Rutherford County Schools

Related arts teachers — those who teach subjects such as art, music and physical education —  have contact with nearly all students in a school, which means they have lots of potential to impact learning. 

It’s for this reason that Stewartsboro Elementary Principal Larissa Westerfield wants to ensure those teachers complete PLC training, just like all other teachers in the building. 

Stewartsboro Elementary is now the first school in Rutherford County to complete PLC training for its related art teachers. PLC stands for professional learning community, and PLCs are used to increase collaboration among educators to benefit students. 

Westerfield hopes to grow all her teachers, including related arts teachers who are sometimes overlooked during PLC trainings, she said. 

“The whole purpose of including related arts teachers in the PLC process is to teach them how to collaborate to hone their crafts, as well as grow their own teacher efficacy,” Westerfield said. “Additionally, their work has impact across all grade levels as they are focusing on teaching the 21st century skills that our students need across grade levels and in middle school, high school and beyond. We want our students to be able to successfully practice the 21st century skills to create better learners, thinkers, and doers in society.

Dr. Heather Dillard, an associate professor at Middle Tennessee State University, recently came to Stewartsboro to assist the related arts team in PLC training. Dillard specializes in instructional work on PLCs and the PLC process.

“My assistant principal, Lisa Snider, is getting her doctorate at MTSU right now. Dr. Dillard is one of her professors,” Westerfield said. “We began talking to her about coming out and helping us with this. She came out and worked with our entire staff in August during an in-service day and spent two hours with the related arts team and admin together to start their PLC process. The focus was on the team dynamics and why this is important work.”

When the related arts team dug into their PLC training, the rest of the schools’ teachers and admin also worked on refining their skills by collaborating with their content teams. 

“Our teachers all walked away from that initial training with a renewed understanding of the PLC process and how PLCs impact student learning, teacher instructional practices, and teacher efficacy,” Westerfield said.

As part of the training, Dillard questioned the related arts team about its practices and provided an opportunity for teachers to answer questions of her without judgments.

Teachers began the meeting by reciting their norms for the meeting, and then Dillard provided feedback.

“It’s important for us to stop and ask ourselves, ‘How am I doing with these norms? Not how is the team doing, but how am I doing?’” Dillard said.

Dillard will be returning in January to continue her work with the related arts teachers, who are learning the benefit of the PLC process.

“I didn't realize there were so many levels to a PLC and how deep you go into collaborating with your team,” first grade teacher Sheree Fresh said after PLC training. 

Principal Westerfield added: “We value growth in ourselves and our students; we value putting students first in all that we do; we value a productively positive attitude; and we value collaborate teamwork. We feel that these four values are what allow us to grow as educators and help our students' growth, achievement and social emotional health.”