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Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators
Professional growth systems
Sustaining support for teachers and new school administrators through COVID-19
By Hayley Calhoun | September | October 2022
Little did we know in 2017 when Riverside Unified School District launched Professional Growth Systems for teachers and administrators, that the PGS department would be so needed in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic and all students going from in-person learning to virtual learning.
PGS in RUSD began as an idea of growing shared leadership between district leadership and the certificated bargaining unit to support new teachers in accelerating their instructional practice to ensure a quality learning experience for all students. A system of support was designed and the position of support teacher was developed. A support teacher is an exemplary teacher who assists PGS Participating Teachers in developing their pedagogical skills to maximize their effectiveness in the classroom. The motto for PGS is simple:
A great teacher for every classroom, A great principal for every school, A great support staff throughout the district, A great district for the city of Riverside.
RUSD and the Riverside City Teachers Association committed to the system of support and began supporting all teachers new to RUSD in 2017 and all new site principals in 2018.
A PGS for support staff is currently under design in collaboration with the California School Employees Association. The purpose of Support Staff PGS is to provide a system for ongoing professional growth to enable RUSD staff to work and thrive in a positive work environment that supports the success of each employee. RUSD and CSEA recognize and value the role of all employees, both school and non-school based, in contributing to a learning community with high standards and expectations.
When the world shut down in March 2020, teachers scrambled to figure out how to deliver lessons in a virtual environment. PGS Support Teachers dug in and learned how to coach in a virtual environment and support the teachers in engaging students. They quickly created PearDecks, and became proficient in Google Classroom and all things digital. This was a new environment for everyone that then became the new normal. Principals who had never even signed on to a Google Meet were now regularly scheduling virtual staff meetings and dropping in on virtual classrooms for observations.
There was a collective sigh of relief when the 2019-20 school year ended and we all looked forward to getting back to normal with a return to in-person instruction in the new school year. But that is not how the story went.
When it was determined that in-person instruction would not resume, all hands were on deck, district-wide. RUSD is fortunate to have talented staff both behind the scenes and in front of the computer camera to provide instruction to students and keep the wheels turning. PGS was no different. PGS support had to evolve just as quickly to meet the needs of teachers and administrators in this new landscape.
It also became mission critical for new teachers and site principals hired into the 2020-21 school year to have real-time support, not only to navigate the virtual environment, but also how to connect with students and other staff virtually. Coaching not only focused on virtual instruction, but on building relationships through a computer screen. This occurred through virtual meetings in small groups and bringing staff together with their job-alike peers. Teachers shared tools to get to know students. Multiple classroom observations and long coaching sessions that focused on instruction in the classroom and equitable environments for all students were in overdrive.
When the 2020-21 school year ended, there was a second collective sigh of relief. Students returned to school near the end of the year and it was determined that the district would start the 2021-22 school year in-person. We all celebrated knowing this was best for students and staff. We did not fully understand the academic and social-emotional challenges students and staff would face when returning to in-person instruction in the fall.
Once again, district-wide departments and PGS began to dig in to support the return to in-person instruction. PGS Support Teachers and Support Principals planned their coaching carefully to address emotional needs as well as student learning. Coaching focused on setting goals, monitoring progress and analyzing student work. Coaching would be scheduled weekly with observations in classrooms and reflective conversations on instruction. With principals, the focus was on returning to in-person instruction but mostly on how to support the emotional needs of students and staff. With the health impact of COVID-19, we all took part in substituting in classrooms for all positions. Support Teachers covered classes, Support Principals engaged in myriad duties and district managers filled in wherever needed. It was critical to show up and keep showing up. That was the support needed at the time during critical staff shortages. This became most of the work through January. We used digital tools, especially virtual meeting platforms, to maintain social distancing while providing support across the district. We learned how to become flexible and agile in our practice, and how to condense the coaching cycle to one or two focused goals.
The support of PGS was the glue that held many teachers in place who were ready to quit after the first month. Research demonstrates that a first-year teacher’s attitude towards teaching moves in phases during the first year going from anticipation and survival to disillusionment in the first quarter. Teachers new to the profession in 2021 did virtual student teaching or none at all if coming in as an intern. This provided unique challenges to their learning curve and many hit the disillusionment stage early. PGS support was critical to their ability to reach short-term goals.
A key component of PGS is reflecting on practice and outcomes. The PGS Support Teacher and Principal provide the opportunity for teachers and administrators to reflect, adjust their practice and identify a next goal. The movement and success of meeting goals enables all to see progress in leadership and student outcomes.
PGS also implements the district induction program. In 2021-22, 106 teachers participated and completed year-one induction requirements and 11 completed year-two induction requirements with PGS Support Teachers. Of the teachers who were served through PGS in 2021-22, 98.18 percent were retained in RUSD for the 2022-23 school year.
The ideals of PGS extend beyond coaching in the instructional environment and/or leadership skills. PGS looks to support the whole person with intentional and robust mentoring on California Standards for the Teaching Profession with a focus on equity. Building trust and lasting relationships is the cornerstone to successful coaching. Relationships built between Support Teachers and Participating Teachers and Support Principals and Participating Administrators continue long past when the coaching ends.
It is the belief of PGS that everyone deserves (and needs) a coach. Everyone needs someone in their corner guiding them to be the best version of themselves, but also holding them accountable to making thoughtful decisions to reach every student, every day. PGS is a department within the Division of Equity, Access, and Community Engagement. We strongly believe in our motto, and through the pandemic, we too evolved, becoming more intentional, thoughtful and honed to our craft. During the 2020-21 school year, PGS staff refreshed our mission and vision below:
“PGS believes in a culture of coaching across the district focused on disrupting patterns of inequality within classrooms to guarantee all students an education that ensures readiness for college, career and opportunities in our global society.”
Our mission is achieved through high quality coaching and robust mentoring to:
  • Guarantee all students receive rigorous, coherent, standards-based instruction.
  • Provide students with an exceptional education with the highest quality educators committed to participating in ongoing professional learning communities to reflect on instructional practice.
  • Ensure high quality teaching and learning environments for students.
  • Develop educators who know their students’ cultural heritage, interests, skills and special needs.
  • Fully engage students through culturally responsive pedagogy to meet their needs.
As a district, RUSD was swift to support the immediate needs of schools and well-poised to support teachers and administrators during the pandemic through the Professional Growth System. PGS continues to have great success in retaining teachers and administrators. From 2017 through 2022, PGS has supported more than 500 new teachers and more than 40 new site principals. RUSD believes in our staff and the importance of honing the teaching and leadership craft and continues to support PGS.
As a district, RUSD was swift to support the immediate needs of schools and well-poised to support teachers and administrators during the pandemic through the Professional Growth System.
PGS handbook
An excerpt from the PGS handbook is provided below:
The purpose of the Teacher Professional Growth System is to address factors related to instructional skill and practices as outlined in RUSD’s Guide for Instructional Direction and described in the Danielson Framework for Teaching through one-on-one coaching provided by a Support Teacher.
A Support Teacher is an exemplary teacher who assists PGS Participating Teachers in developing their pedagogical skills to maximize their effectiveness in the classroom. A Support Teacher is fully released from the classroom for a term of three years. They then return to the classroom or any position for which they are qualified.
The Teacher PGS serves the following categories of participating teachers:
  • Interns — A Support Teacher will be assigned to any intern hired by the District. If the intern transitions to an induction candidate, PGS will continue providing support, following the guidelines for induction candidates.
  • Induction Candidates — RUSD is committed to providing credentialing assistance to induction candidates, free of cost. As part of their support, Support Teachers will help Induction candidates complete the credentialing requirements, following the guidelines established by the Induction Specialist. Induction is typically a two-year process. Support will be provided through the completion of Induction as long as the Induction candidate remains employed in the District.
  • Experienced teachers new to RUSD — A Support Teacher will be assigned to any experienced teacher, newly hired by the District, to help them during their transition to RUSD. This support will take place during the academic year in which they are hired. If the participating teacher so requests, and contingent upon system capacity, support may continue past that academic year.
  • Voluntary Requests for Coaching — A Support Teacher may be assigned to any teacher requesting coaching contingent upon system capacity. Support will be differentiated based on need.
The purpose for Administrator PGS is to coach and support administrators on building coherence throughout Riverside Unified School District. An assigned Support Principal (coach) will work with the administrator on building and developing an engaging student-centered vision for teaching and learning. PGS addresses factors related to instructional skills and practices as outlined in the RUSD Guide for Instructional Direction and the California Administrator Performance Expectations which are the foundation for the RUSD Administrator Evaluation Tool.
A Support Principal is an exemplary principal who assists PGS Participating Administrators in developing their leadership skills to maximize school effectiveness. A Support Principal is fully released from site Principalship for a term of three years. They then return to site Principalship or any position for which they are qualified.
The Administrator Professional Growth System serves the following categories of Participating Administrators:
  • Novice Principal — A Support Principal will be assigned to any site Principal new to the position. Support will be provided for a minimum of two years.
  • Experienced, new to the district — A Support Principal will be assigned to any site Principal who is new to RUSD with previous experience as a site Principal to assist them during their transition to RUSD. Support will be provided for a minimum of one year.
  • New to an assignment at a different level — Site principals who are moved from one site to another or who move level of service (i.e. elementary to secondary) will be provided support for a minimum of one year.
  • Voluntary Request for Coaching — Site principals who request coaching support will be provided support based upon system capacity. Support is differentiated based on need.
  • Identified for coaching by the Superintendent or Primary Evaluator — A site principal identified for support in one or more areas of growth. Support is differentiated based on need.
Hayley Calhoun is the Principal Liaison for Riverside Unified School District.
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