions about the four questions of PLC work and made those questions a focus of our collaborative meetings.  Second, I arranged for my school leadership team to attend the PLC at Work conference in Salt Lake City.  Third, we decided to get focused and intentional about the first PLC question: What do we want students to learn?  This drove our efforts to identify and unpack essential standards.  I believe that all of our success in our collaborative work has come from looking closely at and trying to answer that question.