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 school’s 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 often have not been directed toward the right work.
Thanks to 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.
In the beginning:
The district was without a true mission.
Not all staff believed all students could learn at high levels.
The majority of teachers were working independently.
The district did not understand the value of strong collaboration between building principals.
Many teachers were teaching the way they had been taught.
There was great potential for success at QPS across academics and athletics.
One of the first steps in the process was establishing a Guiding Coalition. Our Guiding Coalition team plays a vital role in the PLC at Work process and decision-making for our school. Some of the roles and responsibilities of the Guiding Coalition are creating and implementing protocols, leading professional learning, using data to guide and make decisions, serving on interview committees, actively working to problem solve, using research to promote best practices for all staff, and modeling collective commitments in their daily work.
Our stakeholders spent two years developing a mission that would guide all we do at QPS. When we began our journey with Solution Tree, we knew that our collective commitments were an important foundational piece of the work. The mission statement was eloquent and hung beautifully in every hallway and classroom, in addition to being the background of our webpage and social media homepages. However, as we moved deeper into becoming a professional learning community, we quickly found that our mission statement was often little more than words on the wall.
Led by the Guiding Coalition, our teams soon developed collective commitments through an “all-on-the-wall” activity based on our mission statement. In groups, teachers highlighted important aspects of the mission statement, then they determined what action behaviors that looked like. On the wall, we put like behaviors together, and from that list, we created our collective commitments. Our commitments are the foundation of the work we do daily. It drives our daily behaviors and celebrations. When we have staff meetings, professional development, and when teachers meet weekly as a PLC, we begin by reviewing and reflecting upon the collective commitments.
To function as a true professional learning community, teams must have intentional common time set aside to meet at least weekly. In our elementary school, most teams already had a daily common planning time, however scheduling this time in high school was more challenging and needed to be addressed immediately.
Prior to last year, many elementary teacher teams didn't have productive or focused meetings. When we began meeting during year one, our meetings were full of housekeeping items with minimal focus on student learning, so our teams developed team meeting protocols. We have continued to improve these protocols based on where we are in the process, but their focus on the following four questions never changes.
What do we want students to learn?
How will we know they have learned it?
What do we do if they don’t learn it?
What will we do if they already know it?
Each content area team has established SMART goals that shape and guide each team’s work, and each goal has a specific timeline. Our teachers are working within their teams to improve instruction by sharing instructional strategies, modeling for other teachers, and participating in learning walks across grade levels and content areas including athletics. All teams are now interdependent professional learning communities planning for student learning and success inside and outside of the classroom.
When looking at last year’s iStation data and comparing it to this year’s data, we learned that our students consistently scored higher in reading in February of 2020 than they did in May of 2019. In John Hattie’s research, he has studied the various influences of student achievement. Collective teacher efficacy is at the top of the list. Our student achievement data for this school year is proof of the 1.5 standard deviation of student achievement (https://visible-learning.org/hattie-ranking-influences-effect-sizes-learning-achievement/)
We aren’t perfect, but we aren’t striving for perfection. We’ve made mistakes, and we often fail. No matter how many times we fall short, we are always looking for ways to improve, grow, and learn in order to be better for our students the next time; thus the continuous improvement cycle is alive and well at QPS. Many think of success in terms of a linear model, but we argue that success is actually best measured with a circular model.