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 Riding Short-Cycle Goals to Higher Growth

5/15/2019 12:00 AM

​It was no small job to redesign Jefferson High School's 19 Professional Learning Communities. And it still will be months before student data shows whether the effort paid off.

But the two Jefferson teachers who engineered the redesign, as well as their principal, Don Rundall, are not looking back.

PLCs are not a new concept, of course. These meetings for educators to share best practices and collaborate are held regularly across the Rockford Public Schools. However, Mr. Rundall and Title I teachers Sarah Craig and Jennifer Speakes saw that Jefferson's PLC meetings were not as focused and productive as they could be. 

So this year they created a process that incorporates the Plan-Do-Study-Act, or PDSA, model they studied during a trip to the Menomonee Falls School District in Wisconsin in 2016. The model's focus on short-cycle goals made all the difference in Jefferson's PLCs.

The new process starts with the mandatory approval of short-cycle goals by the principal and the two teachers. It ends with share-outs in a conference room at the school. The process starts again every quarter with new short-cycle goals. A student-friendly example of such a goal in Integrated Math would be: To multiply polynomials. 

To assure alignment with the district, Jefferson allows curriculum deans to track data for the short-cycle goals on Google Sheets. Then the deans and other district leaders are invited to attend share-outs. Questions for teachers during the meetings have become more scripted, but the share-outs remain informal. Mr. Rundall acknowledged it can be nerve-wracking for teachers to make presentations to the principal. The process, however, is not evaluative. It's an extension of what they are doing in the classroom.

"It shouldn't be extra," Mr. Rundall said. "If it's extra, you're not doing it right."

Another mantra that teachers hear a lot from their principal: "Data is data," Mr. Rundall likes to say. "Even if it's bad data, what are you going to do with it? This isn't a gotcha."

Mrs. Speakes said there was a huge shift at Jefferson from the first quarter of this school year to the third quarter. The new process has become embedded in the curriculum; it has become a gauge of what's taught relative to grade-level standards.

The process has pivoted the school's teaching to skills and mastery, from content and behavior.

The real test of the new process will come when Jefferson receives its official SAT results this summer. Whatever the data show, Mr. Rundall is confident the new process has given the school the tools to readjust.

While he hopes all the work will pay off, "We have no intention of stopping. This is good teaching, good practice. This is best for kids."

Jefferson teachers met recently in a Professional Learning Community for Integrated Math I. From left is Sarah Watson, Jason Plessner, Tomiann Zwonitzer and William Iwans.
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