An overview of professional development in DCSD
CASTLE ROCK - Last year, the Professional Development (PD) department spent time refocusing and streamlining the kind of training that is being offered to Douglas County School District (DCSD) employees. PD staff began this process in response to feedback from teachers who were expressing a desire to slow down and incorporate more professional development in integrating content, literacy and math. Teachers and staff involved in Personalized Learning areas additionally desired more training related to state and federal laws, as well as collaboration opportunities with other staff members. Classified and Pro-Tech employees also desired more opportunities for PD and leadership development.
In response to feedback that PD receives, more professional development opportunities are being made available than ever before. These opportunities are also being offered in a variety of forms to best fit the needs and schedule of DCSD employees.
How does PD solicit feedback?
PD’s feedback comes from several sources: An advisory group of Professional Learning Specialists (PLS), a Principal focus group, direct feedback from class attendees and Teacher Leaders.
The expertise of our own teachers in DCSD was also utilized in the design and facilitation of this past summer’s work sessions. Their insight and involvement helped make this summer’s work sessions and classes a success, with 3,200 teachers in attendance.
“One of the things we implemented for teachers in summer work sessions was building in work time for teachers to collaborate with their colleagues. They could take their learning from those sessions and immediately create something with it,” said PD Assistant Director Jenny Henry. “All too many times you go to a training and you get all of this information, you leave exhausted and life starts. So we built that time in and it was a huge success. It’s actually becoming a model that we are continuing to use in our design.”
Learning Academy: on-demand video training coming soon
A new feature that PD is excited to launch this Fall is the Learning Academy, a new website in which teachers and staff will be able to access on-demand video training.
Based on feedback, PD staff found there was a gap between the resources offered on inspirED and needs of employees who needed more convenient options to acquire new training.
“We had classes that were meeting a need in the system, whether it was for relicensure or another need, but a lot of people wanted some aspects of a class,” says PD Lead Coordinator Jeff Mlsna (pictured left). “We didn’t really have a good platform in place for someone to be able to get those pieces whenever they wanted.”
Now, as PD develops classes, each piece of the class will be available online, accessible by any teacher, principal or PLS in the district, at any time convenient for them.
“Say you went to a literacy training, it was incredible, but there’s one piece you know could help another teacher. You don’t want the teacher to have to take the whole class, you just want to share that one piece. You will now be able to go to the Learning Academy, find that video clip, send it to that teacher, and he or she can watch it at their convenience.”
What about those who may not be as tech savvy?
“User-friendliness has been a big, big focus for us,” says Mlsna. “The site will be mobile-friendly, and we are also developing a series of tutorial videos that will be on the main page.”
The Learning Academy is scheduled to launch this December. Click here to see more information.
How many people does it take to train 7,000+ employees?
Hundreds of trainings and opportunities are made available over the course of a year, organized by PD’s hard working staff. Not including classes facilitated by teachers and leadership staff, these offerings are organized by:
World Class Education: more focus on content and tools to support teachers in unit design
World Class Education (WCE) and PD have joined forces this year with the goal of reaching as many teachers as possible to provide curriculum support and more clarity on all components of curriculum in DCSD in order to highlight how they can work together rather than in isolation, with a specific focus on the content component.
In the past month alone, Coordinators have led trainings or collaborated in meetings in over half of the schools in DCSD, with support in literacy, math strategies, classroom management strategies and innovative learning environments, among other areas.
Here are some new ways WCE staff are working to meet the needs of teachers in DCSD this year:
Literacy Training: WCE staff is creating a research-based, three-year, comprehensive literacy framework that schools may choose to use to implement best practices in the area of literacy to build a support structure for sustainable implementation. The goals of the plan are to provide a solid research-based framework for the implementation of a strong literacy program, provide teachers with strategies and processes to implement the critical components of literacy, and support the implementation of literacy within all curricular areas and technology As a result of PLS training and evening classes, teachers will be enabled to fine tune instruction and instructional strategies based around the components of reading and balanced literacy for both elementary and secondary levels.
“We’re really taking a step back and we wanted to give teachers practical hands-on opportunities that they could use tomorrow,” WCE Curriculum Coordinator Nate Burgard says.
“We haven’t, for a while, had specific, targeted trainings for instructional strategies in classrooms based on content, specific math strategies or specific literacy strategies. This is where we are really looking to service the needs of the district and teachers,” says WCE Curriculum Coordinator Janet Merrill (pictured above, left).
- World Class Outcome Progressions: Feedback from teachers showed that they wanted a tool that would help them measure the World Class Outcomes. Last year, WCE worked with a group of teachers to develop rubrics / learning progressions. As a result, several of the Outcomes have been upgraded to better meet the needs of our students and teachers.
“In releasing the progressions we’ve found a really positive response from the teachers,” says Merrill. “It’s a way of looking at abstract thinking and looking at the skill progression in specific terms of how to reach that goal. It gives clarity, a better understanding and provides teachers with a tool they can use for their classroom instruction, helping them to be more targeted with where they want their students to go.”
Teachers who would like WCE support may submit a request through their principal or building leader.
Personalized Learning: meeting the needs of all students
With over 140 classes to support DCSD employees, the Personalized Learning section of PD oversees training in the areas of Early Childhood Programming, Education Programming, Special Education, 504, Health and Wellness, and Titles and Grants.
Their role is to bridge the needs of staff, teachers and schools together with the people that can help them. They also often conduct site-based trainings for entire schools.
Their focus is to expand the different access points for learning. Already this year they have had over 2,000 participants attend over 70 classes.
“If we don’t have a class for that specific need, then we will find specialists who can provide that training,” says PD Coordinator Jenifer Nerwin.
A common challenge Personalized Learning PD staff face is the need to bring so many groups of people together in order to effectively train employees to meet the needs of all kids.
“If you have a middle school student who is in seven different classes throughout the day and they work with an occupational therapist, a speech therapist, English language providers, and classroom teachers, so all of those people have to come together,” says Nerwin. “We really want to make sure that everybody has the training they need to not only do their specific part of their job but also collaborate with all of the other people who also work with that student. A lot of our classes are open to all job categories so that helps to bring everyone together.”
New State CPR Mandate
Personalized Learning PD staff have a new challenge this year. The state has a new mandate that anyone who is alone with students or goes off school property with students must be trained in CPR and first aid. PD, therefore, has had to significantly expand the CPR trainings offered.
Staff must be trained for seven hours each in a 1 to 12 ratio. This training must be renewed every two years.
“Our nurses and CPR trainers have done a fantastic job,” says PD Coordinator Elizabeth Daly. “We figured out that in five months they have trained 700 people in the district.”
Like other areas of PD, they are utilizing people with expertise within DCSD as much as possible to help with these trainings, rather than bringing in outside vendors.
“We’re using our own people to train our own people. They know the language of DCSD, they know the situations, they know the environment we’re in, and that’s what this department is great for: knowing who would be a great person to help train this internally. It also gives that person an opportunity to expand on their skills,” says Peggy Mueller, Director of Professional Development and Personalized Learning.
Not Just for Teachers: PD is available for Classified, Pro-Tech employees too
While it is uncommon for school districts to offer professional development for classified employees, for the last 15 years DCSD has done just that, and this year the department is extending opportunities for Pro-Tech employees, as well.
Here is some of the training available to Classified, Pro-Tech employees:
Leadership Institute: Now in its eighth year, the Leadership Institute exists so that classified or pro-tech employees who manage other employees have the opportunity to gain training on supervision, evaluation, coaching and how to have tough conversations when needed. It is a year-long commitment of nine classes with coursework such as the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, crucial conversations and accountability. Participants also have the opportunity to take on a project that they present to their peers at the end of the Institute.
“I still hear now, eight years later, different people saying they still talk to people from their Institute classes. It crosses departments and helps people make connections, and it breaks down those silos within our organization,” Mueller says.
Participants must be referred to the Leadership Institute by their supervisor.
Mentor Program: Each school in DCSD has a designated mentor for classified employees, selected by the Principal, that meet with PD staff on a monthly basis, helping to provide a two-way dialogue between the PD department and classified employees. Currently, there are 72 classified mentors that serve as liaisons. These mentors also gain leadership training at each meeting.
Management Seminar: The newest offering, open to Classified and Pro-Tech employees who manage other employees, Management Seminar is similar to the Leadership Institute but focuses squarely on managerial skills and less on leadership building skills. Employees may drop in on one or more classes as they wish if there are topics that are of interest to them. There is no long term commitment to enroll in coursework.
As with other areas of PD, staff mentor and train Classified DCSD employees to facilitate classes themselves so that more and new opportunities can become available quickly to more employees.
Feedback is also important to Classified PD staff, and multiple evaluations are administered for each class an employee takes.
“It’s a great way for us to ensure that quality and fidelity of the courses are being upheld as we expand our cadre of trainers. It also gives us guidance and direction on the development of new classes,” says Professional Development Coordinator Jackie Feely.
A follow up evaluation administered approximately eight weeks after a course was taken is not only for PD staff’s benefit, but also for the employee to demonstrate to their supervisor the steps they have taken for skill development. PD Coordinator Melody Bishop suggests employees print or save a PDF of their responses to the evaluation and show it to their supervisor in preparation of the employee evaluation.
“Take that evaluation and show it to your boss, that this is the class you took, this is what you learned, and this is how you applied it to your job.”
Mueller says in the end it’s about bringing value to DCSD employees so they feel it’s worth their time to gain skills from these classes.
“What we know about classified employees is some of them have to work two jobs. So we don’t take giving up their time lightly. We take it very seriously and want to make sure that it’s worth their time to attend,” she says.