Professional Development supports training needs of support staff, personalized learning educators
CASTLE ROCK – It takes a lot of different people to ensure that the Douglas County School District runs efficiently every day. These behind-the-scenes people help to keep the lights on, kids fed and teachers supported. What you may not know is that there is a support structure helping to keep these talented professionals at the top of their game.
That can be a challenge, considering that there are 132 job categories for support personnel, often requiring specialized training, but the Professional Development (PD) Department is up to the task. There is team of that now helps develop and deliver training the more than 3,000 classified employees.
This includes the required classes staff must take, including first aid, CPR and mandatory reporting, but also the very specific training needed to ensure that an entire department is on the same page.
Of course, the team couldn’t possibly become experts in the intricacies of every position — for instance HVAC repair – nor do they have an army of staff to provide the training.
That is why the Classified Professional Development Team has smartly looked at ways to build capacity within the system. They assign liaisons to work with each department, creating professional development plans and equipping them to conduct trainings.
“They are the subject matter experts, but maybe they don’t know how to present content,” DCSD Director of Professional Development Peggy Mueller said. “We come beside them and provide the skill of facilitation.”
The same is true in Personalized Learning, where the specialties vary greatly, from nurses to psychologists to special education teachers.
“I have a background in special education, but I am not the content expert in [all of the different areas of] Personalized Learning,” explained DCSD Professional Development Coordinator for Personalized Learning Elizabeth Daly, who has been a teacher in both regular and special education classrooms. “It is about developing that relationship with those departments.”
When she was brought on to Mueller’s team from Cimarron Middle School in
October of 2014 she too began working to support experts in the field.
“We are about extension, Daly said. “Colette [Hohnbaum] is the expert in mental health, so I collaborate with her to determine good professional development opportunities and to support her in the creation of classes.”
For some courses, we collaborate with outside agencies like the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and the CDE that has allowed us to develop trainers, so that we can ensure our staff gets this important information, which is a “win-win.” It builds great relationships.
Most of the courses, however, are developed and then offered in-house. For instance, Daly and others in Personalized Learning worked collaboratively to create a series of classes on co-teaching after seeing a need for support for the general classroom teachers and the specialists that help to provide targeted and intensive interventions.
“We are building those relationships between general education teachers and specialists. Those could be any type of specialists. It could be English Language Development (ELD) teachers, Gifted and Talented, Special Education, SLPs, Reading Recovery—anyone who works with students, so they’re learning how to collaborate within the school setting,” Daly said.
Both the classroom teachers and specialists, as well as their administrator, are encouraged to attend.
“We begin with building that collaborative relationship and determining what that can look like. You have to start with building a relationship and learning who you are co-teaching with before you can talk about how can you teach together,” Daly said. “Then we talk about the strategies you can use to meet the needs of students and how to make that work in the classroom setting.”
The staff at Flagstone Elementary School recently took the Co-Teaching II and III courses and loved it.
“My staff cannot speak highly enough about the program. They felt like someone that knows Special Education understood them and was able to support them,” explained Flagstone Elementary Principal Kelli Smith.
During a session with Daly, the Flagstone staff was able to get a better understanding of how backward planning and the Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum fits within their work with all students.
“She brought it into terms that made absolute sense to our teachers,” Smith said. “She explained that our World Class Outcomes are all about life skills. We are all trying to get kids to access things at a level that is an appropriate level for them in the real world. That is exactly what we are trying to do with students in special education, even if it is not at the same grade-level as general education students.”
The Essentials of MTSS course takes the next step, providing even more information on best practices for implementing universal, targeted and intensive interventions.
One of the natural by-products of the classes is additional collaboration between schools.
“They have the opportunity to come in and to talk to other schools and find out what it looks like in their buildings,” Daly said. “It is powerful. It brings groups together to share ideas and collaborate about what is best for students.”
The team also works to ensure that this support is available during New Teacher and Leader Academy, Leadership Summit and the “Timely Topics”.
“We’re going to make sure there is a specialist or someone from Personalized Learning supporting learning during summer professional development opportunities. We collaborate with the rest of our PD team to make sure that there is someone there that can support teachers and personalize learning opportunities to meet their needs.”
Aligned to the District
All of these professional development efforts are aligned to the District’s Strategic Plan and Academic Cabinet Goals.
“[Professional Development] brings people together, when it is aligned,” Mueller said. “We are a District. We work together. What is our focus? Students. Whether I’m driving a bus, or I’m making a room feel more comfortable for a teacher to teach in, our focus is always on our students.”
For that reason, the PD team has worked to differentiate the learning progressions created for certified staff, so that classified employees can hear the same message.
For instance, the team has adapted Superintendent Dr. Liz Fagen’s A Case for Change course, since it helps employees understand why the District has embarked on the effort to modernize education.
“When they go to the school and they hear certified staff talk about A Case for Change and Dr. Fagen, we want them to have the same knowledge and understanding. So, we adapted it to meet the needs of classified individuals,” Mueller said.
Her team has worked to add additional context for classified employees whose positions are not classroom-based.
The feedback has been extraordinary. The following are quotes from class participants, encouraging other classified employees to take the Case for Change class.
“I would recommend classified staff to take this course because it helps with the unification and continuity of DCSD mission. This course helps them to see a bigger picture of how their role fits into the DCSD puzzle.”
“I think all employees in the district should know how and why the district is striving to teach and educate our students. The focus on education, its purpose and its goals have changed because of technology and our world interactions and we should all be aware of what DCSD is trying to prepare our students for.”
“It certainly cleared up my concerns as to what this 21 Century learning is all about. I truly believe every parent and every DCSD employee should take this class.”
“1. It is a great reminder that you play an important part in the student's education at DCSD, even if you are not in the classroom with them.
2. It sheds light on the changes that are taking place in the district and you gain a better understanding of why changes are being implemented.
3. If you are someone who gets bored with the way things have always been done, this re-energizes you and challenges you to make changes/improvements that will benefit your department.”
Additionally, these PD courses are aligned to the competencies in the professional, technical and classified employee evaluations, like continuous quality improvement, communication, ethics and diversity.
This adds value to the employees, helping them address gaps identified in their evaluation.
“When it comes time to have that evaluation conversation with their supervisor, they can print their transcript and say, ‘this is what I’ve done to help meet those competences,’” Mueller said.
Supporting new leaders
The department also supports new classified, professional and technical leadersby offering a yearlong Leadership Institute.
Twice a month these leaders participate in classes that help to instill important leadership and managerial skills.
“We have individuals who get promoted because they’re good at what they do,” explained Mueller. “We are setting them up to fail, if we do not provide them leadership skills.”
Currently twenty-six leaders are participating in the seventh annual Leadership Institute.
In December leaders completed the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People course including a 360-degree feedback survey.
“I have found Leadership Institute to be a great platform to learn from my peers as well as the trainers. The quality of DCSD's Professional Development is unprecedented and I've taken many tools back to my department. It's helped me ‘sharpen the saw' on my existing skills and identify areas for improvement. It's also taught me humility and the power of listening! Overall, I'm a better manager because of Leadership Institute and my colleagues in the program,” as stated by participant and Sustainability Coordinator LeeAnn Westfall.
Mentoring new employees
Another initiative developed from the feedback of the Classified Advisory Group was the Classified Mentor Program. Mentors attend monthly mentor meetings for their development and to disseminate communication regarding back to their 67 sites. In addition, the mentors attend Dr. Fagen’s Classified Advisory Council expanding the opportunity for communication from the District to classified staff.
“My mentor has offered support throughout the school year and also checked in with me to inquire about my needs,” one classified employee wrote to Professional Development. “She consistently reminds me that she's eager and/or prepared to assist me in anything. If she doesn't know the answer, she's looked into things and reported back.”
Additional a supervisor wrote, “This program is SO valuable - providing leadership opportunities for our most effective & supportive classified staff, in affirming the hard work of our classified staff, and helping our classified staff to feel supported and connected on a larger scale.”
Specialized PD provides long-term benefit to District
The Classified and Personalized Learning Professional Development team believes that these efforts can have a positive, long-term impact for District employees and the rest of the organization, with the ultimate benefit to students.
“It helps with retention of employees, when they feel like the organization is investing in them,” Mueller said. “In private businesses a lot of the times you don’t get this kind of PD.”