Where to Begin in Redesigning Professional Development

Before school districts can makeover their professional development systems, they need to know their strengths and weaknesses. Do teachers lack sufficient time to collaborate or is instructional leadership a bigger issue?

That’s why we created the PD Redesign Readiness Assessment. This tool is to be filled out by a group of people within a district or charter management organization. The group should include a mix of central office staff, teachers, and school leaders—both those who are responsible for organizing and delivering professional development as well as those who are the recipients of the training and support.

Five network organizations gathered in Nashville to learn how to use the assessment with the districts they will be supporting as part of our PDRedesign effort. They are:

  • American Association of School Administrators, a membership organization of school superintendents that will work at a national level as well as with the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the Fulton County Public Schools in Georgia, and The Syracuse City School District
  • Center for Collaborative Education, a Boston-based nonprofit organization that will work with districts in Massachusetts, with a special focus on English-language learners
  • Colorado Education Initiative, which works in partnership with the Colorado Department of Education to drive innovation in improving outcomes for students
  • Pivot Learning Partners, a San Francisco-based consulting organization that will work with districts in California, Washington and Illinois
  • The Tennessee/Shanghai Leadership Collaborative at Vanderbilt University, which will work with districts in Tennessee and Kentucky to implement Teacher Peer Excellence Groups.

These four groups are vastly different in their original mission and focus—another example of strange bedfellows. But this online tool will give them a common lens through which to view professional development.

The 28-question assessment is organized into eight sections—each representing one of the enabling conditions that contributes to a system that meets the needs of a school while also creating buy-in from teachers because it’s responsive to their individual questions and goals.

As the participants looked at examples of how the districts in our Innovative Professional Development (iPD) project performed on the assessment, the partners asked how they will know which area should receive attention first. The challenge, however, is that all the pieces fit together. A district might have great Common Core implementation resources, but if the site isn’t easy for teachers to navigate or the network is unreliable, teachers won’t use it.

It was also clear that district leaders and teachers sometimes see the same element quite differently. For example, a district’s PD department might think teachers are engaged when they attend workshops, but the teachers might report that the training is not relevant to their practice. As one participant said, “Sometimes central office staff thinks they have high-quality content just like teachers  think they have high-quality instruction.”

This tool is a formative piece for the district. It’s meant to start a conversation about where the system needs to be improved and then to be used more than once. The New York City Department of Education, for example, plans to use this on a continuous basis with principals. Those who complete the assessment are led through a discussion with the goal of reaching agreement on their district’s scores. That’s when the real work begins.

 – C.