Young businesswoman measuring something with big ruler

In the Papillion-La Vista School District (PLSD) in Nebraska, we embrace the notion that all kids can learn by making continuous improvement a priority and an integral part of teacher collaboration. 

In our district, we analyze student achievement data in real time to inform teaching and learning through professional learning teams (PLTs). We employ an initiative called I.D.E.A.L. (Identify, Describe, Evaluate, Act, and Learn)—an action research model that requires administrators and teachers to implement evidenced—based practices that have the greatest impact on student learning. In fact, our I.D.E.A.L. action research model was recently recognized nationally, receiving a District of Distinction award in the area of student achievement.

In following the I.D.E.A.L. process, we don’t craft an action plan until we can identify, describe, and evaluate student achievement data and its impact on student learning needs. During the “learn” phase of the process, PLTs reflect on both qualitative and quantitative outcomes to assess whether improvements are needed. We’ve seen five years of consecutive growth on state accountability assessments, which directly correlates with the introduction of our I.D.E.A.L. action research model.

Not Lost in Translation

Since we welcome about 100 new teachers to the district annually, the curriculum department determined some common language terms they thought would be helpful across several fronts. New staff needed to understand terms like “pacing guides” and “learning plans,” and we also introduced other practices such as effectively tapping learning targets and using common summative assessment results. The knowledge and skills developed and/or reinforced during training include elements of an effective lesson, assessment literacy, PLT norms, and the hands-on use of our I.D.E.A.L. action research model.

We’ve discovered that the fundamental elements needed to lead professional learning include a common understanding of best instructional practices melded with a quality curriculum, instruction, and assessment. We also value the professional learning teams’ use of timely data for decision making, and we make sure the district’s I.D.E.A.L. action research model is implemented with fidelity. 

In addition, our Curriculum Toolbox teams develop a guaranteed and viable curriculum by following a very concrete plan for implementation over time—in fact, this process was recognized by the AdvancED external team as a powerful practice. The district’s assessment system is balanced and the required administration of common summative assessments are aligned to state standards. 

To lead learning at the next level, principals need to become system players—school leaders who contribute to and benefit from the increased performance of other schools in the district (and of the system as a whole). In the PLSD, elementary schools are arranged into array teams to create this intradistrict collaboration; high schools collaborate externally with sister schools at the state and/or national level to construct an environment conducive to competitive collaboration and shared learning. 

In today’s educational climate of blended learning, flipped classrooms, online learning, 1:1 initiatives, and technology-enhanced assessments, our district treads cautiously. This is not to say that such initiatives are not taking place in the district, but rather we want to ensure that such initiatives are actively and intentionally being monitored for their impact on student learning. Tried-and-true evidence-based instructional practices cannot be cast aside simply to yield to the latest fad in education. In fact, the need for a consistent instructional model, available for both veteran teachers and new staff, has become one of our strategies based on feedback from staff and an external AdvancED accreditation team. 

The Papillion-La Vista school district model on the essential elements of instruction

Interactive Instructional Resource

Upon reviewing research on the essentials of effective instruction, the curriculum department at PLSD determined that the first phase of implementation would include new staff and principals, plus aspiring principals in a leadership cohort, as learning leaders. 

The curriculum department identified eight of the 13 elements of effective instruction (see graphic). Those elements are the anticipatory set, learning targets, scaffolding, questioning, feedback, guided practice, independent practice, and closure. In the fall of 2014, the instructional resource was showcased, and principals were provided with scenarios as to how such a tool might be utilized. Seven scenarios were prepared with modules, both static and active, to illustrate how the instructional resources could be used by the building, by department/grade level teams, and/or by classroom teachers. The district took a “loose/tight” approach—allowing principals to use the instructional resource as they saw fit. Noting the benefits of school-based use of the instructional resources, new staff to the district and new department leaders will annually participate in training as a part of the I.D.E.A.L. action research process.

Currently each of the eight elements of the instructional model has three resources to choose from; the options range from a PowerPoint summary to an interview to a video segment. The resource/training modules generally take less than 10 minutes for any individual, grade level, department, or PLT to process and can be utilized with staff on intensive evaluation plans for growth and development. 

Continuous Improvement and Accountability

The goal of the initial leg of our journey to consistently lead learning of quality lesson planning is to ensure that the elements of effective instruction, along with our other systemic processes, are being implemented with fidelity in all classrooms. 

This is a continuous improvement initiative. We will be actively observing the I.D.E.A.L. action plan to incorporate the evidence-based instructional elements.  

Sidebar: Making It Work

Steps principals can take to implement a successful evidence-based instruction initiative: 

  1. Create an electronic walkthrough form for the eight elements of the instructional model so that aggregate pre- and postprogram data can be collected in a longitudinal fashion by several stakeholders and analyzed to monitor the implementation and utilization of the instructional resources. 
  2. Charge departments and elementary grade-level teams with implementing an I.D.E.A.L. action plan based on achievement data and aligning professional learning to address students’ needs and to monitor the most effective adult actions that are getting results. 
  3. Utilize an AdvancED observation tool (eleotTM) that focuses on student engagement across seven learning environments. Pre- and postprogram data is also being collected and compared to the external review team’s results to assess growth in these seven areas over time.
  4. Participate in a comprehensive review for leading learning, with a focus on personalized learning at a professional level via an instructional model, which has the potential to support every classroom. 

Melanie Mueller, EdD, is director of research, assessment, and evaluation for the Papillion-La Vista School District in Papillion, NE.Ron Hanson is the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the Papillion-La Vista School District in Papillion, NE.