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Continuous Improvement in Professional Learning

Professional Growth

Jenks Public Schools leaders understand the significance of planning and implementation evaluation.

Through their engagement in the Measuring the Impact of Professional Learning initiative, they codified their process for assessing district, school, student and teacher needs, and for using identified needs to plan professional learning. In their commitment to ensure that all teachers experience high-quality professional learning aligned to needs, they use the process to guide all decisions related to planning and implementing professional learning.

Once a plan is in place and initial professional learning occurs, the leaders at Jenks continue to work to understand how that professional learning has impacted teachers — and students. The district’s process incorporates implementation support to strengthen the transfer of new learning into the classroom. The Professional Learning Impact Cycle incorporates a number of opportunities to collect and analyze data about the effectiveness of professional learning, both initial learning experiences and implementation support, to inform future decisions related to planning and implementing professional learning.

– Joellen Killion

Throughout our community you will often hear, “It’s a Jenks thing.” What we mean is our desire to always improve, utilizing a systems focus. In Jenks Public Schools, continuous improvement is a way of life. It centers our thinking and gives us a lens for how to work on a daily basis while also pursuing big-picture goals.

In 2011, we developed an aim statement to guide the implementation of professional learning that is purposeful, practical and student-focused. It reads:

The aim of the professional development program in Jenks Public Schools is to foster learning for all students by cultivating teacher and staff professional growth and continuous improvement.

The opportunity to participate with the Frontline Research & Learning Institute and Learning Forward on a study to measure the impact of professional learning was very timely. We were having numerous conversations about how we can know that the learning we provide staff has a positive impact on the lives of our students. Through our research and the conversations with the other districts involved in this project, we developed our Professional Learning Impact Cycle. It was an effort to visually capture our processes around selecting, engaging in and evaluating the effectiveness of professional learning.

Determining Which Professional Development to Offer

When determining which professional learning opportunity to select, we begin with a basis of need, point of interest, or emerging research. Needs are often vocalized by our teachers or school administrators. It could be something that we have noticed through our Instructional Coaching efforts, or a trend we see through data such as student behavior referrals. It might be strategies that teachers have become familiar with through a book study and wish to practice and implement.

When developing the scope of professional development experiences, we consider the following two statements:

(1) After attending this professional learning event, participants will understand that…

(2) This event would be perfect for you if….

This first statement helps us identify the essential understanding participants can expect to gain through the learning experience. When the facilitator writes a full description of the session (to be posted in our District Catalog of events in Frontline Professional Growth), they might also include additional details about topics of knowledge or skills to be developed. The second statement helps individual adult learners better determine if an event is a good fit for their learning styles, area of work, and current understanding or experience with the topic.

In all cases, when professional learning opportunities are held, we want them to be designed with purpose and adherent to certain beliefs. We believe that effective professional learning is:

  • Thought-provoking and designed to promote reflection about current beliefs and practices
  • Relevant to the work of the District and designed with practical application in mind
  • Research-based and designed for a collaborative environment
  • Focused on continued growth through ongoing learning opportunities to deepen knowledge of best practices

Data Collection

After an initial learning experience, we often collect immediate impact data. This could take the form of exit slips or a post-event survey. Often this data is gathered anecdotally through ongoing conversations with our Teaching and Learning Specialists who serve as instructional coaches. We understand that teachers need time to process what they have learned as well as opportunities to try out new strategies. That may mean that the “immediate” data collection takes place few weeks afterward so that the staff member has had time to reflect on their new learning.

Next Steps

From the data gathered, we determine our next steps. Next steps might include:

  • Additional time to practice the strategies or use the new tool
  • Grade-level collaboration to encourage new or renewed dialogue among colleagues
  • Additional professional learning

Many times after a learning experience, we will follow up with learning walk or Instructional Coaching so that teachers can deepen their understanding and practice.

This begins a cycle of professional learning opportunities, examination of implementation and student engagement or learning data, and additional next steps. We believe it is critical to provide teachers with ongoing support and opportunities for continued growth related to new strategies and tools. When we approached our recent adoption of new mathematical curriculum, for example, we talked about a five-year plan of professional development supports. We have spent the first year working to become comfortable with our new tools. In the next few years we will build in layers of training that help teachers enhance their toolkit of strategies for working with students.

We will often stay in iterations of this cycle until such time as a new basis of need, point of interest or emerging research drives us to restart the process. As we consider whether to add in a new training, tool, or speaker, we often consider where we are in terms of this cycle. Particularly if we are looking at an outside resource, we wish to be thoughtful about how something new would impact the work our teachers are currently doing. We may choose not to bring in a certain speaker or host a training on a technique because we are staying focused on growing our understanding in another area. In doing so, we honor the time and commitment our teachers are making in support of our students.

Using this cycle as a lens for professional learning means that work often takes time. It involves ongoing practice, monitoring of implementation, evaluation of student learning data and numerous conversations with different stakeholders. Each spring we host a collaboration between our Professional Development Team (made of teacher representatives from all of our school sites), administrators and parents to review our professional learning successes from the year and to cast a vision for our goals and areas of growth for next year.

We know that in order to be the best for our students, we must be reflective practitioners who keep the students’ interests and needs in mind. Our Professional Learning Impact Cycle has given our District an additional tool to pursue continuous improvement in a meaningful way and keep making it “a Jenks thing.”

Mary Kathryn Moeller

Director of Professional Development, Jenks Public Schools