Principal Raises Academic Rigor With LDC and Good Assignments

Spotlight

In the fall of 2015, Southeastern School, a K-12 school serving a suburban community outside of Birmingham, Alabama, began adopting the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) and the Mathematics Design Collaborative (MDC) instructional strategies.

Before Southeastern made the commitment to implementing LDC and MDC, Principal Glenn Puckett knew it was important to have teacher buy-in and he asked some of the mid-career teachers to look into the literacy and math frameworks more closely.

“We started talking to our teachers and letting them do some research, sending one or two of them to look around at LDC and MDC in other systems. And when they looked they said, ‘Yeah, this could be good for us,’” he notes.

After it became clear that this is something that his teachers wanted to do, it was his job as the principal to set his teachers up for success. “I committed to do anything, provide any resources, as long as my staff was interested. Because I’m not the one who has to implement this. I need my staff to believe that it will be successful,” says Puckett.

I need my staff to believe that it will be successful.

This go-slow, ground-up approach has paid dividends in ensuring that the teachers are invested in LDC and MDC. “As a system we did a much better job of getting our teachers’ buy-in, and not forcing them and saying things like ‘You will do this,’” maintains Puckett.

Providing Time to Grow

Southeastern followed a very deliberate plan by implementing LDC and MDC in the seventh grade and extending implementation upward by a grade level each year.

The initial cohort of four teachers were provided three days of initial training, followed by four days during the school year; as principal, Puckett went through an initial 1.5 days of training, followed by one additional day.

Once teachers bought into the concepts, the greatest challenge was finding the time for the planning necessary to make the instructional shifts connected with LDC and MDC. Fortunately, time is a resource principals have some control over.

“There’s a heavy lift on the front end with LDC and MDC, and you’ve got to make it worth teachers’ while. What I did [a couple of times in the 2015-16 school year] is I hired subs and gave all four teachers a day to just get together and talk about it,” explains Puckett. “We let them go off campus to eat and let them have the whole day just to do some planning.”

Puckett said that teachers who used LDC became more complete in their instructional strategies. For example, the social studies teacher was very strong in planning lessons, but weaker on incorporating quality writing tasks for students. Conversely, the English language arts teacher was strong in writing, but weak on planning complete lessons. For both, the LDC training was like adding in the missing puzzle piece, making them more complete teachers.

The use of MDC at Southeastern had an immediate impact as students went beyond learning procedures to achieve a deeper understanding of math concepts. For the seventh grade, which was the grade level at which Southeastern introduced MDC, student proficiency on Alabama’s state assessment, Aspire, rose from 31 percent in 2015 to 51 percent in 2016 — a gain of 20 percentage points.

As for LDC, students’ average growth was over one grade level based on results from the STAR assessment. “It’s definitely improved our instruction. There has also been a vast improvement in the level of literacy skills being addressed in our classes. I believe that once these students go through several years with this type of instruction, we will see higher scores on college entrance exams,” says Puckett. “After seeing the positive impact it was having on instruction, we included LDC and MDC in sixth grade.”

“It’s definitely improved our instruction. There has also been a vast improvement in the level of literacy skills being addressed in our classes.

In the 2016-17 school year, LDC and MDC expanded from the early core group of teachers to others in the school. Math teachers in grades six through 11 are implementing MDC strategies, and LDC strategies are being used in grades six through 12.

Southeastern has dedicated a professional development day before the start of school, two professional development days in the fall and two in the spring to support the effort. Additional training will happen during teachers’ prep periods, after school and during halfday sessions when substitutes are brought in to cover classes.

Puckett gives his teachers the credit for making the instructional changes at the heart of LDC and MDC, working behind the scenes to create an environment in which teachers can excel. “My job is to provide my teachers the resources, get them to training and get out of the way. That’s what I do.”

Note: This story is published in the May 2017 issue of the High Schools That Work Best Practices newsletter, which features more stories about how to improve schools through student intervention, supportive leadership and innovative scheduling.