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Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators
A culture of innovation
Creating a systems approach to professional learning
By Jennifer Burks | March | April 2023
“Setting a goal of developing ‘professional learning’ (something one does with oneself and/or others) rather than ‘professional development’ (something one does to another) begins to shift the paradigm toward educators owning their learning.”
— Jason Flan
Research shows that a one-size-fits-all model for professional development is not effective in meeting the needs of all educators. Our experience has shown us that traditional professional development has a reputation of being a tedious task where many assumptions are made about what teachers need: everyone needs the same training/learning and everyone learns at the same pace. This is not how we ask teachers to teach, so why is it how we are asking them to learn?
To create widespread sustainable change and a culture of innovation within Poway Unified School District, we shifted to a new, hybrid format of professional learning. In this model, the Technology and Innovation department provides voice and choice for our educators, which empowers teachers and leads to a greater impact on student learning.
Reimagining professional learning
Within our district, we recognized a need for a paradigm shift in the way we were providing professional learning in order to better meet the diverse and changing needs of educators. Prior to the pandemic, our Educational Technology department had been gradually implementing more professional learning choices for teachers and staff. The shift to online learning propelled PUSD to become a 1:1 device district. With the increase in teacher comfort, knowledge and skills surrounding educational technology and learning online, we realized we had an opportunity to capitalize on the momentum. We developed a structure to support and encourage teacher agency when it comes to professional learning, thereby creating opportunities for modeling best practices and building capacity and self-efficacy for all.
To ensure a systems approach to highly-relevant professional learning, PUSD has taken an innovative stance that provides continuous professional learning opportunities for teachers and enhances the learning experience for students. Teacher feedback guides the development of the professional learning opportunities offered and focuses on topics most relevant to addressing the needs of their students. Rather than “receiving” professional development passively, teachers co-create the options that are most aligned to their priorities.
To support our teachers while providing voice and choice, PUSD uses a multifaceted learning model that offers synchronous, asynchronous and self-paced sessions, as well as virtual office hours for more individualized support. This model ensures teachers acquire the necessary skills to deliver relevant, rigorous lessons integrating high-quality instructional practices, universal design for learning concepts and blended learning structures. This intra-district approach promotes a systemic, layered method of professional learning that capitalizes on collaboration across multiple departments including Learning Support Services, Technology and Innovation and Student Support Services. Shared, districtwide goals promote a culture of innovation and experimentation while allowing teachers to select from a range of professional learning options that support their shift in mindsets and instructional practice to personalize learning. By decentralizing the modes of learning (time, manner, format), this design leverages research on large scale professional learning: choice leads to engagement; collaboration spreads best practices; and reflection leads to self-efficacy.
Traditional professional development training was replaced with options built to suit a variety of schedules, time constraints and learning modalities. This design puts great trust in teachers, the ability of departments to coordinate and the impact of shared practices.
1. In-person/synchronous sessions: Interactive sessions with highly-qualified staff such as Educational Technology Coaches or Special Education Teachers on Special Assignment are offered live, recorded and then archived for future access. 2. Asynchronous sessions: Sessions are pre-recorded and can be accessed by staff at any time. 3. Self-paced courses: Modules are housed in our district’s Learning Management System, intentionally providing the ability for individuals to navigate at their own pace and skill level. 4. Virtual office hours: Teachers have the option to receive 1:1 time with an Ed tech Coach to support the enhancement of instructional strategies, meaningful technology integration and building capacity around technology tools. 5. YouTube Channel: Staff curate video content addressing instructional strategies, social-emotional learning, UDL, engagement strategies and educational technology tools.
Voice and choice model
Through districtwide collaboration, our team developed a model of professional learning that is adaptive enough to meet the needs of all teachers and staff, ultimately transforming learning experiences and resulting in a greater impact on student learning. This model values giving educators and district staff choice in the pace, time or place of their professional learning. By varying the format and content of these experiences, professional learning is able to be aligned with learner, site and district goals. We reimagined the professional learning experience and created a comprehensive shift in districtwide professional learning by implementing the following four structures.
Structure 1: On-demand content
One approach we used to reimagine professional learning was through our on-demand content via our Technology and Innovation YouTube channel. Teachers can access content anywhere and anytime. In a recent national Speak Up survey, 72 percent of teachers acknowledged the value in learning new things from videos. Additionally, research states that short clips and tutorials resonate with audiences (Evans, 2021).
Our on-demand channel continuously showcases topics related to instructional strategies and educational technology in PUSD. Our department creates all of our featured content series, which include:
  • Byte-Size Learning videos focus on quick instructional or educational technology tips such as new tool features or tips on implementation. They are typically one minute long.
  • Innovation Coach Tutorials cover a variety of topics supporting best practices utilizing technology tools. These videos range from two to six minutes. Topics previously covered have been “Flipgrid Advanced” and “Overview of Turnitin’s Draft Coach.”
  • Quick Guide videos are short one- to two-minute “how-to” technology tutorials.
  • Learn “IT” series focuses on troubleshooting tips geared for technical issues or programs.
We continued to grow with new series that included lengthier videos or highlighted different expertise of our Technology and Innovation department.
Structure 2: Self-paced learning option
The self-paced format allows teachers to have control over the pace and timing of their learning experiences. This format differentiates learning by allowing educators to take the time needed to master the content and choose times that best fit their personal needs. This structure is offered in both our TLC/CLCs as well as during site-based trainings and districtwide professional learning days. (Teaching and Learning Cooperatives/Classified Learning Cooperatives are professional learning courses designed and facilitated by PUSD staff to provide year-round learning on topics in support of the district vision and mission.)
We house all of our self-paced course content on our LMS. This serves the dual purpose of providing teachers with resources within our LMS, as well as a model for teachers who may be interested in creating self-paced modules for students. By leveraging technology to deliver the content, our team is also able to provide educators with choice in their learning pathways.
Within our LMS, teachers and facilitators have the ability to structure self-paced modules to include a variety of parameters including completion of all or a specific number of tasks within the module, a minimum score on an assignment or quiz or an indication from the user that they have completed a task before prompting the learner to move onto the next task.
Structure 3: Staff-led professional learning
One option is for both certificated and classified staff to participate in TLCs and CLCs. This experience allows staff to propose their own topic and or choose from a list of topics proposed by other staff members. The approval process involves a Professional Learning Advisory Committee made up of teachers, classified staff, principals, union representatives and district administrators. The criteria include evidence of the impact on student learning with a structure that focuses on participant acquisition of new knowledge, implementation and reflection. TLCs/CLCs vary in length and are offered after school hours. In addition, points earned from completing TLCs/CLCs go towards higher earnings on the pay scale once a particular number of points is accrued.
The work of TLC/CLC and districtwide professional learning is managed by our Professional Learning site that was created in-house.
  • While developing the TLC and CLC programs, we determined a need for a platform that staff could use to register and learn about upcoming courses.
  • With our in-house software developers, we partnered with both the Certificated and Classified unions and district leadership to design and build a web-based application that would become the home for all professional learning events across the district.
  • During the design process, we brought together teachers, classified staff and administrators to gather feedback on what they would like to see in a tool that helped facilitate professional learning. This feedback ultimately led to an application that is both functional and easy to use.
Through the TLC learning option, we organized teachers to lead summer sessions, including both live and recorded courses, under the heading of Innovation Camp. In this model, we recruited teacher leaders across the district and provided them with support in writing TLC proposals with the goal of increasing teacher access to innovative practices that integrate technology in meaningful ways. Supporting teachers in a leadership role provides opportunities for teachers to hear and learn from their teacher peers on topics, tools and strategies that are most relevant.
Structure 4: Districtwide professional learning When developing in-person and virtual sessions for our districtwide professional learning days, topics are generated through teacher surveys to ensure the inclusion of teacher voice in the sessions offered. We then leverage the expertise of our teacher-leaders, Teachers on Special Assignment, vendors and district staff to facilitate the sessions. Planning and implementation: To best meet the needs of teachers and staff in PUSD, we combined a variety of these structures, creating a comprehensive approach to our districtwide professional learning days. Step 1: Survey the needs of teachers, disaggregate the data and match facilitators to requested topics. Step 2: Determine which formats best fit each session topic (live, asynchronous, self-paced). Step 3: Create an interactive professional learning catalog that includes all sessions (live, recorded, self-paced). Step 4: Design a districtwide “live” kickoff utilizing a variety of ed tech tools such as Streamyard/YouTube Live. Step 5: All teachers attend the live kickoff, followed by their pre-selected sessions using the interactive catalog. Step 6: Implement a social media plan, provide troubleshooting support. Step 7: Collect staff feedback. As a team, we reimagined professional learning for our district through four approaches: on-demand content, self-paced professional learning, staff-led professional learning and districtwide professional learning. Utilizing these structures, we developed innovative approaches that empower teachers and positively impact student achievement. The model is sustainable and replicable Districts may replicate this well-supported professional learning model by establishing a group of dedicated instructional leaders with expertise in leading and designing professional learning. There are minimal budget implications since this shift in supporting teachers leverages current learning management systems, video conferencing, curriculum and educational technology tools. In addition, alignment across departments is essential to design a successful professional learning model which incorporates common goals, builds teacher capacity in a meaningful way and improves student outcomes. As education continues to shift, it is important to ensure we shift with it. This enhancement of professional learning provides a model for techniques to implement in classrooms. Modeling best practices for teachers by designing learning opportunities using a multi-faceted approach honors teacher voice and leads by example. “Sit and Get” is a thing of the past for students, and now it is for teachers. References Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M.E., and Gardner, M., with assistance from Espinoza, D. (2017). Effective Teacher Professional Development. Learning Policy Institute. https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/sites/default/files/product-files/Effective_Teacher_Professional_Development_BRIEF.pdf
Evans, J.A. (2021). Digital Learning during the Pandemic: Emerging Evidence of an Education Transformation. Project Tomorrow. https://tomorrow.org/speakup/2020CB-Digital-Learning-during-the-Pandemic.html
Jennifer Burks is Associate Superintendent Technology and Innovation at Poway Unified School District.
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