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South Carolina Partnership to Implement Professional Learning Community: Emergent Literacy Part 2

Southeast | October 19, 2023

Bringing a great idea to life

The South Carolina Professional Learning Community: Emergent Literacy Partnership (SC PLC EL) is a collaboration between key state education agency representatives, two preschool sites in Chesterfield County School District, five preschool sites in Darlington County School District, and the REL Southeast. Back in April 2022, we introduced the partnership in Part 1 of this blog by providing background about the development of the Professional Learning Community: Emergent Literacyi (PLC-EL) materials, providing the research- and evidence-base behind our approach, and discussing the how and why behind our partnership with South Carolina. Now that we're moving into the next phase of the project, we're ready to share what we're learning.

The goal of the partnership is to explore the implementation of the PLC-EL and learn about its impacts on teacher practice and child outcomes. For the last year and a half, the partnership has been engaged in two projects to do just that: 1) intensive coaching with a small cohort of preschool sites beginning in July 2022 to implement PLC-EL to understand and address facilitators and barriers to implementation, and 2) an applied research study beginning in February 2023 to evaluate the implementation and impact of PLC-EL on teacher practice and student outcomes. The image below provides a snapshot of how the partnership, the preschool sites, and the applied research study are linked.

Snapshot of how the partnership, the preschool sites, and the applied research study are linked

Coaching at Preschool Sites is a key strength of the Partnership

Here's the thing—you never know how big projects like this are going to go. As Part 1 of this blog highlighted, we had an incredibly invested partner in the South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE), willing preschool sites to engage in coaching, a well-thought-out plan, a solid foundation for a massive research study, and a ton of enthusiasm. What we couldn't have predicted was just how consistently engaged, informative, and active the partners would be. And we certainly didn't know how invaluable the preschool sites would be to the overall goals of the partnership and how that work would support the launch of the research study.

Four-phase coaching/implementation cycle

The idea behind Coaching for Implementation of PLC-EL at Preschool Sites in South Carolina was to operate as a community of practice and discovery over time using a four-phase coaching/implementation cycle. Our work with the two sites in Chesterfield County School District and five sites in Darlington County School District began in July 2022 with an in-person kick-off meeting and coaching session to set the stage for our work together. The preschool site teams include a leader (for example, executive director or principal) who supports the implementation of the full PLC-EL, a facilitator who participates in coaching and implements PLC-EL at their site, and teachers who participate in the PLC-EL sessions. Through intensive coaching sessions, REL Southeast staff supports facilitators' implementation of PLC-EL sessions, explores facilitation practices and implementation, and promotes sharing among all site facilitators. Through collaborative exchange of ideas, preschool site facilitators strengthen their facilitation practice, learn about implementation challenges, troubleshoot challenges, and identify strengths. Our work to date has taught us a lot about the role of the PLC-EL facilitator and what they can do before, during, and after the 12 sessions to strengthen engagement and implementation, which are highlighted in this infographic.

The cumulative knowledge gained from these sites has already informed the applied research study and will ultimately support scaled implementation across the state. Going forward, REL Southeast staff will continue to work with the same preschool site PLC-EL facilitators as they support teachers to implement and strengthen PLC-EL classroom practices and focus on sustainability.

Key takeaways from Coaching at Preschool Sites to date

"We have already heard from several facilitators how effective the PLC-EL model is for giving a safe place for strong conversations. This has been a tremendous and exciting project…we are hopeful to meet all the high expectations IES, REL, REL Governing Board, and USDE have charged us with through this process."
– Wendy Burgess, Team Lead, Office of Early Learning and Literacy, SCDE

Partners have deep knowledge of the project and champion the work.
SCDE core partners have been active collaborators from conceptualization to implementation. Key staff champion the work of both primary projects by providing updates at the state level, sharing work at the national level, and clearly communicating to the field. For example, the SEA core partners shared information about the applied research study during recurring early childhood coordinator meetings to prepare for study recruitment in the state. The Team Lead at the SCDE also shared information about the partnership with colleagues from the Council of Chief State School Officers Early Childhood Education Collaborative.

Preschool site leaders and district leads are key to supporting implementation.
Site leaders provide autonomy to PLC-EL facilitators to manage implementation of the sessions and are active supporters. As one site principal noted, "Protecting time for the PLC-EL sessions and facilitator's time along with strong communication between and among the principal, facilitator, teachers, and aides has supported implementation." District leads serve as core partners and are part of a communication loop among the state education agency, preschool sites, and REL Southeast staff. For example, district leads serve as liaisons by working directly with the preschool sites in their districts to schedule PLC-EL sessions, facilitate site visits, and communicate with site leaders. 

Facilitators and teachers are building a community of learning.

"Teachers are happy to finally have professional development that is relevant to them and their students. Kindergarten teachers are happy [prekindergarten] teachers are receiving PLC-EL because they feel like the program complements the training Kindergarten is participating in."
– Melisa Little, Principal, Cheraw Primary School

PLC-EL facilitators and teachers noted that the PLC-EL sessions are the only time preschool-level teachers get to focus on content specific to their grade level. Teachers and teacher assistants work together during PLC-EL sessions. "It was amazing to hear and witness my 4K [prekindergarten] team work together and collaborate on the different activities within Session 1 [of the PLC-EL]," said one PLC-EL facilitator.

Teachers are reflecting on practice relative to the PLC-EL content.
During site visits, PLC-EL facilitators and teachers noted they are more intentional about language and emergent literacy practice. "[The participating teachers] want the conversations to keep going. They like the videos a lot because they are realistic. So, they want to talk about it. They are taking ideas from the videos," noted one PLC-EL facilitator. Based on facilitators' recommendations and participating teacher requests, REL Southeast worked with partners to develop an "at-a-glance" resource highlighting Instructional Practices for Teaching Emergent Literacy at the Preschool Level from the PLC-EL materials.

Facilitators are conducting teacher check-ins at the prekindergarten level.
Facilitators are supporting teachers' implementation of the concepts and practices from the PLC-EL through planning meetings and visiting classrooms at the prekindergarten level for the first time.

Teachers are incorporating content from the PLC-EL materials.
During teacher check-ins, facilitators are noticing that teachers are using small groups more intentionally, using materials from the PLC-EL, requesting additional materials to support emergent literacy skill development, and have incorporated more emergent literacy materials into centers.

Highlights of what's next

REL Southeast staff will continue to work with the original preschool sites through coaching and tailored support with a special focus on sustaining facilitation practices and institutionalizing PLC-EL strategies in classrooms. The partnership will use the Evaluating Professional Learning: A Tool for Schools and Districtsii as an organizing framework for five coaching sessions.

An applied research study is underway.
Beginning in February 2023, the Evaluating the Effect of the Professional Learning Community: Emergent Literacy on Teacher Knowledge, Practice, and Student Achievement in Print Knowledge, Phonological Awareness, Oral Language, and Vocabulary applied research project kicked into high gear. The goal is to evaluate the impact of the PLC-EL program on teacher knowledge, teacher instructional practices, and student performance in print knowledge, phonological awareness, vocabulary, and oral language. The study also seeks to understand factors that influence impacts of the PLC-EL program and implementation barriers and facilitators that can inform scale-up and sustainability efforts. The study design utilizes a randomized controlled trial of over 50 schools within an embedded mixed-methods approach. Both quantitative (for example, survey) and qualitative data (for example, individual and focus group interview data) will be collected and analyzed concurrently using traditional quantitative and qualitative methodologies to enhance the overall design.

PLC-EL program logo

Stay tuned to hear more about how the partnership and coaching at preschool sites strategy played pivotal roles in setting up the study for success in Part 3 of this blog.

Relevant documents

Blog: The South Carolina Partnership to Implement Professional Learning Community: Emergent Literacy

Infographic: Supporting Facilitators' Implementation of Professional Learning Community: Emergent Literacy

Infographic: At-A-Glance Resource for Preschool Teachers: Instructional Practices for Teaching Emergent Literacy at the Preschool Level

PLC-EL Materials: Professional Learning Community: Emergent Literacy

i Kosanovich, M., Phillips, B., & Willis, K. (2020). Professional learning community: emergent literacy (Modules 1-4). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast.

ii Breslow, N., & Bock, G. (2020). Evaluating professional learning – a tool for schools and districts. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, REL Northeast & Islands.


Sarah Hughes

Sarah Hughes

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