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Checking In at Spring Creek Elementary

This is the fourth post in a series documenting Spring Creek Elementary School's efforts to implement professional learning communities. You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

The season of state testing seemed a good time to check in with Spring Creek Elementary to see how the learning community transformation was progressing. Speaking to my daughter Leslie and the school's principal, Candy, I immediately noticed how much better they sounded than when we last spoke. The changes they had tried to make at the beginning of the year were taking hold, people were less frantic, and fruits of their labor were being celebrated.

I asked what they were most pleased about at this point in the process. Both principal and teacher repeated the theme that they have seen what it means to work together on a schoolwide goal, to feel the excitement of sharing a responsibility, and to celebrate the results as an entire faculty. They feel like everyone now owns the four goals they set for their learning community work. Everyone is getting involved and information is spreading from PLC to PLC.

In retrospect, they felt that the time spent examining data, debating potential priorities, and building an understanding of the four strategies contributed to the success of the teams. Candy said she was particularly proud of the work of the differentiated instruction team. With a very mobile student population, finding ways to engage all learners is critical to schoolwide success. Spring Creek's teachers have embraced this goal, and faculty meetings are more regularly used for staff development so that teachers can share what is working in their classrooms. These lessons have translated into better results on benchmark exams and, Candy hopes, on state tests as well.

Spring Creek still struggles with finding time for all its teams to meet. With tutoring two afternoons a week, club activities, and faculty meetings, there is very little workday time for the communities to meet. Candy and Leslie are eager to hear how others working in small schools are able to create schedules that support PLCs meeting during the workday. Leslie also wants to make sure the content is relevant to all teachers in all subjects, and sometimes struggles to help make the connection to special area and paraprofessionals. They are interested in getting advice from others on this subject as well.

During our conversation we took a moment to celebrate the work of the enrichment teams. While teachers first saw these teams as another thing to do, they now see the value of them. Students see more relevance in school, and teachers are making a significant effort to connect the enrichment activities to the daily objectives. Candy indicated that student engagement and content relevance are much more observable during her classroom walkthroughs and weekly grade-level planning sessions. There is evidence across the board that the four action teams are having a great impact on Spring Creek Elementary.

Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director, Learning Forward

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