Adel Desoto Minburn

  1. PLC Story
  2. PLC Practices
  3. Achievement Data
  4. Awards
  5. Resources

     As a community of educators who have always valued professional development and the strength in learning to grow, our district struggled with meeting the demanding needs of various professional development offerings. As we all yearned to continue to grow, we were led to look within, to our own community of educator professionals. We understood the value of learning from one another. The philosophies of professional learning communities have guided us to a powerful place of learning and a culture committed to growth.

       At first, we were led to better understand the values and core philosophies of a professional learning community. Our administration led the beginning stages of understanding by guiding us through book studies. These included Enhancing RTI (Fisher and Frey, 2010), Professional Learning Communities at Work (Dufour, Dufour, and Eaker, 2006) and Maximum Tier One (Quinn, 2012). They also shared magazine articles, testimonies, and “The Power of Professional Learning Communities at Work: Bringing the Big Ideas to Life” (2007). These opportunities sparked a deep interest within all teachers to collaboratively work and learn together to better student experiences and learning.

       Our initial work as a PLC included the development of subject-specific collaborative teams, who then established norms as well as short and long term goals. While norms were always understood, it took time for each of us to find the strength in their value. Just as each student learns differently, so too, do each of our collaborative teams. However, over time, each collaborative team has established - and is now utilizing - the norms that best suit the needs of their individual group.

     As we continue to experience the power of working collaboratively in like-minded groups, we also long for learning from others. We have established a PLC Executive Team of one leader from each existing collaborative team. This group of leaders cannot be overlooked as the innovative and most powerful piece of our success. The PLC Executive Team has been the catalyst in our successful collaboration throughout the school for four years. This group provides the link between professionals. As each collaborative team develops their own goals, the Executive Team develops school wide goals to take to their collaborative teams. The Executive Team members have also had the opportunity to better understand and enhance the quality of their collaborative team during Solution Tree training led by Geri Parscale. This opportunity strengthened our understandings and provided us with the tools to take our PLC to the next level.

     After the training, the PLC Executive Team reflected on what still needed to be done to ensure each collaborative team and member of the PLC Executive Team was committed to growing and transforming the culture of our PLC. The development of a humorous, yet powerful, teacher-led video portrayed the “dos and don’ts” of PLC work. During this project and its planning we were surprised to notice the habits of unsuccessful collaborative teams in our own groups. Through reflection, committed leadership, and determination, it was then that our PLC transformation began.

     The role of the PLC Executive Team has extended to creating powerful, yet flexible, agendas for each collaborative team. These agendas are not to-do checklists, but are linked to the four guiding questions and lead our conversations. As the Math collaborative team notes, “this helps us stay on task, but we are flexible enough to discuss topics that relate directly to any immediate needs”. Further, the PLC Executive Team developed a form through Google docs that is used to reflect, plan, focus the conversation, and share questions or concerns with the administration. These resources allow our collaborative teams to stay on track, as well as keep leadership and learning at our forefront.

     The story of our commitment and development of our PLC has led us on a journey of professional growth. While we understand that our learning and experiences will continue to grow, we celebrate our current work. It’s not a lifestyle, it’s our school style!

   Within our Professional Learning Community, we meet in the following subject specific  collaborative teams as follows: Literacy (Writing and Reading teachers), Math, Social Studies, Science, and Special Education. The middle school also hosts these district wide collaborative teams: Music, School Counselors, Art, Teacher Librarians, Physical Education, Technology teachers, and GATE teachers. Each collaborative team is made up of about four to six teachers. The district has dedicated each of our early out and full day professional development days to our PLC. This is approximately 85 hours each year.  We are religiously committed to this time together.

     It must also be noted that we meet in additional structured collaborative teams. Each day, 43 minutes of time is devoted to grade level specific collaborative teams. This time is focused on student learning, additional book studies, cross curricular planning, as well as student concerns and celebrations. Each week we also have one day focused on collaborative and co-teaching opportunities with our special education teachers. These collaborative teams also submit weekly logs.

     In addition, we meet twice a month before school. Our PLC Executive Team is responsible for determining the best use of this before school time. During the 2015-2016 school year, we chose to collaboratively study the book Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath. We have used this time to study people’s strengths to better our collaborative work. The morning schedule is distributed at the start of the year and all staff values this expectation.

    The last several school years, we have been using a "Repeating Process" where we collaboratively document each part of an entire unit of learning.  The first document/step is a Unit Planning Guide.  This document lists power standards, student-friendly learning targets, examples of rigor to demonstrate proficiency in the learning target, prerequisite skills, CFA's, and end of unit assessments, extensions, and resources. The 2nd document is the Data Analysis Protocol.  With this document, we collaboratively determine students that are secure, need extensions, or need more support.  We track student mistakes, instructional practices, interventions, extensions, and leave notes for improving the assessment.   


1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

In our PLC, we are constantly focusing on the Four Guiding PLC Questions:

1) What do we want students to learn?

2) How will we know when they have learned it?

3) How will we respond when they do not get it?

4) How will we respond when they already know it?

     With these guiding questions, we continue to reflect on whether our students are learning using assessments and collected data. We collaborate on the need for continuous formative assessments that are frequent and shorter in length. These include multiple strategies, such as exit tickets, white boards, and buzzer system responses. These formative assessments help us determine if students are truly learning before a student struggles with the summative assessment.

     Further, these rich conversations challenge us as professional educators as we continue to focus on our students individually. Our collaborative teams are building more opportunities for self-assessment and, in turn, students own their learning. Through our collaborative teams, we have built a level of trust that allows us to venture into writing rubrics and assessments tied to Standards Based Learning. Working together has guided us in reaching this deep level of learning with individual students.

     TOGETHER we have removed the mystery of what and how we are assessing. Our assessments are quite straightforward and tied to the standards in kid-friendly terms. These kid-friendly and common rubrics, created in our collaborative teams, take out the unknown. These rubrics help both the teacher and student know what skills they are proficient in and/or what skills they need more practice.

     We understand the need to plan and make the TIME to support students in their learning. This is especially true when students are experiencing difficulties or, in addition, are needing extensions for learning. We know that students are not perfect and that as educators, sometimes they will not “get” it the first time we “teach” it, but our mindset focuses on that outside time and commitment to learning. This thought process has helped us become a staff that believes in re-teaching and re-assessing - a BIG focus during our collaborative work.  

     Feedback to our students is critical. This is a constant guiding conversation in collaborative teams. In the PLC Teacher to Teacher Observations this school year, feedback has been discussed many times. Teachers stress the importance of feedback being timely and given to students in multiple ways. We also notice during these observations what other teachers are doing and take ideas back to our own classrooms. This is all especially important as we have structured the classrooms to have more re-teaching and re-assessing. Our collaborative teams know that feedback can either encourage or discourage continued student effort.  


     Our collaborative literacy group has developed a common standards-based grading rubric that we use in all areas of Literacy- Reading, Writing, Language, and Speaking & Listening Standards. We use this rubric on every assessment in grades 6-8 Literacy, which makes it very useful when we are reflecting on student growth and teaching practice. The rubric scale ranges from "Struggling" to "Mastery" of a specific standard (example in resource section). The scale and the self-assessments have been beneficial for student and parent understanding in the shift from traditional grading to standards-based grading and learning. We have dedicated much of our collaborative time in discussing what each level on the rubric means to us, and how we will communicate this with students and parents so that we are consistent with teaching and grading practices throughout each grade level.

     Other formative assessments that we use daily to measure student success were created together as a literacy collaborative team. We believe having common assessments is essential for the success of our collaborative team, the students, and our teaching. These assessments include our conference forms, oral reading assessments, reading logs, and student reflection forms. We created a common oral reading assessment to assess students' fluency and expression while reading aloud. We use this in grades 6-8 to determine reading levels and form different reading discussion groups. We also use this assessment as a point of reference across grade levels during our collaborative discussions when talking about student growth and areas needing improvement.


     When the CCSS were first examined in detail, teams worked through unpacking the standards and choosing “power standards”. From that work, each collaborative team created units, formative and summative assessments, along with choosing instructional resources.   This work was tracked on curriculum maps and numerous collaborative google docs. Depending on the subject, teachers created essential learnings. Various resources were used as part of the curriculum work. For example, we studied Penny Kittle and Katie Wood Ray as part of our units of study in writing. The Social Studies collaborative team utilized Mike Schmoker as they have worked to incorporate reading and writing standards into their Social Studies curriculum. Teams took Schmoker’s “What we Teach?” and focused on “I statements”  allowing the standards to make sense for our students. As we know with any curriculum work, it just continues to grow and improve with a strong focus on “What do we expect our students to learn?”. This work could not have happened without strong collaborative teams.  

     As we have ventured into two years of study on standards based grading/learning, this curriculum work has become even more viable with such a strong focus on “What do we expect our students to learn?”. Our specials have also been focusing on their standards and walking through the same process as the core subject areas. They, too, have been using these standards with such a strong focus as we have paraded into the realm of standards based grading/learning. More specifically, the music collaborative team has evaluated their district wide sight reading assessments to include standards based learning practices as well as best meeting the different needs to vocal and instrumental students. The music collaborative team annually investigates student data, grades 2-12, to determine skill level.

     We are doing this same process as we begin to unpack the new Next Generation Science Standards. Additional collaborative team time was scheduled during the summer to investigate, interpret, and decide what is best for our students and our teaching together.

     Within the Literacy collaborative team, each of the standards is assessed within a unit,  using both formative and summative assessments. Because our units and assessments are tied directly to the standards, we can ensure all students are learning at high levels. The work in transitioning to standards-based grading was done in our collaborative teams. Through standards-based instruction and grading, we are able to pinpoint exactly what an individual student knows, and where he or she struggles. We also use data to drive instruction and serve all learners.

     We not only began using standards based grading as a literacy collaborative team, but we continue to have conversations about our curriculum much further than just grading scales and student achievement. We also have decided that as a Literacy collaborative team, we want to be consistent on the standards we teach, how we assess them, but also what we expect of students - regarding reassessments, enrichment, growth, and “end goals” for each standard (what does “mastery” mean for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders?). Again, this works to increase student achievement because we all are able to try different strategies and ideas in a variety of grade levels. We then come back and share as a collaborative team to see what works and what doesn’t, building off each other. The center of most of our conversations regarding formative and summative assessments is comparing what we did and how someone else can try it and make it better.

2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.

     As a community of educators committed to student learning, we also understand that learning and growing can look and happen differently for each student. Therefore, as our collaborative teams consider our students’ learning, we have implemented various supportive interventions. For example, the math and science collaborative teams are offering labs during our additional homeroom time for students who need either more time or help. Further consideration has been given to our after school study group. Initially this option was offered two days a week; however, our PLC recognized the need for more time. We now offer this service to any student after school, Monday through Thursday with transportation provided. This time is devoted to student learning! Teachers are compensated to stay after school and focus on the reteaching, reassessing or even working on study skills.  

     Continuing to consider the time students need to learn to their fullest potential, we also know assessment day may not be the perfect day for each student to show us what they have learned. For this reason, reteaching and reassessing have become a regular habit at the middle school. Our work in collaborative teams has focused on standards based learning from a two-year book study connected to rewriting common assessments and reassessments along with providing quality feedback to students. This work focuses on the PLC Guiding Question: How will we respond if they do not get it?  

     Lastly, our individual professional development plans provide a support for individual students. These plans, directly connected to our PLC goals, focus on specific students, their learning, and include action plans for helping the student improve. We have found this focus on individual students makes a big difference in our teaching and student achievement.

     Our collaborative teams are constantly learning. We know and understand there are additional ways to support student learning needs. We are committed to a growth mindset of continuous evaluation and focus on student interventions.


     To better clarify, the incomplete/failing list is created weekly. If students are incomplete in an assignment or are failing a class, they are required to stay for after school study group. Although this is after school, MANY students stay for our afterschool program. Every middle school coach and teacher electronically receives the F/I list daily, so they are informed which students will not be at practice until after tutoring if they are on the list. These students are placed on the daily transportation list. We have a staff member from each grade level that stays everyday. And sometimes multiple teachers from each grade level. Our culture is built around the importance of this time. The dedication of teachers staying and working with students is honorable.

     While this time is inherently valuable, we also understand the importance of reteaching during the class day. Teachers regularly allot a reteaching, re-assessing, enrichment “day” in order to meet the needs of each student. On these days, students are grouped according to recent formative data in the group that best meets their needs. Teacher associates, as well as special education teachers (in co-taught sections), aid in the success of these days. Each student is being met at their current reality or level of need to better ensure additional time and support.

3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.

     Our PLC has added to our collaborative culture by truly powering our work to be better and more meaningful. We support our PLC collaborative time as such an important part of the entire structure of our school. This allows us time for departments to work together and not lose the synergy and energy produced when we collaborate on issues of teaching and learning.  

     Having fun and being effective together go hand in hand in our PLC. Each collaborative team has created their own specific norms. These norms focus our discussions and fuel the culture of collaboration. The first step of this sacred time is briefly reviewing the norms, as well as celebrating successes.

     Each collaborative team creates their own short term goals. These goals are connected to our building and district goals. For example, for the 2015-2016 school year, our Special Education collaborative team's long term goal is “Begin a transition portfolio for each individual student”. This goal was reinforced with a short term goal of providing career exploration by arranging multiple job shadow experiences for each of our special education students. Without the collaborative discussions and team efforts of the special education team, these goals would not have positively influenced and provided this opportunity for our special education students.

     Using the ideas from Solution Tree’s PLC trainer, Geri Parscale, we reinforced the importance of understanding how to create a positive, yet effective collaborative PLC by engaging in various activities. These included the compass activity to better understand one another and the snowball activity to engage in deeper conversations. We reinforced these positive collaborative behaviors through our “Dos and Don’ts of PLCs” video. This learning never ends as we have continued through a PLC book study, Strengths Finders (Rath, 2007). We have gathered information and further ideas from Cultures Built to Last - Systemic PLCs at Work (DuFour and Fullan, 2013) along with various other PLC books. All these activities have helped us in better understanding not only how we each work as professionals, but also how our teaching impacts various student learners.  

     Collaborative teams make sense to us and enable us to improve student learning all the way down to the individual student. We NEED to function as a PLC because we KNOW the value of collaborative teams. It makes common sense to us!

Achievement Data Files

Additional Achievement Data

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     Our PLC culture of collaborative teams has significantly increased student achievement. While considering specific data, it should be noted that the group of students who were 6th graders in 2013-2014 had 87% of students score proficiently in reading. The same group of students, as 8th graders, two years later had 93% of students scoring proficient in reading during 2015-2016. Secondly, the group of students who were 6th graders in 2012-2013 had 88% of students scoring proficient on the science test. The same group of students had 93% of student proficient the following year and 98% proficiency as 8th graders in 2014-2015. Much of this success can be attributed to the collaborative efforts of our staff using the PLC model.

     With all that said, as a school district we have always strived for academic excellence. The PLC process has aided in this professional goal. Comparing our scores to the state of Iowa average reflects this dedication to student learning.

     Additionally, our collaborative teams, as part of their goal setting process, have focused on data collection within their subject area. For example, the music collaborative team has tracked student growth in rhythm identification, values, notation, and performance. This data has guided their teaching, student learning, and grade level sequenced instruction (graphs are included in resource section).

     Also, the literacy collaborative team has appreciated the opportunity to develop instructional strategies and assessments connected to their goals.  They use this data to implement strategies in the classroom helping students improve overall.  The literacy collaborative team collects and analyzes student data, identifying areas of strength and areas for revision in their teaching. The PLC process- the time to focus on the learning of our students- is essential in the growth and success of our students.

     A literacy collaborative team goal (2015-16) was for students to increase independent reading rates and amounts over the course of the year. Students tracked this data to set monthly goals, and the goal and actual page totals were collected each month (graphs and pictures are included in resource section). The reading totals in each grade (6-8) far exceeded the goal total each month. The monthly goal total also significantly increased from the September goal, showing that students' reading rates increased since the first semester. Students' reading success is tied to instruction and the common reading culture created throughout our school, e.g., daily SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) time and ever-growing classroom libraries. Students are reading more every day, which is contributing to overall success in Literacy.

We have gone through many changes with standardized tests required in IA the last three school years.  In 2017 - 2018 IA Schools took the IA Assessment.  (These graphs are in the existing file attachments)  This was a different test than we'd been taking.  In 2018-19 School year, Iowa switched to ISASP test with hopes of the continuity of this test being used long-term.  (These graphs are in the existing File attachments)  Then in 2019-20, we did not finish our school year as COVID hit, so our students did not do standardized testing.  We do not have data from 2019-20. Throughout those school years, we took advantage of short term goal using our own data from our own created assessments and benchmarks in our PLC repeating process cycles. 

As our district reviewed our 2020-21 scores, we determined that we need to think big in order to follow our mission of "Learning for ALL".  Our district has developed the 4 Disciplines of Execution model where we created a district WIG all tied to Literacy.  Each building and teams all created Building and Team WIGS all connected directly to our district WIG.  We are gathering data weekly using our FAST data for Literacy and promising interventions and progress monitoring with students several times throughout a week.  At the middle school, we have allowed the Literacy teachers to "pull" students during Tiger Time for interventions 4 times a week and have all subject areas involved in increasing our reading scores.  At the Middle School, we also added a Math building WIG to use our Math FAST data and were training in the Numeracy Project to project interventions for our math students in skills that have been missed through the years. It is exciting and challenging work focused on data and making sure ALL students are provided learning at their level.  

  • Awarded a rating of “Exceptional” by the Iowa Department of Education. Only four percent of all Middle Schools in the state of Iowa received this high rating. This is a composite of the following categories: Proficiency, Closing Achievement Gap, College and Career Ready Growth, and Annual Expected Growth.  

  • Awarded Project Lead the Way (PLTW) and STEM related grants and recognition. We have had PLTW’s Gateway to Technology for four years. We are guiding our students to learn more about the engineering process and robotics design. We offer a variety of courses in both the engineering stem, as well as as the computer science area.

  • Middle school teachers have presented at various conferences including: ICTM-ISTS, Iowa Council of English Teachers, ASCD, IBA, Iowa School Board Convention.

  • Teacher representative on the board writing the Next Generation Science Standards.

  • Explored and awarded, through the University of Iowa’s Belin-Blank Center, the finances to support a SEAL (STEM Excellence and Leadership) program.

  • Recognized as a top rated Iowa school by the US News and Report Education. This year we were listed eighth in the state rankings of Iowa’s public high schools.