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Saturday / November 18

Building High Performing Teams in Poudre School District

Over the past few years, Poudre School District in Fort Collins, Colorado, has started a journey to focus on the learning of all students by building and sustaining high performing teams. We are guided by the words of one of our retired principals: Every child deserves to perform and learn at high levels. A child cannot perform at high levels if their teacher is not performing at a high level. A teacher cannot perform at a high level if their team is not performing at a high level. It is through collective action and commitment that we can meet the needs of all students.

This past school year, we had the opportunity to partner with Barb Pitchford, co-author of Leading Impact Teams. This partnership allowed us to focus and tighten our efforts with teams. We followed the Model Team Approach to implement team protocols to advance learning with one elementary school’s third-grade team. The Model Team Approach is a gradual release model that allows a school to give focused attention to one team.  This team then becomes a resource to other teams. It allowed us as a system to start small with one school and one team to learn before trying to implement on a large scale.  The Model Team Approach at our elementary school collectively involved the principal and assistant principal, the third-grade team (classroom teachers and instructional support staff), along with central office departments including our three Assistant Superintendents. We solidified our understanding of formative assessment components and used protocols to unpack standards and learning progressions. The third-grade team co-constructed success criteria for a key reading standard.  The team then collected student evidence and sorted the work into learning groups (unsatisfactory, progressing, proficient, and advanced).

In late March 2017, Barb facilitated the team through the Evidence | Analysis | Action (EAA) protocol.  This allowed the team to analyze the student work in each learning group to determine why the students were or were not meeting the success criteria. They decided on collective action and instructional strategies to advance the learning of the students.  Some of those strategies at this time included using teacher examples and student exemplars, teacher modeling of self-assessment against the rubric, use of a graphic organizer, and introducing the Ladder of Feedback for peer-assessment. In mid-April, the team met again to analyze progress.  Collective action after the EAA protocol, facilitated this time by the principal, included having students do ‘think alouds’ prior to writing, access to student-friendly sentence stems, and continued use of the Ladder of Feedback. The team also used a micro-teaching protocol to share instructional practices by viewing a short video clip of one teacher’s classroom.

In mid-May one of the 3rd grade teachers facilitated the Evidence | Analysis | Action protocol.  At that time, the team’s collective actions resulted in moving from 12 of 49 students to 37 of 49 students performing at the proficient or advanced levels on the team’s co-constructed success criteria. The data alone are impressive, but those numbers had faces for our team. Even in May as school was coming to a close, the team had collective actions planned to continue moving all students towards or beyond proficiency.

Throughout the spring, the experience created shared leadership and raised the efficacy of all involved. Everyone had a chance to learn, lead, and collaborate to advance the learning of students. The team acted as committed partners in the learning of all the third-grade students. The students became self- and peer-evaluators. The principal served as co-facilitator and active participant in the process. The central office staff learned the process to facilitate at other schools. As an additional result, this whole school’s staff is expanding the process to the other grade levels.

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Throughout the upcoming school year, PSD will be expanding the structure and use of protocols to other schools.  We will be able to meet them and their teams at their current state and advance their efforts towards collective student and teacher efficacy. This journey is dependent upon the shared leadership and collective commitments of all involved. Our administrators are our lead learners and are committed to modeling how to learn, collaborate, and take collective action for the benefit of students. Our teachers are positioned to strengthen their team efforts grounded in formative assessment and use efficient protocols to inform instruction and responses to student learning.

Due to the effectiveness of this experience, we encourage other learning systems to expand shared leadership and develop collective efficacy by allowing all stakeholders (support staff, teachers, principals, and central office staff and administrators) to have structures in place that ensure a safe space for vulnerability to learn together as a team. The learning should include solid models for team infrastructures, strong formative assessment and formative instruction, and those practices that truly impact student learning (Visible Learning research).

Building and sustaining high performing teams is not a sprint. It is a marathon…and Poudre School District looks forward to continuing the journey to strengthen the collective efficacy of students and educators.


Special thanks to Barb for her partnership and to the key players in the spring experience:  Putnam Elementary 3rd grade team (Amber, Kristi, Sarah, Kristen, Michele, Connie); Steve Apodaca, Principal; Todd Lambert, Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Schools; Scott Nielsen, Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools; Jinger Haberer, Assistant Superintendent of Student Achievement; Robert Beauchamp, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Department; and the Professional Development Team

Poudre School District, located in northern Colorado, serves approximately 29,000 students and includes 50 schools. PSD, the 9th largest school district in Colorado, covers 1,856 square miles in northern Colorado including Fort Collins, Laporte, Timnath, Wellington, Red Feather, Livermore, Stove Prairie, and parts of Windsor.

Vision: Poudre School District exists to support and inspire every child to think, to learn, to care, and to graduate prepared to be successful in a changing world.

Mission: Educate…Every Child, Every Day


Learn more about the Impact Teams model at the Collective Efficacy: Models of Impact Institute on November 3 in Aurora, CO.

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Written by

Kate Canine is the Professional Development Director for Poudre School District in Northern Colorado.

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