Changes to Professional Learning Support Strategic Priorities for All Instructional Staff

Priority 2 of the APS Strategic Plan, Valuing all Staff, calls out the importance of preparing teachers and staff to deliver on the district’s learning objectives. Within this Priority, Initiative 2.2, Reimagining Professional Learning, calls out the need to provide “...relevant and effective professional learning that is responsive to their needs,...” for all staff. 

The new model that is being piloted during the 2022-2023 school year falls under this Initiative and has evolved from work that began in 2019. The traditional model of providing a few workshops during a single day or afternoon was not delivering enough variety or depth to satisfy the needs of attendees. Instructional staff were looking for more options so that they could choose to attend courses in topics that provided knowledge to meet their diverse needs and that could be incorporated into their classrooms easily. Different ways to create more choice-based professional learning were explored over the next couple of years and the model evolved to the one currently being used.

A schedule change was one of the elements that has made this year’s Professional Learning model possible. Currently, all schools–elementary, middle, and high school–have an early release day on Wednesdays, and all instructional staff in the district use this time to participate. This makes it possible to offer a greater number and variety of topics. It also supports a move away from offering single courses offered once, to providing multi-course sessions. Attendees choose to take one six week class or two three week classes, all held on subsequent Wednesday afternoons. This increases the depth of instruction.

A survey of all potential attendees was taken to create the offerings that focus on providing the knowledge necessary to support robust Tier 1 universal instruction–the level that reaches 100% of students. The list of courses being offered this year span a wide variety of topics, from social emotional learning to assistive technology, English immersion, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and literacy and mathematics instruction, among others. Both outside and in-house volunteer facilitators, who receive compensation for planning time, are leading the sessions. Classroom size depends on the topic and the facilitator, but most courses are capped at 30 attendees. Courses run from 1:30 -3:00 pm and may be in person or on Zoom. All instructional staff across the district are able to attend.

Feedback on each course is collected after every session and returned to the facilitators so that they can make adjustments for improvement. Facilitators are encouraged to develop activities that are interactive and engaging. To date this process of collecting feedback and making changes is working well and the overall response among participants is very positive. The most recent feedback has 89% of respondents reporting that their course is engaging and informative, 90% saying that they are getting knowledge and skills by attending their session, and 90% reporting that what they are learning will enable them to make changes to their instructional practice.

The new professional learning model  which runs from October through May is making it possible for over 700 instructional staff members to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to make their instruction more engaging and accessible to students in support of higher student achievement overall. The response from attendees and the facilitators who take time from their busy teaching schedules to create and deliver the content is strong. All are grateful to Aasha Daniels, Administrative Assistant to Dr. Roderick MacNeal, Jr. the Assistant Superintendent of Schools, for her tireless support and the technical assistance she provides for both the facilitators and participants.