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Articles by Arkansas Educators

What schools and districts say about PLC at Work®

The PLC at Work® process is enacting meaningful, sustained change in classrooms across Arkansas. These testimonies from real educators across The Natural State detail the inspirational work taking place in their classrooms.

The Journey to Collaboration at Eastside Elementary

The Arkansas Department of Education and Solution Tree have established a partnership to develop and expand the Professional Learning Communities at Work® process within select schools. These schools will serve as working laboratories of the PLC at Work process, conducting action research and sharing best practices with other schools throughout the state. Mandi Dunlap is the principal of Eastside Elementary in Greenbrier, AR—her school was selected to participate in the first cohort of this partnership.

Eastside Elementary has been having a great year so far. As first-year principal of Eastside, I have to say that the Eastside staff has been so willing to try new things and change the “way things have always been done.” The catalyst to this change was when we were included in the PLC Pilot Program, created by Arkansas Department of Education with Solution Tree.

I knew by taking on this pilot project, I must keep things crystal clear about what our message is at Eastside. From the beginning of year, I have been upfront that this requires lots of work, but it is all worth it for our students. We have had a main focus of increasing reading achievement. Our interventions have all focused on reading. We continue to chart data to see if students are improving. If students aren’t improving, we make changes to their plan. If students are showing growth, we celebrate. We celebrate with the student, with the team, and with the whole staff. Our message has been consistent, and the staff is beginning to build trust within their collaborative teams and the building as a whole.

The PLC Pilot Program has literally changed the way we have looked at educating our students. We have embraced the idea of the kids being “all of our kids." A teacher said in a recent collaboration meeting, “In the beginning of the year, I didn’t truly understand how that would even be possible. Now, I see it! We are helping kids from various grades and classes in our own rooms. The kids have become all our kids!” Another teacher shared, “We have always worked hard, but now we are doing the right kind of work." Read more >>

PLC: The Chance of a Lifetime for Eastside Elementary

In August of 2017, Eastside Elementary in Greenbrier, Arkansas, was given what we would soon realize was the “chance of a lifetime.” Eastside is one of four elementary schools in the Greenbrier School District, housing grades preK–5th grade with about 440 students and almost 50 staff members. We have approximately 14 percent of our population receiving special education services and over 50 percent of families considered low-income.

I stepped on the scene of Eastside Elementary as a first-year principal in July 2017. I wanted to meet each staff member individually and get to know them. One question that I asked all of them was, “In a perfect world, Eastside would be…” The staff gave me a variety of answers, but all of them revolved around the idea of greatness! At the time, none of us knew it, but we would soon be given all the tools to make Eastside great for students!

President John F. Kennedy stated, “Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.” When we received the PLC Pilot Project from Arkansas Department of Education while kicking off the 2017 school year, none of us truly understood what we were signing up for, but we were excited to try something different to create success in the lives of our students.

This chance of a lifetime has changed Eastside in so many ways, one of those being the level of professional development that we have received. In the 2017–18 school year, we had 50 days of on-site coaching from Solution Tree, which proved to be a valuable asset to building the capacity of the staff. All of the changes that took place tie back to the four essential questions stated in Dr. DuFour’s work. Read more >>

PLC: The Catalyst for Change at Eastside Elementary

The Arkansas Department of Education and Solution Tree have established a partnership to develop and expand the Professional Learning Communities at Work® process within select schools. These schools will serve as working laboratories of the PLC at Work process, conducting action research and sharing best practices with other schools throughout the state. Mandi Dunlap is the principal of Eastside Elementary in Greenbrier, Arkansas. Her school was selected to be in the first cohort of this partnership.

Change and education go hand in hand. As principal of Eastside Elementary, I can attest to the positive change from the two years as a PLC pilot school partnering with Solution Tree and Arkansas Department of Education. President Obama stated, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” This quote rings true for my staff, because they have truly embraced the process. If you were to ask an Eastside team member, they would say change has taken place by our work becoming more clear and focused.

Last year, we became clear on what it took to become a PLC and began making strides to achieve it. We wrote our mission and vision, created common formative assessments (CFAs), and developed units of study. Also, the guiding coalition began to take on more leadership.

This year, we finished crafting our staff commitments. These commitments were a true collaborative effort that took over a year and a half. We wanted to ensure all staff members’ voices were heard. All of the work we have done at Eastside this year is linked to one of these commitments. Read more >>

From Independence to Interdependence

The story of Quitman Public Schools (QPS) does not begin or end with us. For more than 150 years, QPS has been the heart of the Quitman community, and the staff has demonstrated high levels of commitment to the schools’ mission.

Members of our schools and community—current and past—truly care about each other and the overall well-being of the schools and their students. This is evident from the testimonies of students, parents, current and past educators, and the rollercoaster of historical state test data. These groups of people have been working hard for years, yet their efforts have often not been directed toward the right work.

Thanks to Solution Tree and the PLC at Work® process, our new laser focus on the right work has drastically changed the impact our teachers are having on our school, students, parents, and community. QPS has gone from working independently to interdependently in almost three years. This is a small piece of our story.

From Michael Stacks, high school principal:

I discovered six important truths about QPS soon after assuming the role of high school principal in 2016:

  1. The district was without a true mission.
  2. Not all staff believed all students could learn at high levels.
  3. Teachers were working independently.
  4. The importance of a strong collaboration between building principals in a district our size.
  5. That many teachers were teaching the way they had been taught.
  6. There was great potential for success at QPS across academics and athletics.

Our superintendent and board of education fully supported and encouraged the change that was needed at QPS and recognized that change would not come easily or quickly. Read more >>

What Does Your School’s Success Rest On? The Four Pillars in Action at East Pointe Elementary

DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Many, and Mattos, in their book Learning By Doing (2016), describe the four pillars of a PLC—the mission, vision, values (collective commitments), and goals—as the foundation of a PLC. These pillars are, unfortunately, often overlooked or skimmed over in schools implementing change, but they are the critical underpinnings that will keep the work from crumbling when the inevitable dips in implementation happen.

Teachers must not only understand and commit to the reasons for transforming their educational system, but must then take action to make that plan a reality. Outlining the mission, vision, values, and goals of the organization collectively helps build a common belief in, understanding of, and commitment to the hard work that will follow.

Over the past two years, East Pointe Elementary has been involved in the transformation of becoming a Professional Learning Community at Work. As a Cohort 2 school in Solution Tree’s partnership with the Arkansas Department of Education, it has been involved in this change process for the past year and a half. The four pillars have been the ongoing linchpin of conversations, and we are now seeing the deep connections teachers are making between their day-to-day work and what the four pillars truly represent. Read more >>

On a Mission: Building a Culture of Continuous Growth

Before Morrilton Intermediate School was selected to be a part of Cohort One of the PLC at Work® process in Arkansas, we had common planning times, but there was no expectation of collaboration.

We had access to data but did not utilize it to make changes to instruction. We had pacing guides with no focus on essential standards. Teachers were working hard but alone and not as a team. We were indeed a school full of “islands.”

Teachers would give an assessment, but then it was “business as usual.” Assessments just marked the end of a unit and were not used to intervene with students or improve our own practices. The common theme was, “I taught it, they just didn’t get it.”

We knew that our culture was not built on shared ownership of learning. If a student was not learning, then the student, parent, previous grade, or lack of resources was always to blame. We found excuse after excuse because we didn’t know what we didn’t know. We just knew that what we were doing was not working; enter the Solution Tree PLC at Work process, and our journey toward change began.

We started our journey to become a true professional learning community (PLC) by building a shared understanding of what a professional learning community truly is and isn’t. A PLC is not a meeting time that occurs once a week, where teachers go back to their “island” and back to their old ways of teaching and assessing. It is not a book study or protocol or a template that can be handed out by a principal to implement. Read more >>