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What's the best PD you have offered your teachers?

Learning to overcome differences, training by steps, managing crises.

Step by Step
“Our best program is STEP UP: Supporting Teachers, Examining Practices, and Uncovering Potential,” says Norman Ridder, superintendent of Missouri’s Springfield Public Schools. “It’s for any teacher who’s hired in our school system who has less than one year of public-school teaching experience.

“The main modules are classroom management their first year, cooperative learning their second year, and differentiated instruction their third year. We have mandatory coaching as well.

“Our goal is to have an exemplary teacher in every classroom. This is our 10th year. We’ve had a lot of success with it. The biggest area of improvement has been retaining top-notch, quality teachers and also helping teachers be very comfortable using data and allowing data to drive their decision-making with student achievement and their own growth. Our research is showing that our teacher retention is much better. People who’ve gone through STEP UP are now being promoted in our system as leaders.

“A number of districts across the nation are interested in STEP UP. It’s a seamless approach to the classroom, teachers realizing they have others to help them. Philosophically, we as a system believe that the adult working with the child must learn more than the child does, day in and day out. STEP UP supports that innovative way of thinking.”

Core Group Effort
“What we found was that while teachers were willing to work toward Common Core standards, we needed a way of getting them to talk about and share best practices and collaborative planning,” says William T. Wright, superintendent of McCormick County School District in South Carolina.

“We’ve been able to do that through professional learning communities, in conjunction with PD Tuesdays, an opportunity for teachers to get together after school and collaboratively plan. About 80 percent come. Teachers within the same grades also plan with folks above and below their grade. We’re a small district, just shy of 800 students.

“We also have curriculum mapping, which again is a collaborative way of planning best-practices instruction.

“If I’m a teacher who needs help in a particular area, collaborative planning should help me grow; someone in the group probably has the skill I am missing. Small districts have to do this. We don’t have a large training budget, so we have to look for our professional development internally.

“Teachers appreciate this approach. They say, ‘We feel like our voice is being heard as we move forward to these standards.’ They feel better because they’re participating.”

Improved Interaction
“I offered a workshop about five years ago called True Colors,” says Rocky J. Stone, superintendent of Cotton Center Independent School District in Texas. “It allowed teachers to become more aware of their colleagues and their students and how we interact with one another.

“The person who led the workshop taught us about how we’re all different personalities, how those personalities interact, and how we can use that knowledge. Every child learns differently, and when you understand how students learn, usually you become successful at teaching them.

“When you have those two things going on, staff development is successful. I did have a couple of teachers who were struggling with each other. After the workshop, they began to understand they were different people, and they did some turnaround and began to work together better. That in itself is a big deal at schools—being able to get along with colleagues and students alike.

“It’s time to introduce True Colors once again because we’ve had some turnover. If we can figure out ways to teach individual students, then we will be successful.”

Crisis Training
“Recently, our teachers and administrators role-played an active shooter situation with the police department,” says Timothy Steinhauer, superintendent of Mt. Lebanon School District in Pennsylvania.

“Teachers were in their classrooms. The police assigned different roles to the adults (for example, a disruptive student who was trying to leave the classroom) and then fired blank shots. In each classroom, we had one police expert to observe. Did the teacher handle it well? Did the disruptive student get out of the classroom?

“The expert in the classroom gave feedback to that team about what they did right and talked about opportunities for improvement.

“All of our administrators—elementary, middle school, and high school teams—went through this training. It was very beneficial. The Mt. Lebanon police department now has a better understanding of how we will react and what we’ve been trained to do.

“The biggest lesson learned was that there’s not a cookie-cutter formula for every reaction. The adult in charge has to make a decision based upon the circumstances at that minute. The police were very good at giving us options.

“It was the most realistic experience we’ve had. We did it because it’s in a safe environment; you get to make a mistake. I’ve been an educator for 26 years, and this is probably some of the best crisis training we’ve received.”  

Summer 2014—

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