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West Jordan Journal

Principal harnesses teachers’ problem-solving superpowers

Apr 22, 2021 12:33PM ● By Jet Burnham

Principal Lauren Goodsell, Instructional Leader of the Year. (Photo courtesy of JSD.)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Lauren Goodsell knows all teachers have a superpower.

“Teachers are the people—it's in their DNA—that you give them a problem and they're going to solve it,” she said. “A love of students, of course, is probably always going to be the No. 1 reason why teachers want to go into teaching, but I think, at the very heart of it, teachers are problem solvers.”

As principal at Westland Elementary, Goodsell harnesses the collective skills of her staff by creating effective professional learning communities. In professional learning communities, or PLCs, teams of teachers collaborate to problem-solve, determine best practices and share resources to be able to deliver quality instruction to their students.

“These PLC sessions ensure team comradery and consistency in classrooms, and they keep each teacher engaged and prepared,” said Crystal Whitehead, Goodsell’s administrative assistant. “Building a sturdy foundation on which common goals can be achieved by each grade level is important to Ms. Goodsell.”

When Goodsell first came to Westland, she encouraged the PLCs to get back to basics and allow four questions to direct their decisions: What do we want kids to know? How are we going to know when they know it? What are we going to do if they don't know it? What are we going to do if they do to enrich or stretch their learning?

PLCs determined the most critical curriculum standards of their grade level to focus their instruction. To develop assessments that provide specific data on student proficiency, teachers began using standards-based grading, which clearly defines four levels of proficiency, instead of traditional letter grades. With these methods, teachers are able to easily identify where each student is in their understanding of each standard of learning.

“Eighty percent of the kids are going to be fine,” Goodsell said. “They're going to be either right there with you, or way ahead of you and ready for the next thing. But then you've got those kiddos who just need extra time and support.”

Tim Pluta, an instructional coach, works in the PLCs to help identify and work with the students who need extra support—either to catch up or to move ahead.

“We have a shared instructional vision of where the students are, where they need to go and how we’re going to get them there,” he said. “This was built over the last couple of years by thinking about and immersing ourselves in the PLC process. I don’t think this would be possible without Mrs. Goodsell.”

Because of the success of her PLC model, Goodsell was named Instructional Leader of the Year by the Jordan Association of Elementary School Principals.

A colleague explained why the Westland staff nominated Goodsell for the award: “For two years, Lauren has gone out of her way to provide extra instruction and opportunities for teachers to master PLCs; therefore, providing proper degrees of learning and assessment for their students. With the extra support, the teachers at Westland Elementary have made great progress in collaborating together and learning the importance of their professional learning communities. Lauren feels strongly about their importance and is willing to give support, training and encouragement to promote teacher growth, as well as student growth.”

Efficient PLCs that collaborate and innovate together proved to be a powerful tool for teachers when the pandemic hit and teaching went online overnight. They continue to be a valuable resource for teachers as they adapt to the changing methods and restrictions of teaching both in-person and virtually.

“Ms. Goodsell empowers each team of educators—from kindergarten to sixth grade—by giving them new and up-to-date training for today’s students and teaching challenges,” Whitehead said. “She provides every means possible to improve the practice of teaching and her staff responds enthusiastically. Weekly meetings facilitate collaboration within teams and she encourages the same collaboration between grades. She knows the strength of every team member and what each contributes to their groups.”

Whitehead said when a faculty is proficient, student achievement increases, which is Goodsell’s ultimate goal.

“She cares about each individual in our student body and loves watching them grow and learn,” Whitehead said. “She is aware of all her students’ needs and she strives to have each need met.”

Pluta said Goodsell is one of the best principals he’s worked with.

“She is steadfast and passionate about student success, nurturing relationships with colleagues and making sure everyone at Westland has the tools they need to be successful,” he said.