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Perseverance Pays Off

"Be patient." "Trust the process." "Stick to it." "Everything works out in due time." I heard all these responses from my mother back when I whined about how long the vacation drive was going to take or how many days were left until school was out.

These are the same phrases Learning School Alliance facilitators offer their LSA teams while encouraging them along the path of continuous improvement. After visiting Birmingham Elementary School in Wylie, Texas a few days ago, it turns out mom, and the LSA Facilitators, were right.

Birmingham Elementary joined LSA in 2009 in hopes the newly launched Learning Forward program would be a catalyst for coalescing their disparate PLCs. As we walked through school halls wall-papered in student writing samples, principal Sherry Betts described the transformation the staff experienced over their two years in LSA.

She admitted that at first she and the staff didn't quite get what LSA was all about, but they knew their efforts to improve student performance through teacher collaboration wasn't getting results, particularly in the area of writing. After analyzing their writing scores, staff recognized immediately if they didn't do something soon, those scores would be in an unstoppable downward spiral. They also agreed their PLCs had to stop operating as independent, competitive teams and unite as collectively to improve both teacher and student learning.

One of the requirements of LSA is that each school team writes a schoolwide professional learning plan, including an adult focus for learning or problem of practice. Sherry and her team took the assignment seriously and targeted writing as the content their PLCs would tackle at every grade level. During year one in LSA, they showed modest improvement in both their collaborative PLC work and in student scores. During their second year and after winning a $10,000 grant from the Learning Forward Foundation, they decided as a staff to hire a writing coach to develop all teachers' skills in teaching writing. That's when things really took off, and as Assistant Principal Vanessa Stuart describes it, "the light switch flipped."

Based on their LSA plan, Birmingham teachers now meet regularly in their PLCs to coach one another, plan classroom visitations, review common assessments, and learn together. In addition, the writing coach does demonstration lessons, meets with grade-level PLCs to de-brief lessons she's observed, teaches skills, and does classroom walk throughs. Through peer and coach support, teachers now are more confident in their own ability to teach writing regardless of their content area. Fourth grade writing scores went from 88% to 95% passing in two years.

So mom was right. Having patience, trusting the process, and persevering pays off. Just ask the folks at Birmingham Elementary.

Carol Francois
Director of Learning, Learning Forward

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