Lifelong Learners: How Teachers Develop New Skills and Improve Their Practice
7/30/2014 By: Ellen Ullman
Just as teachers and parents
want students to keep learning,
administrators want teachers to keep
improving. Here’s a look at how schools
and districts make it easy for teachers to
continue their learning.
Debuting a brand-
new, collaborative PD
|A look at the new PLP.
Challenge: Like many states and districts,
the New Mexico Public Education Department
needed to figure out how to ensure that
every teacher received in-depth professional
development to close the achievement gap,
implement Common Core instruction and
assessments, differentiate instruction, and
elevate coaching and instructional leadership.
The challenge was providing such in-depth PD
Solution: The district chose Knowledge
Delivery Systems’ (KDS) strategic PD solution
to tackle this challenge. Courses will be delivered
via KDS’s Professional Learning Platform
(PLP). PLP is a new cloud-based platform that
gives school districts access to rich, curated
content, social collaboration tools for collegial
learning, and personalization based on district,
building, and individual goals that adapts over
time. Whether they are accessing on-demand
videos, interacting with other educators, or
leveraging KDS’s expert-led online PD courses,
districts in New Mexico will be able to use PLP
to transform teaching practice and support the
professional growth of their educators.
Selecting PD to support a
Challenge: In 2013, Des Plains (IL)
Consolidated School District 62 created an
ambitious plan to increase use of digital devices
and content in K-12
classrooms over a
But first, it needed to find a way to build the
capacity of its teacher leaders to integrate digital
content into instruction and prepare students to
be globally competitive, 21st-century learners.
Solution: The district expanded its
partnership with Discovery Education to
allow teachers to participate in the company’s
brand-new Digital Leader Corps (DLC), a
multi-year PD program that helps teachers build
a network in which they can design, implement,
and share innovative teaching strategies.
Through DLC, District 62 teacher leaders will
learn strategies for integrating educational
technologies and digital media into classroom
instruction. The DLC program provides teachers
with customized consultation throughout the
process, with modeling, coaching, and feedback
from Discovery Education advisors. “To truly
transform teaching and learning, and ensure
a successful digital transition, our teachers
need a supportive environment where they can
continuously improve their skills, knowledge,
and instructional practices,” says Jane
Providing ongoing PD for
a diverse group
Challenge: The Coatesville (PA) Area
School District needed to provide professional
development training for 100 administrators,
teachers, and consultants to build educator
capacity and realign Coatesville’s curriculum
with the Pennsylvania Core Standards.
Solution: Coatesville entered an agreement
with ASCD Professional Learning Services.
ASCD will provide
Understanding by Design
learning both on-site
and online, with support from Chester County
Intermediate Unit consultants. “With the help
of ASCD, administrators and teachers will
[work together to create] a rigorous curriculum
that is detailed, specific, and aligned to the
Pennsylvania Core Standards. [It will also be]
aligned to the district’s strategic plan and used
by all as a framework for teaching and learning,”
says Jonette Marcus, supervisor of English
language arts. “We are very excited to begin this
work with the support of ASCD trainers who
know inside and out how to build curriculum the
PD that focuses on
Challenge: The Eatontown (NJ) Public
School was striving to create a cycle of
continuous improvement of instructional
practices for all of
its educators. The
district needed to
find technology to conduct and manage teacher
and principal evaluation processes, to better
identify educators’ strengths and development
areas, and to share instructional best practices
district-wide. They were also looking for better
ways to discuss classroom instruction in more
meaningful ways and to engage in ongoing,
collaborative professional development.
Solution: Eatontown implemented three
programs: Teachscape’s Reflect Observation
and Evaluation Management System. Charlotte
Danielson’s Framework for Teaching for teacher
evaluations, and the Multidimensional Principal
Performance Rubric for principal evaluations.
Since the evaluations are being conducted
at both the teacher and administrative level,
the evaluation process has fostered a shared
sense of responsibility and collective focus on
professional growth across the district. Teachers
and administrators now use a common language when planning how
to improve student learning and achievement. “With Teachscape’s
Reflect system, we can meaningfully and purposefully use data to inform
professional practice at both the teacher and principal levels,” says Scott
T. McCue, superintendent.
|Clear Lake students work on their #DifferenceMakers project.
PLCs Make PBL Possible
Everyone knows it’s a struggle to change a school’s culture, but that’s
what’s been happening at Clear Lake Middle School, a 1:1 iPad school
in Clear Lake, Iowa. During the last four years, teachers have worked to
incorporate the AIW (Authentic Intellectual Work; www.centerforaiw.com) framework into their practice. Last year, when Principal Steve
Kwikkel came on board, he wanted teachers to choose something they
were passionate about so they could engage students in real-world
problem-based learning (PBL). Since turning into a PBL school isn’t
a small endeavor, Kwikkel created time for teachers to collaborate in
professional learning communities (PLCs). Every Wednesday afternoon
for much of the last school year, the sixth-eighth-grade teachers figured
out how to combine AIW into PBL.
“We started to dig into PBL and determined what it looks like, and
teams developed plans using Google Docs and Google Drive,” says Emily
Hill, a former eighth-grade language arts teacher who will become
the school’s first technology integrationist
in September. “The tools make it easy to
Another technology Clear Lake teachers rely
on is Naiku (naiku.net), an online assessment
program. Teachers create formative assessments
that students take on their iPads, and their
results are immediately imported into Infinite
Campus, the school’s student information
system. “Teachers take the data into their
Wednesday PLC meetings and share their
results,” says Kwikkel. “They can compare
findings and put the pieces together.”
|Indian River teachers funded Chromebooks through an online wish list.
This September, teachers will teach core
classes in the morning and do PBL lessons in
the afternoons. “Being able to teach PBL doesn’t
happen in seven months unless your teachers are
focused on doing what’s best for the students,”
says Kwikkel. “For the staff to vote pretty much
unanimously on implementing something
unknown is a testament to their willingness to
push the boundaries and go beyond themselves.
I’m very proud of them.”
Using Data to Improve PD
Teachers at the Indian River Charter
High School in Vero Beach, Florida, use
observe4success, a Web-based, teacher
evaluation tool, to drive their PD. “As soon as my
administrator finishes her observation, I receive
all of the appropriate documentation and the
actual observation,” says Nicole Moreaux, who
teaches biology and marine science courses.
“I can use the rubric for each item on the
evaluation and it gives me concrete evidence to
quantify how to move from effective to highly
effective. I know exactly where to focus my PD.”
Luckily for Moreaux, Indian River is a noncompetitive,
supportive culture. As she says, “I
feel comfortable asking my peers, ‘Who scored
highly effective on this item? Could you tell me
what you’re doing so I can learn from you?’”
Cindy Aversa, the director and principal
of Indian River Charter High School, uses
observe4success to spot trends. “I can view pie
charts that show me areas of need so I can make
sure my teachers have the necessary PD support
systems. We have a partnership with Educational
Impact, which has bundles of videos and other
tools for each area within this instrument. I can
then assign them to a teacher.”
In 2013, Moreaux saw that she needed to
improve her data analysis so she worked closely
with another biology teacher to develop a preand
post-test for each unit. Before, she had
conducted only quarterly assessments. Now
she’ll collect concrete data for each student
for each unit. She’s also planning to watch
instructional videos on data analysis this year.
“I’m a visual learner and want to watch videos
on my own time,” she says. “Traditional PD
falls short because it often happens in faculty
meetings or on teacher planning days. If you’re
not receptive to learning at that time, you don’t
get the most from it. I’d rather watch a video
when I’m ready to learn the material.”
Don’t Forget the Chocolate! PD Techniques From a Seasoned Professional
By Michelle Vance
After teaching more than 150 staff workshops, I have found that
certain techniques will produce a successful program. The first step
is obvious: Staff members must have ownership in what is being
offered for district members. Just as educators try to design their
lessons to fit their students’ needs, a PD instructor needs to know
the staff’s needs and concerns to design a successful workshop or
As you design your PD activities, answer these questions:
• Will the topic serve all the teachers?
• Will this topic be interesting for the majority of the staff?
• Is this something teachers can use immediately
in the classroom?
• Will it motivate staff?
• Will the training involve hands-on and interactive
• Will there be follow-up after the training? If so,
how will the follow-up be communicated?
• Will college credit be available?
Here are some additional tips:
|Teachers read QR codes on their
iPads to complete a scavenger hunt.
Survey your staff. Create a Google Survey to
gather input on topics staff would like addressed
during PD activities. Be sure to use multiple-choice
and short-answer questions in the survey. Use
the data to share with the PD committee and to
design the workshops. Design the workshop according
to staff needs and suggestions. Be sure to clearly discuss
how the PD activities will prepare the staff to use
what they learn with students in the classroom.
Hire staff members. Review the collected data and list staff
members that could do the training or offer assistance.
Make it interactive. Provide time during the PD activity to develop
classroom lessons. Use Google Drive to share the lessons and handouts
and to collaborate on items during and after the workshops.
Offer refreshments. Snacks are greatly appreciated!
Keep attendees in the loop. After each workshop or PD activity,
email an update to all staff members in attendance. Be sure to
include a list of questions and answers to topics
Publicize your efforts. Take pictures of staff working
during the workshops. Post the pictures on the
school Web site or in the district newsletter, or
send to the local newspaper.
Offer credit. Create a relationship with an area
university to offer semester hours for attending a
series of workshops.
Michelle Vance has 25 years of experience working
with K-12 tech integration as a computer science
teacher and director of technology. She has taught
and designed more than 150 staff technology workshops
and was a former Tech & Learning Teacher of
the Year for Ohio.
Six Steps to Transforming Your PD
After learning that only 50 percent of its teachers were satisfied with their PD, Liberty High School in Eldersburg, Md., spend two years restructuring its professional learning program. Today, staff satisfaction is at an enviable 99 percent. Here’s what they did.
Step 1: Reflect & retool. Staff members gave written feedback on the PD, calling it outdated, irrelevant, and not individualized. During the next two years, staff members and administrators figured out how to turn it into engaging, relevant, and collaborative opportunities for professional learning.
Step 2: Fix broken pieces. When a Liberty teacher said she could learn what she missed at the monthly, hour-long faculty meeting in three minutes, administrators reduced the amount of whole-faculty meetings and included time for staff to share and collaborate. They also used the time for departments to collaborate on instruction.
Step 3: Promote collaboration and autonomy. To develop an atmosphere based on collaboration, the school used the former faculty meetings for newly formed professional learning communities (PLCs). The groups meet monthly to find new ways to share ideas and incorporate new ideas in their classrooms.
Step 4: Find additional ways to share best practices. Inspired by the concept that many best practices can be shared, reviewed, and discussed in 10 minutes, staff members gather twice a month for Ten-Minute Tuesdays to learn about a tool, a practice, or an initiative. The sessions, based on staff requests, are voluntary, and have focused on Edmodo, BrainPOP, and Discovery Education.
Step 5: Use technology to ease collaboration. Liberty uses Google Hangouts for staff members to learn from educators around the globe. When the school started a flipped classroom pilot, participating teachers did a Google Hangout with an experienced flipped classroom teacher.=
Step 6: Continue providing innovative learning opportunities. One afternoon in March, the school held its first FedEx Day, based on a concept from Daniel Pink’s Drive, when which businesses give employees a day to work on projects and share their outcomes at the end of the day. Teams of Liberty faculty members worked on developing a direct instructional program for special education students, integrating infographics into classroom assessment, and more. FedEx Day was so successful that it will be a full-day activity for teachers next year, with a potential student FedEx Day as well.
“Over the last two years, Liberty has been able to develop its model of professional learning by modeling and incorporating relevant and autonomous pedagogy into our professional learning opportunities,” says Jared Wastler, an assistant principal at Liberty High School and the 2014 Maryland Assistant Principal of the Year. “The result has been a collaborative and engaging professional learning program where the professional educator is the focus and shepherd of the staff development process.”
These steps were taken from “Forget Faculty Meetings…Focus on Professional Learning,” an article published in the March 2014 issue of NASSP’s Principal Leadership.