Professional development for educators in the DeForest Area School District is undergoing a transformation. The focus has changed.
“There’s a more conscious effort to look at data and how to support what the data tells us to do,” said Superintendent Eric Runez.
By digging into the mounds of data at their disposal, school officials are trying to improve at identifying student needs and figuring out how to meet them with instruction. Rebecca Toetz, the district’s director of instruction, said they are trying “to get to root causes” of what works and what doesn’t.
Professional development used to take the form of two-day workshops or something similar.
“You would go to a conference and listen to a speaker,” said Debbie Brewster, the district’s school/community relations coordinator.
Such sessions usually did not include time for collaboration.
During the school year, the district occasionally closes school for professional development days. Students get those days off, but that’s when educators really go to work.
Toetz said they study instructional practices, focusing on subjects such as equity, literacy or student engagement, among other topics.
“They do a deep dive into one of these areas and then follow through with instructional coaches,” said Toetz. She added that those instructional coaches are embedded with teachers in their schools.
After learning new methods during these sessions, teachers go off and try them out in the classroom, with help from their professional learning communities (PLCs), including instructional coaches and principals. Time is also allowed for reflection on the new practices.
The change in philosophy allows school officials to make necessary instructional changes while school is in session, rather than wait until after the school year is over to revamp instruction. There isn’t time for that. School officials are already looking ahead to next August’s professional development activities.
Runez said time is the most valuable resource for educators.
Data is crucial as well. Brewster said there are multiple opportunities for educators to get together and pore through the data to see what is effective and what isn’t. The district also has data awareness teams with teacher leaders who sift through all that information, and then coaches develop plans and go back to their buildings to lead teachers.
Professional development compensation (PDC) activities also play a vital role in helping align instruction to district goals and the needs of students. Toetz said they help in developing teacher resiliency and capacity, and also with time management strategies. Many of the district’s own teachers lead them.
They can take the form of workshops, courses, conferences and other activities and are available for certified staff, including teachers and specialists. Large group learning can also be part of the program.
Along with helping them become better educators, these activities lead to educators earning points to move up on the district’s salary scale.
One graduate credit is worth 100 points, which is equivalent to about 15 hours of classroom time. That doesn’t include homework and outside reading. A one-day workshop is usually worth 50 points. There are general guidelines for determining points and there may be some variations based on other factors, according to Brewster.
Toetz said the district’s compensation committee is good about being mindful of making the activities rigorous, while still allowing the points to be attainable.
Pete Wilson, director of administrative services for the district, said the focus is on student engagement. Modeling best practices is one of the tools. Giving staff good feedback with how well they are doing with student engagement is also part of the program.
“We try to make professional development mirror strong instructional practices in the classroom,” said Runez.
A lot of school districts are making this kind of shift, according to Runez. He said his previous district was in the process of doing so when he was there, and the DeForest Area School District was already moving in this direction before he arrived.