At too many school districts, professional development misses the mark. Teachers take the same courses year in and year out, without much thought to either their individual areas for growth or the specific needs of the students they serve.
These are lost opportunities. If we want teachers to bring their best game to their students, then we need to bring our best game to their professional development (PD).
That’s why Relay is working with the District of Columbia Public Schools to help retool PD at one of the nation’s largest school districts. Through surveys, interviews, and highly customized training, our work with the district has led to results that are encouraging not only for DCPS, but also for the host of other districts that could one day benefit from a similar approach.
DCPS came to Relay last year after the district’s teacher-development team sat in on one of our classes. Rebecca Maltzman, director of teacher development strategy at DCPS, was part of the visit.
“We knew we weren’t developing teachers fast enough," Maltzman told EdSurgeearlier this year. “To get them ready we had to accelerate the rate of their development much faster.”
To begin accelerating, the professional development strategy team conducted surveys and spoke with hundreds of district teachers. A cluster of similar concerns and requests emerged: Teachers wanted more options for completing their PD, as well as the opportunity to choose which options would work best for them.
So, in an effort to target their teachers’ individual growth areas, DCPS assembled a variety of carefully designed PD options, including video modules from Relay, virtual coaching, and BloomBoard, a digital platform that helps simplify teacher observations and differentiate training.
Next, the teacher-development team analyzed each school’s initiatives and student population — examining, for example, whether most students at a school were native English speakers — to put together a selection of PD regimens from which teachers at each school could choose. Some schools needed more coaching in a specific language, or in special education, while others needed more content specialization. Based on their schools’ needs, teachers could choose which methods they anticipated would be most personally effective.
The district gave more than 500 teachers access to Relay modules, and participation rates have been strong and continue to rise. DCPS teachers’ use of the modules grew by almost 25 percent between the first and second quarters of the 2014-15 school year.
“With Relay, it makes sense,” one teacher said in a feedback survey. “The strategies are clear.” Another said, “I can use this stuff in every lesson. I even tell my educator friends outside of this school, ‘I’m taking this online class, and it’s giving me so many new ideas.’ I definitely want to do another one.”
Relay Provost Brent Maddin says that while Relay didn’t invent DCPS’s PD framework, our modules fit nicely into the district’s new strategy because we share a common vision for strengthening instruction.
“Both Relay and DCPS have similar sets of competencies for what it takes to be a great teacher,” Maddin explains. “We see a similarity in what we value, and what teachers should know.”
So far, the program is active at 10 district schools. Relay’s goal is to double the number of modules that we offer to DCPS teachers next year.