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Partnership Case Study

Gladstone Elementary School

Gladstone Elementary School is a K–6 school in Kansas City, Missouri, with significant refugee and new immigrant student populations. Principal Dana Carter, who has spent 14 years at the school, shares, “We have many different languages spoken here. And we have many different students coming from all around the world. Gladstone is a very beautiful place.”

When the school began its partnership with Instruction Partners in 2018, educators at Gladstone were working hard to provide great learning experiences for their students, but, despite their efforts, they were not seeing significant growth in student outcomes. This was due, in part, to limited instructional leadership capacity—the instructional leadership team consisted of just Ms. Carter and one ELA coach. 

Ms. Carter knew she needed to build leadership capacity to provide content-specific professional learning for Gladstone teachers. Over four years of partnership, she built her instructional knowledge across four content areas, resulting in an instructional support system that is now producing strong daily instruction and improved student outcomes, including a 58% increase in K–2 students reading on grade level. 

Here’s how. 

Year 1 (2018–19)

Building a vision of excellent instruction

At the start of every partnership, the Instruction Partners team conducts classroom walkthroughs to gather a baseline understanding of the current state of instruction at a school. Initial walkthroughs at Gladstone Elementary revealed that instruction was not aligned to the rigor of the state standards. 

In order to improve daily instruction, Gladstone teachers needed a content-specific vision of what excellent instruction looks like in practice. Given the school’s limited leadership capacity, it was critical that Principal Carter had the content knowledge required to provide a clear vision and actionable feedback for her teachers. 

The first step toward building this vision was deepening Ms. Carter’s content knowledge through the lens of the Instructional Practice Guides (IPGs), subject-specific observation and coaching tools that describe the content, teacher actions, and student engagement indicative of excellent teaching and learning. In addition to helping leaders understand what to look for while observing a classroom, the IPGs also serve as coaching guides for providing actionable feedback to teachers.

The Instruction Partners team led side-by-side classroom observations and coaching sessions with Ms. Carter to build her understanding of each indicator on the math and ELA IPGs. The team then transferred this knowledge to the Gladstone teachers through professional learning opportunities, including training on the new instructional vision. 

The vision training was grounded in three key components:

  1. Emphasizing the importance of equity in instruction
  2. Deepening knowledge of grade-level standards and research-based best practices in ELA and math instruction
  3. Understanding the interlocking aspects of the instructional core: Rigorous content, effective teaching, and student engagement

After establishing a better understanding of what standards-aligned and equitable instruction looks like in practice, Ms. Carter and the Gladstone teachers made the decision to adopt high-quality ELA and math curricula in the spring of 2019.

I had to do all of this learning with my teachers. As leaders, we have to be present, we have to know what our teachers are teaching, and we have to know what's involved in it.

Dana CarterPrincipal

Year 2 (2019-20)

Implementing and supporting high-quality materials

The Instruction Partners team used guidance and tools from its Curriculum Support Guide to help Gladstone educators select and adopt new curricula at the start of the 2019–20 school year. 

With high-quality materials in place, Instruction Partners worked alongside Ms. Carter to build professional learning structures that would help teachers effectively plan and deliver great lessons with the new curricula. Support included:

  • Delivering upfront training on the new curricula 
  • Modeling lessons 
  • Establishing grade-level collaborative planning routines, including unit internalization and lesson preparation 
  • Developing classroom observation and feedback cycles 

This progress was temporarily halted when COVID-19 closed schools in March 2020, as the team quickly reorganized to create a plan for virtual learning. 

Instruction Partners taught me that every single student in our building deserves grade-level content in front of them at all times. They taught me to view our students who are linguistically diverse as an asset, and by not giving them the same opportunities as other learners, I am functioning as a gatekeeper.

Brenna EatonTeacher

Year 3 (2020-21)

Supporting virtual learning

When Gladstone Elementary shifted to virtual learning, Ms. Carter was determined to continue to build on her team’s progress in ELA and math instruction. She recalls, “I did a lot of work with the team on how we can still present all of the instructional practices and preparation we had established, but now through a computer.”

Working alongside Ms. Carter, the Instruction Partners team provided virtual teacher support, including:

  • Conducting virtual classroom observation and feedback cycles
  • Creating an attendance tracking system 
  • Identifying priority standards and pacing considerations for virtual learning 

The virtual support helped teachers overcome online engagement obstacles in grades 3–6 while continuing to deliver grade-level content. However, engaging K–2 students in a virtual classroom proved to be an ongoing challenge.

Adding a science focus

In the spring of 2021, with virtual professional learning in place for ELA and math, Ms. Carter turned her attention toward strengthening science instruction. Although it began in a virtual context, the science improvement process followed a similar trajectory to ELA and math support:

  1. Building Principal Carter’s science leadership capacity by deepening content expertise through the lens of the science IPG
  2. Establishing a vision for science instruction at Gladstone Elementary aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards
  3. Implementing high-quality materials and establishing ongoing professional learning for teachers

Over the course of three years of partnership, Principal Carter built her capacity to provide high-quality feedback to her teachers across three content areas, resulting in significant improvement in instructional practices.

Year 4 (2021–22)

Creating lines of sight with data systems

Once an instructional support system is in place in a school, how does a leader monitor the strength of that system? 

This is the question that Principal Carter and the Instruction Partners team considered at the start of the 2021–22 school year. 

Charlotte Hansen, Director of Instructional Support at Instruction Partners, recalls, “One thing that we thought about last year is, if you have a really lean leadership team, what is the key instructional data that will give you a line of sight into your school—both where the strongest points are and where there are opportunities for improvement?”

The Instruction Partners team set out to create a system for collecting key instructional data at the leader, teacher, and student levels:  

  1. Leader data: Frequency of classroom observation and quality of feedback (How often is the leader observing classrooms? Are they normed on the IPG? Is their feedback leading to a change in teacher practice?)
  2. Teacher data: IPG indicators, participation in collaborative learning time, and qualitative survey feedback (Do teachers feel that their professional learning time is valuable?)
  3. Student data: Student outcomes on both curriculum-embedded assessments and nationally normed assessments (Are students demonstrating grade-level proficiency?)

Prioritizing early literacy

After more than a year of disrupted schooling, Principal Carter was concerned about the long-term effects of students’ unfinished learning in foundational reading skills. With the goal of accelerating foundational skills learning for young readers, the team made the decision to prioritize student data collection in grades K–2.

The first step in this process was adopting EL Education, a high-quality foundational skills curriculum. Ahead of the 2021–22 school year, the Instruction Partners team led a full day of teacher professional learning focused on using the new curriculum, with an emphasis on small-group instruction. The teachers dug into the curriculum’s benchmark assessments to better understand how to use the assessments to track students’ progress over time. This data allowed teachers to assign students to small groups to work on targeted skills based on their demonstrated learning needs.  

In addition to the benchmark assessment data, teachers were asked to submit monthly student progress data. This allowed the team to track a student’s individual progress in the EL skills block to monitor pacing, identify needed interventions, and make projections of future performance. 

Principal Carter recalls how tracking student-level data helped teachers see the benefit of the new, individualized small-group approach to reading instruction: “After a period of time, I did see teachers’ mindsets start to change. In the very beginning, they were very hesitant. …But the data was the proof that they needed. That was when the buy-in started to happen.”

The Instruction Partners team led monthly stepback meetings to share and reflect on instructional data. Ms. Carter used the data shared in these meetings to create short-term action plans, including planning topics of focus for teachers’ collaborative planning time.

The new approach to reading instruction is already resulting in unprecedented literacy growth for Gladstone students. At the start of the year, 0% of K–2 students were on grade level for reading foundational skills. By the spring of 2022, 58% of all K–2 students were reading on grade level, with 98% of kindergarten students reading on grade level.

These kids are going into 1st grade fully prepared. It changes the whole story of what's going to happen next year. It changes their lives. And it all starts in kindergarten with the work that we're doing around data.

Dana CarterPrincipal

Lessons from four years of partnership with Gladstone Elementary

  1. Change starts with the principal. Leaders both catalyze and sustain meaningful instructional improvement by digging into the content alongside teachers and setting a clear vision for them to work toward.
  2. This work takes time. Building a solid foundation of high-quality materials and effective professional learning is not an overnight project, but it does enable lasting change—and helps schools keep momentum if and when staff changes occur.
  3. Relationships matter. Instructional improvement is challenging—consistent and reflective conversations are critical to doing this work successfully. They help build trusting relationships, deep commitments to the learning process, and eagerness to try new things. 


Without Instruction Partners, there's no way our building would be where it is now. They're motivational to us. The key is that they have helped us form clear pathways to follow and given us support along each of those steps. And they don't let us back down from the hard work. It's been thrilling.

Dana CarterPrincipal