Mountain Shadows Elementary School

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

Shared understanding and commitment to the PLC at Work process. Our PLC journey began during the 2013-2014 school year with new leadership and a new vision. A simple survey of current practices revealed a need for collaboration, commitment, and change in culture. Since then, staff at Mountain Shadows Elementary School (MSES) has been on a PLC journey with many successes and some failures.

The PLC authors DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, and Many (2010) said it best, “we learn best by doing” (p. 18). This statement was the center of discussion after ten MS Leadership Team members returned from the February 2014 PLC Summit. After five principals in seven years, it was evident that common goals and alignment were necessary to improve learning. Knowing that change would not be easy with our very tenured staff, it was a unanimous decision that the PLC framework was exactly what we needed to move forward in our effort to improve student achievement. Immediately after, preparation for implementation began. First, we worked on understanding the process. This meant using our professional development (PD) time for the remainder of the school year to share how we can accomplish more when we work together. Then, we realigned structures, which included work to the master schedule and common prep times so that meetings could happen during the school day. Last, we focused on team building and creating a commitment to the process.

The phrase “go slow to go fast” was the substance of our work for the following two years. We had regular PLC data talks to become accustomed to the idea of talking about and analyzing data. We met regularly in grade level teams to focus on student learning and collective efficacy as we built team structures. Each year, we sent several new Leadership Team members to the PLC Summit to get firsthand knowledge by those who created PLCs. Members heard the overview and then went to great break-out sessions, but not sessions necessarily aligned to our current work. The work was moving forward but we realized we still lacked interdependency and true buy-in that all students could learn at high levels. Knowing this still wasn’t enough, our fourth year of the PLC work turned a corner where we knew we were headed in the right direction as defined by student growth.

The work following the 2016 PLC Summit was crucial. Those attending went to the same sessions to gain a collective understanding of the PLC framework and what it meant to the work we had been doing. Team members returned with a deeper understanding of common assessments, a true focus on what we were to teach, and could define the work of our collaborative teams. Input was given and our first Calendar of Products was created to provide a guide and to build accountability for all. More frequent team meetings and vertical articulation structures were added. Time was given prior to the start of the school year to unwrap standards and identify the essential learning.

Attendees of the summit the following year heard the message about going from “PLC light to PLC right”. This resonated with our staff as we improved our goal alignment and emphasized student growth versus proficiency. Conversations were often heard around campus about improving Tier 1 instruction and using brain-based strategies to engage our learners. Teachers were tracking the success of their Tier 1 instruction in our Leadership Lounge, brainstorming ideas for new learning, affirming what was working, and holding each other accountable to their collective commitments. Now meeting weekly, data binders were used to monitor individual student learning and a multi-tiered support system (MTSS) was used to track how interventions were working.

Our last two years have posed a challenge to our PLC. Just as everything was moving along in a positive direction, the pandemic put a halt to some of the great work. Although we were off-campus for a bit, our work now continues. We currently hold weekly “Thinking Thursdays” where our collaborative teams meet consistently during the school day to work through the four questions. Support continues from the administration and instructional coach to “clear the path” and help teachers focus on improving student achievement throughout the process. Embedded PD is devoted to further understanding the PLC framework and to onboard new staff members. Trainings are developed based on common trends from the feedback heard during collaborative meetings. Members of the MSES guiding coalition are supportive, providing expertise during the monthly meetings. Leadership Team members share the progress of their grade level work each month as the culture of collaboration is now embedded into everything we do. Teams continue to reflect upon and assess their work within the continuum of improving student success. 

Although this journey has been extensive and rocky at times, every step has been needed to transform our culture and belief in student learning. MSES is now a true professional learning community where we have learned best by doing the work. We have and will continue to persevere through the process to truly meet every child’s individual needs. Alone we can do so little, but together we can accomplish much.

Facilitating a culture of continuous improvement. Our culture of continuous improvement is evident within our past and current practices. We built our foundation by creating a culture of collective behaviors where we can accomplish great things when our most important work is aligned and monitored. Our work follows recommendations as prescribed in Learning by Doing (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Many, & Mattos, 2016), Taking Action (Buffum, Mattos, & Malone, 2018), and Pyramid Response to Intervention (Bauffum, Mattos, & Weber, 2009). We are now on a continuous improvement path where our actions are aligned to our desired outcomes.


From the start, we drew upon the strengths of our key school leaders to build collective efficacy. The Leadership Team (guiding coalition) includes grade level teachers, a special education teacher, a content specialist, an instructional coach, and administration. At first, the team established common language throughout our school, revised our mission and vision statements, and defined our targeted outcomes. Next, we developed urgency for student learning by determining our annual school-wide goals. Then, we focused on collective responsibilities where we agreed upon high levels of learning for “our” students. This work meant that all staff were involved in the MTSS process including our daily Win-Win (What I Need) time. Finally, we focused on building collaborative teams and the four guiding questions as our team members needed an in-depth understanding of the team’s function. Accountability is naturally built in through information reporting and the team takes time to celebrate successes. This work is ongoing and our teams understand the importance of influencing change together. Our most recent data guides our current school goal where support is still needed with Tier 1 instructional practices that are intentional and meet rigorous learning goals.


Another essential element is to improve student learning through highly effective teams. Each year, we utilize the PLC at Work Continuum rubric to determine where teams feel they are. During the 20-21 school year, all teams fell within the Sustaining category with a few teams that were challenged to monitor student progress during online learning (from the Developing category). To monitor the progress of each collaborative team, the work documents are kept in the PLC Google Drive. Each collaborative team has a folder where they identify their vision, mission, and collective commitments; essential standards as determined by the Readiness, Endurance, Assessment, Leverage (R.E.A.L.) criteria to answer Question 1; and agenda & meeting notes with embedded data to guide learning and results using the four questions. The agenda & meeting notes document is ongoing and used during each weekly team meeting. Collaborative teams meet during campus-supported “Thinking Thursdays” where the instructional coach and administration are available. Continued time is given on Friday during the district adopted PLC early release time.


Knowing that consistency impacts student learning, it was exciting that our large district adopted the PLC framework in 2015. This opened new opportunities for MSES teachers to participate in district-wide trainings, as well as have a few campus teachers participate in the district’s Model PLC Teacher Leaders training each year. After all, the more we are entrenched into our PLC work, the greater the student achievement.


1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.


Creating and implementing a guaranteed and viable curriculumIn order to reach their highest potential, students must have opportunities for learning. Therefore, before we could monitor student learning, our first action was to review our master schedule to determine when students would have exposure to grade level material in the Tier 1 setting without interruption. Each year, we gather staff input into the master schedule and revise a schedule that ensures all students have access to grade level content. Time in the schedule is also established for Tier 2 Win-Win where a minimum of 30 minutes is designated to give students exactly what they need.


Once the schedule was set, collaborative team time was given during the summer break to determine essential standards using the R.E.A.L. criteria and create the pacing guide. Collaborative teams identified the timeline for instructing each standard and then began creating common formative assessments (CFA) and common summative assessments (CSA) for each essential standard. Teachers had great conversations about what proficiency “looked like'' and identified the agreed-upon performance level descriptions. Moving forward with the work into the school year, teams continue the work by developing a unit action plan using a backward design and creating student-friendly learning targets. Once the assessment is given, teachers use a scoreboard to track their weekly Tier 1 instruction by reporting if 80% or more of the students successfully learned the weekly content. Collaborative conversations are centered on individual student results and reflecting upon teaching practices. 


On a weekly basis, the collaborative teams have 90 minutes to work throughout the process. Time is divided up between two days allowing for two 45-minute work sessions due to two factors: the challenge to meet with the instructional coach and administration regularly since teams were meeting simultaneously, and scheduling conflicts with the district-designated PLC release day. Therefore, teams agreed that consistency was key for monitoring student learning in real time and “Thinking Thursday” was established. One teacher shared how relieved she was to “go back to the old way we used to do it”.


Understanding that we teach the standards and not the curriculum, teachers spend time in collaborative conversations about what to teach. Posed with a few challenges and opportunities due to the pandemic, teachers adjusted accordingly. During the 20-21 school year, our K-5th grade teachers utilized a new reading curriculum that they were unfamiliar with. It took additional time to align the curriculum and plan quality Tier 1 instruction. In a regular school year, teachers provide targeted Tier 2 instruction in a small group. This year, we started the first quarter of the school year online and then transitioned into the classroom using mitigation practices therefore limiting movement in the classroom. Even with challenges, our teachers made the most of their collaborative time, completed the work to meet students’ needs, and achieved student growth.

Timely strategies used to monitor student learningOur belief for monitoring student learning is getting everyone involved. The MSES vision is to build a culture where leaders persevere and reach their highest potential. To get students to their highest potential, involvement must include students, staff, and the Leadership Team. At the student level, every student sets an academic goal that is directly aligned to the grade level goal, which is aligned to the campus goal and district goals. All students and staff create a Wildly Important Goal (W.I.G.) each year which are kept in a Leadership Binder. Individuals create lead measure/s (actions used to accomplish the goal) and monitor progress weekly to influence the chance of success. By involving students in their own academic growth, they are motivated to continue learning when they see their actions influencing their own learning. Time is built in each week with an accountability partner to review progress.

Teachers include daily assessment during lessons to monitor learning. As teachers are instructing, they use different methods for quickly checking student understanding and holding students accountable for individualized learning. When you walk into a classroom, you might see a cooperative learning activity happening or the students responding by holding up their white board or thumbs up/down. It is also common to see a teacher walking around with a clipboard during independent practice time to record how the student is doing. Teachers also monitor student learning through ongoing progress monitoring. A quick one-minute reading assessment about every three weeks guides the teacher on progress.

School-wide monitoring also happens monthly. The Leadership Team not only shares grade level progress, but also monitors district assessment results. Comparative data is analyzed to determine how we are progressing according to our Title 1 peers and how we compare to all K-6/K-8 schools in our district. Quarterly progress is documented on the school-wide board where all students and staff can get a quick snapshot of how we are doing. 

Additionally, time is allocated each month to address the needs of the whole child. “Students of concern” meetings occur regularly on the first Tuesday of every month with each collaborative team. A teacher may bring forth a student with a behavioral concern or academic concern and an in-depth discussion occurs with a team of campus experts to provide and/or evaluate support, discuss if the student needs are being met, create a plan of action, etc. This time allows for an in-depth discussion of how we can reallocate resources to aid the child in learning. Many of the team members that participate each month are also on the guiding coalition team, which enables us to draw upon their expertise.  

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

Systems for intervention and extension. We are proud of our MTSS procedures and the results we get. From the beginning of our PLC journey, we have focused on how we respond when students do not learn by using time during the school day to intervene, remediate, and extend learning. Time within the master schedule is allocated for Tier 1 instruction where all students are taught grade level content. During a Tier 1 block, uninterrupted time is given for teachers to instruct, then assess using CFAs to measure learning. Students who need extra time may be pulled into a small group during this block. For Tier 2 time, staff push into the general education classroom to support students while the teacher is also meeting with student groups. Teachers use a guided reading or guided math structure with differentiated materials to remediate learning. Groups may change frequently according to students’ needs.

Win-Win time is crucial for giving strategic and intensive intervention. This time is built into the master schedule and students are pulled out for instruction in small groups. Our reading specialists, special education teachers, and the gifted teacher work collaboratively with classroom teachers in collaborative teams to identify students that need additional time and support. Using weekly progress monitoring of a specific skill, the specialists always have a great understanding of student learning. Students are involved in this process by having a weekly goal card and tracking their weekly progress. If you ask a student about their goal and what they are doing to improve, they will proudly tell you. While students are pulled out, the remainder of the students participate in Tier 2 instruction by being flexed among other staff members to work on specific skills such as fluency practice, decoding strategies, or comprehension in reading. Students that have mastered the skill work in a group to extend their learning. For us, Win-Win time is a crucial component to helping each student learn, therefore it is consistent and necessary. This design has proven successful for increasing student growth of our lowest performers.

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

Building teacher capacity within our collaborative teams. Leadership means working together for the greater good of our students. That is how we approach teamwork as we have learned that we can achieve more when we work together. Early on in the process, we faced challenges with meeting times, departmentalized teams, silos, and even teachers who preferred isolation. Fast forward to the present, we have highly-performing teams that focus directly on improving achievement. That reality is embedded into our culture and everything that we do. 

A focus on learning was a natural transition for changing the culture and building collaborative teams. As a school serving high numbers of high-poverty students, English language learners, and students with disabilities, we knew we needed to embark on processes that supported student growth. Once collaborative teams were formed with grade level bands, we identified non-classroom teachers that would best support each grade level and they were added to the team. Our campus message shifted to how the students are “ours” and what “we” can do to support them. As we moved forward, our collaborative teams continued to be built during the interview process. Potential candidates are informed of our current practices and expectations of teamwork. This work is what we do, and the usual reaction is relief for the cooperation and support among peers.

Consistent team meetings happen weekly to improve student learning. Following the revised process map (formerly referenced as the Calendar of Products), the collaborative groups focus on the four critical questions and work at their own pace through the process. Teachers hold each other accountable to their collective commitments and focus on their team-identified goals. Conversations are rich when teachers talk about their instructional practices and what worked in their classroom. Data is willingly shared while teachers eagerly explain the successes and areas for improvement. Collaborative team meetings are a safe place for our teachers to reflect and learn while we build relationships and cohesion. Efforts to improve learning is evident within our year-to-year student growth as a result of the interdependent collaborative team work.

As our district shifted to a district-wide PLC effort, additional components were added to our school-wide work to support our collaborative teams. First, tight and loose expectations were created to align with the district. These identified essential components and changed where our documents were stored (moved to Google Drive). Opportunities for participation within regional teams allowed for our intermediate teachers to meet in content groups and discuss instructional practices as associated with data results. Each component of the collaborative team is purposeful and meaningful in working together as a system to set goals, identify actions that will help us achieve our goal, monitor the progress, and create a cadence of accountability to foster interdependence among the campus.

  • Certified as a Leader in Me Lighthouse School in November 2018, with recertification in November 2020.

  • Principal, teachers, and students presented on various systems at The Arizona Leader in Me Symposium in February 2020.

  • Numerous PTSA Awards received including: Largest Unit (multiple years), Largest Unit in the State (multiple years), Largest Number Increase (multiple years), Largest Number Increase in the State (2017), Largest PTA in the Region (2016), Head Start (multiple years), Fall Membership (multiple years), Golden Apple (multiple years), Heart and Soul, Male Engagement (multiple years), Grandparent Engagement (multiple years), Good Standing (multiple years),  and Platinum Membership (multiple years).   

  • Earned highest reading growth in the district during the 2018-2019 school year.

  • Multi-year principal participation on district PLC Staff Development Planning Team supporting the work towards the Model PLC District (recognized in May 2021).

  • Peer/supervisor observations of the PLC process in action (multiple years).

  • Hosted National Board Certified Teacher candidate meetings (multiple years).

  • Instructional coach became a Certified Instructional Coach through the Instructional Coaching Group in May 2020.