DavieLEADS – Professional Development and PLC’s – A Wonderful Process to Watch Unfold

By Jeanna B. White
“What steps will you take forward to help ensure a growth mindset for your team?” asked DavieLEADS consultant, Barbie Brown, during a workshop for the leaders of Davie County Schools’ Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).

Professional Learning Communities allow teachers to meet regularly, share expertise and work collaboratively to improve teaching skills and drive the academic performance of students.

These meetings have become an essential component of DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed). Although the initiative, created through a 5-year $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation, focuses on early literacy, all teachers across the county are benefitting from its professional development.

Davie County Schools’ PLCs are organized by grade level. Each school includes a time within its master schedule for the weekly meetings. During those meetings, teachers discuss how to increase academic performance by evaluating what is going well and what could be improved. The primary focus of the meetings is to gain a deep, collective understanding of what the standards are requiring our students to know, understand, and do. Teams also create common formative assessments, update quarterly pacing maps, and review testing data. The goal of PLCs is effective classroom instruction that ensures high levels of learning for all students.

PLC Leader Training
Over the summer, PLC leaders were trained to create a solid foundation for weekly PLC meetings. With the assistance of the school’s instructional coach, as well as the guidance of the PLC consultants, these leaders are learning to support collaboration in PLC meetings.

“PLC Leader’s Training is empowering our teachers,” said Kelly Myers, the instructional coach at Cooleemee Elementary School. “Through training, teacher leaders are learning how to plan for and facilitate effective PLCs.  We are putting structures and tools in place that allow us to think deeply about our standards and what students need to know and be able to do. Strong PLCs allow us to grow as educators and lead to laser-focused classroom instruction.”      

This month around 100 PLC leaders from preschool through high school met at Bethlehem United Methodist Church for continued instruction on facilitating an effective PLC meeting.

“Our goal is to train leaders in each grade level how to dig deeper into the standards and content so that the process can be sustained beyond the five years of the grant,” said Amy Spade, literacy coach.

Since this year’s PLC focus is clarifying standards and learning to teach them more deeply, the PLC leadership teams participated in activities that further clarified the work that should be done in PLCs.  Teachers gained a deeper understanding of the Depth of Knowledge/rigor that the standards require. Time and attention was focused on vocabulary instruction as well.

“PLCs are a work in progress, “ said Nancy Scoggin, DavieLEADS consultant. “We are on a journey. As we dig deeper into our standards, evaluate data, and examine teaching practices, we have to be patient and persistent.”   

“This is a huge process,” Brown added encouragingly,  “Nancy and I think you are making great progress. Pat yourselves on the back because you’ve done a lot of work even if it doesn’t feel like it.”

Tracie Welch, the instructional coach at Mocksville Elementary School, believes the hard work is paying off. “During PLCs, our teachers are really able to “dig in” to their learning standards for students and guide their instruction to meet the needs of all learners.  Our teachers are putting in a tremendous amount of work, and it shows through student growth. It has been a wonderful process to watch unfold!“

Letterland – Davie Teachers Receive Hands-on Literacy Training!

By Jeanna B. White

“When I say the word cuckoo, what do you think of? What does it remind you of?” asked Cindy Cooke as she prepared to read “The Cuckoo School” to a class of 2nd graders at Cooleemee Elementary School. 

Cooke, a trainer from Letterland, was modeling a lesson using the Letterland methodology and materials for the school’s 2nd-grade teachers. She and fellow trainer, Reba Walden, traveled to each of Davie County’s elementary schools March 5-7 to model lessons for teachers from kindergarten through 2nd grade and to answer questions about best practices using the program. Teacher assistants stepped in to cover classes so that all of the teachers could participate.

Developed more than 45 years ago at a mother’s dining room table, Letterland is a unique, phonics-based approach to teaching reading, writing and spelling to 3-8-year-olds. The Letterland characters transform plain black letter shapes into child-friendly pictograms, and they all live in an imaginary place called Letterland.

Simple stories about the Letterland characters explain the full range of dry phonics facts so that children are motivated to listen, to think and to learn. These stories explain letter sounds and shapes, allowing children to progress quickly to word building, reading, and writing. As students progress, the lessons become more complex maintaining student interest.

The program works. Engagement in Mrs.O’Neal’s classroom was high as students read aloud, defined vocabulary words, answered questions, and brainstormed ways to personalize the story for their own school.  

Letterland is an essential piece of DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed), the Mebane Foundation’s five-year, $2.5 million grant to improve kindergarten readiness and to increase the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

Although all preschool-2nd-grade teachers received Letterland training last year, this was the first time they had the opportunity to meet in small groups and to ask the Letterland consultants specific questions about implementing the program in their classrooms.

“This training was tailored to meet our teachers’ specific needs and focused on what they wanted to work on,” said Amy Spade, literacy coach. “We know we need to elaborate and help our teachers in the areas they feel they need a little more clarification which also assists with implementing the program across the county with consistency.“

Cooke added, “When teachers attend initial training in Letterland, the information and materials can be overwhelming. Coaching is critical and necessary to help teachers implement the instructional practices built into the program. Reba Walden and I are here this week to provide teachers the support they need so they can teach the Letterland program with fidelity.”

The teachers appreciated the coaching and opportunity to ask questions.  

“I found it really helpful to watch someone do an example lesson with students,” said Jennie Kimel, a first-grade teacher at William R. Davie Elementary. “I liked how we had the opportunity to debrief and ask questions afterward to clarify the techniques we saw. I found the visit to be productive and beneficial. I wish we did more training on site like this because handing us a manual is great but watching it in action is a completely different experience.”

Katie Sales, a kindergarten teacher at Cooleemee, agreed, saying, “It was nice to see what else the instructor did beyond the textbook instructions. It is always nice to see how others teach and get new ideas.”  

The Letterland trainers, Cooke and Walden; and literacy coaches, Spade and Renee Hennings-Gonzalez, also met with Jennifer Lynde, director of curriculum and instruction for Davie County Schools, to examine the instructional framework for the district and to assess the implementation of Letterland across the County as a whole.  

Cooke and Walden will return in April to observe teachers in their classrooms and to provide ideas, tips, and tricks that will enrich future lessons.

TDR Training Helps Davie Teachers Create Active and Thoughtful Readers


By Jeanna B. White

“Everything is about what students need to know, understand, and be able to do,” said Amy Spade, literacy coach, while leading a professional development workshop for Teacher-Directed Reading (TDR).

As Davie County’s elementary school students headed home to enjoy their early release day on February 14th, their teachers fanned out across the county to delve deeper into TDR.

TDR is the guiding component of a Balanced Literacy framework for reading instruction that involves teaching by reading to students, having students read independently, and reading with students. The Balanced Literacy approach fosters fluency and comprehension as well as perseverance, collaboration, focus, and stamina. Overall, the goal of Balanced Literacy is to create independent readers by inspiring an authentic love and appreciation for reading among students.

Balanced Literacy is a critical tool for achieving the goals of the DavieLEADS initiative, which was created through a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation to support a five-year early literacy initiative aimed at improving kindergarten readiness and increasing the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

The grant includes funding for professional development and specialized support staff, including two full-time literacy coaches, as well as two professional consultants to develop and build the professional capacity of the kindergarten through third-grade classroom teachers in Davie County Schools.

“Professional development is an essential component of the DavieLEADS initiative,” said Jennifer Lynde, director of curriculum and instruction for Davie County Schools. “We want to invest in our teachers and provide them with quality workshops and training. They are much more valuable in producing student growth than a packaged program.”

Barbie Brown, DavieLEADS consultant, led the workshop for kindergarten and 1st-grade teachers across the district at Mocksville Elementary; Amy Spade, literacy coach, led 2nd and 3rd-grade teachers at Shady Grove Elementary; and Renee Hennings-Gonzalez, literacy coach, led 4th and 5th-grade teachers at Cooleemee Elementary. Dividing the training by grade level allowed teachers to collaborate with their counterparts from across the county.

Elementary school teachers across Davie County spend 30-45 minutes of their daily teaching time on Teacher-Directed Reading. During TDR, the teacher guides students through standards-based, grade-level language arts instruction. As students read the text, teachers use and model appropriate comprehension strategies. This approach encourages students to be active and thoughtful readers, enhancing their understanding and comprehension of what they have read.

The workshop provided information on best practices for planning TDR lessons that focus on each of the state-mandated standards.Topics discussed included:

  • What types of text do I use for TDR?
  • When planning, do you select the text or standard first? And why?
  • How much surface knowledge should be taught before addressing the rigor of the standard?
  • If students don’t master the rigor of the standard, what are my next steps?

During the workshop, facilitators passed out a sample template and a clarifying document to help with preparing TDR lessons. Teachers then watched a video of a teacher teaching and evaluated how effectively she led the Teacher-Directed Reading. During breakout sessions, small groups shared their experiences as well as brainstormed new ideas and techniques.

Angela Spillman, a 2nd-grade teacher at William R. Davie Elementary, particularly appreciated watching the video of a TDR lesson being taught and discussing it with fellow teachers.

“It’s hard to step back and evaluate yourself when you are teaching,” she said. “Watching a video of a lesson and then discussing how well the concepts were taught was very valuable to me.”

Angelina Etter, a 2nd-grade teacher at Mocksville Elementary, valued the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues from across the county.

“Collaboration opens our minds so that all of the teachers and students are gaining. We are looking a lot closer at the standards so that our teaching can be more intentional.”

Spade said, “The DavieLEADS initiative has allowed us to tailor our professional development based on student needs and teacher needs while building a district-wide focus on Balanced Literacy.”

Hennings-Gonzalez agreed, “As teachers continue to grow in their craft, the DavieLEADS initiative is intended to provide continuous support. As a literacy coach, my personal goal is to ensure that teachers feel that they are encouraged and that they are equipped to use Teacher-Directed Reading in their daily instruction.”

“One great piece that the TDR training has created is the opportunity for teachers to reflect on their own instructional practices, realize the need for a change, and to reach out for support.”