George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

One School District’s Journey into 21st Century Learning Part I: Creating a Professional Learning Framework

July 7, 2016 Updated June 4, 2016

How can we best use our professional learning time to develop and support CCSS/NGSS aligned curriculum with 21st Century skills and learning for students and educators?

After nearly 3 years of striving to meet the demands of several significant initiatives such as implementation of the Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, all new 21st century classroom furniture, and 1:1 iPads for 7,500 students, teachers in the Petaluma City Schools District were understandably overwhelmed and frustrated by the lack of time to adequately process and assimilate all of the changes. Throughout this process, the district continually explored ways to provide more effective collaboration time and more personalized workshops and trainings for teachers. The above driving question is the latest iteration and representation of those efforts.

It has been an evolutionary process beginning with a focus on the 21st Century skills.  A 4C’s Planning Guide was created by the Ed Tech Committee in conjunction with the K-12 Curriculum and Staff Development Committee to help teachers embed communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity into their instruction.  The planning guide was used by committee members during district-wide classroom visitations as a lens for obtaining baseline information about 21st century instruction happening in the district. More importantly, these classroom visitations were the first steps towards creating a district-wide culture of opening up classroom doors to promote peer to peer professional learning.

The following year, the K-12 Curriculum and Staff Development Committee decided to go deeper with peer observations using an adaptation of Tanya Ward Singer’s Observation Inquiry.  Similar to Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), teachers grouped themselves into Petaluma Learning Networks (PLNs) according to interest and need around one of three common core areas- close reading, writing from evidence, and academic discourse.  A lead teacher took on responsibility for each group and was responsible for organizing and facilitating the meetings.  PLN Lead teachers were provided an additional paid rate for up to 20 hours of work that included attendance at several after school training and support meetings. Many lead teachers used the PCS PLN Handbook as a step-by-step guide for how to create a culture of inquiry, to create driving questions, to conduct and analyze peer observations, and finally, to make their work public with other district teachers. Last year, the PLNs met in topic-alike discussion groups to share their work. This year, the PLNs created digital presentations now housed on the PCS 2.0 K-12 Collaborative. The digital presentations especially provide a real window into the inquiry work of each PLN as well as great resources and reflections on lessons learned.

The school year wrapped up with opportunities for summer professional learning and collaboration time. Optional, but paid Summer PD “June Planning Days” were offered to teachers during the first week school was out. Teachers could mix and match various workshop choices with collaboration time, and use one day for solo planning.  Needless-to-say, this professional learning format was well received!

This year, the K-12 Curriculum and Staff Development Committee embarked on a Design Thinking adventure to further identify areas of need and to design systems and professional learning solutions for them. The three “buckets” distilled from data collected district-wide were time, collaboration, and communication. Ideas from these three categories led to the creation of the PCS Professional Learning Framework. The framework outlined expectations and resulted in the format designed for three staff development days where teachers again, were able to choose from a variety of peer-led workshops and/or collaboration time with colleagues. The feedback from the first staff development day on March 18, 2016 was overwhelmingly positive. Feedback comments included those like, “It was great to set our own goals and let them drive our productivity for the day," and “I really appreciated the "choose your own adventure" format. It was wonderful to be able to choose what I needed at this particular time. Please continue using this format in the future! I felt respected as a professional and able to use my time more productively.”

Two additional professional development days are scheduled after students are dismissed for the summer as well as three days in 2016-17; more valuable time to train and prepare for the upcoming year! Teacher evaluation will also be better aligned with annual professional goals after administrators are trained next year in Learning Focused Supervision.  Communication and coaching techniques will support administrators to effectively engage with teachers in one-to-one dialogues around personalized professional growth goals.

The next installment in this 3-part series will be about how the Petaluma City Schools District is developing Active Learning Environments with 21st Century classroom furniture.

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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