7 Questions Districts Should Ask PD Vendors

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While school districts and companies alike may use different names -- educator effectiveness, performance management, human capital, or professional learning systems – these systems share a common goal: using technology to advance both educator and student performance. And while these systems may address a range of school system needs -- from educator recruitment, selection,  placement, induction, to growth and development, support, recognition, collaboration, retention – what is core to each is the cycle of teaching and learning.

While schools may have different ways to address individual and team capacity – teacher evaluation cycles and individual professional development plans vs. PLCs, inquiry groups, or school improvement teams -- over the 20 years, through my examination of research and work with districts, I’ve found the most effective districts engage in similar processes and can benefit from technology at every stage in their cycle.

When it comes to implementing the entire PD cycle, the following elements are often included: examining student data, examining educator data, conducting needs assessment, selecting appropriate goals, practicing new strategies, assessing impact of learning, and finally engaging in external assistance when needed. Technology solutions that can address as many of the following seven questions as possibly are more likely to achieve sustained success.

1. Examine student data: What are the outcomes we expect students to master and where are they in relation to those expectations?

Effective educators begin every school year, grading cycle, unit planning session, or learning community convening with this critical question: Where are we now and where do we need to be?

Great resources that support formative and summative assessments ensure educators stay focused on what is most important – improving results for every student. Student data, easily accessible in multiple forms, is key to managing instruction and support.

2. Examine educator data: What are the essential standards teachers are expected to demonstrate?

 Some states and school systems adopt standards for novice, professional, and advanced teaching. They align these standards to the standards for students, enabling individuals and teams to know where they stand in relation to their own competency levels. For example, a performance indicator for a proficient teacher might be that he or she teaches students to synthesize information from multiple texts. Meanwhile, literacy standards for students may also have indicators related to synthesizing text. Noting alignment among standards helps educators pinpoint specific areas of need they may have as learners.

This information is key to ensuring a high-performing workforce that has the skill set to meet the challenges of teaching today. Successful tools will allow school systems to incorporate information about expectations for students and educators so the desired outcomes will be easier to understand and measure.

3. Determine educator learning needs: Where are the biggest needs/gaps in relation to the student learning needs and educator competencies?

Competency and performance data on individuals, teams, and schools is essential to building individual, team, and school growth plans. When educators feel safe to openly share their challenges, they can turn to members of their own team, peers within their school or at a school just miles away to find solutions. When they face challenges with particular students or content, they can look for support and answers from educators who have overcome that particular challenge and may have a challenge of their own to share. In all cases, educators focus their precious learning time on the greatest needs and answers that have demonstrated the greatest potential to serve them and their students.

4. Select appropriate educator learning designs and processes: What options do I have for pursuing my learning goals? 

Technology partners offer solutions in many formats and make them incredibly accessible to educators.  Educators no longer have to spend hours looking for ways to address their needs. However, they want assurances the solutions are sound and will help them overcome their most significant challenges.

Ultimately, educators do not have time to waste. They need to know which among the many learning options have demonstrated the greatest impact, in their situation, with their populations of students.  If technology partners offer access to this information, they will become the individuals’ and team’s  best friend.

5. Practice new learning strategies: How do I know I am implementing appropriately? 

When educators try out new practices they are very vulnerable. They may fear appearing incompetent in front of their students or supervisors. If they measure the value of a new strategy by its impact on students yet never achieve fidelity of implementation, they may lose the opportunity to add content or pedagogy to their teaching repertoire.

Implementing new strategies and lessons across a team means that more educators can offer expertise about what works and what doesn’t and offer input on ways to improve for future application come from multiple directions. Modeling, capturing, tagging, feedback, coaching, and more are all significant ways that technology contributes to the improvement cycle at this learning stage. Solutions should allow educators to receive support in multiple ways as they begin to implement their new learning.

6. Assess impact and refine plans: What is the impact of the new learning on students? 

Everything from just-in-time, benchmark, daily, weekly, and/or unit formative assessments to summative assessments and student feedback loops provides educators the information they need to assess the impact of their learning and practice on their students. Technology can help educators incorporate what works for future reference and take note of what failed.

When technology systems provide a platform for educators to create on-the-fly formative assessments, for example, educators have a means of tailoring what they measure to match precisely the goals they set out to achieve. So, if their goal for students was to improve problem solving in geometry, and their aligned learning goal as educators was to add new instructional strategies for teaching problem solving, they can create assessments tied and timed precisely to their use of new strategies in the classrooms. With such specific data, they then reflect individually and collectively and share their insights as appropriate.

7. Engage external assistance and support:  How do I access expertise beyond my team and school to support my learning needs?  

Not all problems of practice can be solved within an educator’s school community. Often individuals, teams and school faculties must look beyond the school to find the expertise to support their learning journey. Educators also use social media and engage in learning networks to access learning solutions that they can’t find within their own group.

Technology makes all forms of support and expertise immediately accessible and often affordable. Educators engage beyond the school system to enrich and challenge themselves. This outreach is not always about overcoming a problem but about their commitment to learning and growing. Emerging technologies and unanswered questions continue to feed that appetite.

Solutions that help educators answer the seven questions above are essential to ensuring a culture of continuous inquiry that consistently addresses its problems of practice and produces great outcomes for students. However, to achieve their highest potential, educators require leadership support, skilled facilitation, and time to implement new knowledge with fidelity. Even with the best technology, without these supports, the most exciting and innovative resources and technologies will languish as tools that never achieved their promise.

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