Personalization: the future of DCSD Professional Development
Department works to modernize PD by differentiating it for individuals
CASTLE ROCK – When most people think of organic, they think of fresh fruits and vegetables. Well, the Professional Development (PD) staff of the Douglas County School District hopes that the next time you hear the term, you’ll also think about the fresher PD opportunities they are now offering.
“When we talk organic, we are really talking about using resources that we have to develop personalized programming to meet the teacher where they’re at and to provide multiple entry points. There is not just one way to do things—to plan, assess or instruct,” said DCSD Director World Class Education Professional Development Planning & Implementation Amy Lane.
“We are trying to create those types of training opportunities that are flexible. We don’t have one set program for all employees,” Jeff Mlsna added.
Just like we are doing in the classroom for students, our PD Department is differentiating lessons for specific school communities and even individual staff members. PD believes this increases the likelihood of success, compared to the old boxed program model.
“It is not that programs are bad,” explained DCSD Chief Growth and Development Officer Ann Johnson. “However, they do not meet the needs of everyone. We are now looking at it from a different standpoint. We’ve involved teachers and administrators in focus groups and have asked questions like, if we would provide some training in literacy, what is it that teachers most need?’”
This wasn’t just words either—the PD team really listened.
“We can guess about what they need, but in reality that may not be what they
really need,” Johnson added. “We have such talented people in this District from Professional Learning Specialists (PLS) to administrators to the teachers out there in the schools. We really have to listen to what they need to be successful in helping their students. That is what we’ve really positioned ourselves to do this year. We have set up a number of different forums and we are thrilled with the response we’ve received.”
Feedback guided creation of Learning Progressions
The feedback from employees and school administrators, through the staff survey and focus groups, was clear. They wanted more support in understanding the instructional practices that are now expected of DCSD teachers and are evaluated in the Continuous Improvement of Teaching Effectiveness (CITE) tool.
“One of the things that came through clearly is that we needed to slow down. The other thing is that they need more practical, hands on applications and also we need some concrete examples,” Johnson explained.
As a result, the team began building learning progressions, starting with A Case for Change, which outlines why education must adapt in order to meet the needs of today’s students. Then, they created a foundational understanding of quality planning, assessment and instruction.
By creating multiple classes, PLS at schools can match different teachers to the courses that best fit their needs.
“The beautiful thing about that is that if you are a PLS and have a PLC (Professional Learning Community) day and people want to take Yellow Card or World Class Outcome or the Balanced Assessment System, you now have the opportunity to personalize it and offer all three sessions. The addition of additional avenues of learning like online and blended allows you to customize it for the teachers in your building,” Johnson said.
With so many courses being offered across the District, PD knew that they needed to empower schools, their PLS and their leaders to conduct trainings with support.
“The intent was to expand capacity,” Johnson said. “We know there aren’t enough of us to serve all of the different schools, so we said—what are some different ways we can do this? There are great people in the buildings and we know that they want to provide the highest quality of support for their staff.”
The department went to work training District facilitators who in turn train schools.
Videos help to ensure fidelity and consistency
While the hands-on approach to learning and the school empowerment was welcomed, PD did face a few challenges.
“One of the things we really had to think about was the consistency of messaging in the system,” Johnson explained.
Like a game of telephone, as more and more people were trained, at times the message incrementally changed.
“In some cases they had only taken the course taught once, before teaching it to others. When they went to deliver it, they did the best they could, but sometimes they gave mixed messages,” explained Johnson.
The PD team came up with an ingenious way to overcome this issue, while still providing the differentiated, personal model that teachers wanted. During the Leadership Summit, the Department livestreamed Dr. Fagen, so that she first-hand provide A Case for Change to everyone, even though they were spread out in differentiated teams across Legend High School.
They realized that this could be applied elsewhere. By having the subject matter experts give elements of the presentation on video, the team could ensure consistency.
It didn’t, however, take long before teachers were requesting the videos to refresh their memory on concepts that perhaps were a little tougher for them to grasp.
“If a teacher goes back to their room and is like, ‘how did we do that? How did we get there?’ They can go grab that video clip and get that follow up support,” Mlsna said.
‘Sharehouse’ imagined for on demand professional development
Mlsna and the team realized they were onto something. What if teachers could utilize videos to learn at their own pace?
They really hadn’t thought of using video in this way because up until then, most video trainings in education were incredibly boring.
“My early experience with video was that you sat and watched a two to three hour clip of something. Many times it focused on the back of people’s heads and quite frankly, it was not very engaging. You ended up doing other things while you’re watching the clip,” Johnson said.
Instead, the PD team focused on capturing training in a way that would suit busy teachers. Most of the clips are under 10 minutes long and get right to the point.
“We keep looking at, ‘how can we better serve the teachers and administrators in this District?’ How can we break this down, knowing that people have other demands on their life,” Johnson said. “Some of the short video clips can be your most powerful.”
PD is now working to create virtual packets consisting of a video and supporting materials that can help teachers and administrators learn key elements.
“For example, if you want to learn more about authentic projects, you could click on that video clip, there might be an actual off ramp class that takes you into how to—if you need some coaching on design. There might also be a class on actually developing the rubric that goes with it,” Johnson added.
Johnson says these short coaching clips are by far the most popular with teachers.
“We have had tremendous response in those tapes, not only inside the District, but outside the District, when people hear about them,” Johnson said. “This opens up a multitude of possibilities for people that maybe have another job after school or maybe are doing an advanced degree or maybe have children.”
She and her team are now working towards an online home, that she calls a “sharehouse” for all of these resources.
“It would be a warehouse that would house all these learning opportunities and we would have them organized in a fashion where you could quickly go to what you want,” Johnson said.
She imagines a time when teachers, PLS, administrators and others can browse a library of resources, finding exactly what they need to grow.
PD believes that it could revolutionize PD.