5 lessons learned after PD paid for by CARES Act funds

A school district shares best practices its administrators can pinpoint after having used the federal funds to support professional development.

Professional development courses on how to implement distance learning are in high demand. School districts across the country are looking for ways to meet that need. Many are supporting professional development with federal funds and improving practices along the way.

In Jeffco Public Schools in Colorado, all teachers began the year with 14 hours of professional learning. The professional development courses provided resources to obtain equity, meet high expectations using academic standards, build relationships, and maximize student learning time in both remote and hybrid settings. The district used its CARES Act funds.

“In the 2019-20 school year, CARES Act funds were used to support professional learning last spring in the amount of $19.02 million,” explains Nicole Stewart, Jeffco Public Schools interim chief financial officer. “In addition, professional development was provided at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year; however, a dollar amount has not yet been allocated to the CARES Act funds.”

States have additional flexibilities for ESSA under the CARES Act as the U.S. Education Department allows states to request a waiver to the definition of professional development under ESSA Section 8101(42) for activities funded for SY 2019-20. Additionally, ESSA Section 1114(a)(1), Section 1114(b)(7)(A)(iii)(IV), Section 1115(a), and Section 1115(b)(2)(d) offer LEAs professional development opportunities to help teachers increase their knowledge of the subjects they teach, ways to improve instruction, and acquire proficiency in the use of technology for teaching.

Jeffco Public Schools is the second largest school district in Colorado with 165 schools. Of those 165 schools, 30 are Title I schoolwide program schools, and two are Title I target assistance program schools. The district serves 84,062 preK-12 students, including 6,012 English learners and 26,186 students who receive free and reduced-price lunch.

Colleen O’Brien, executive director of teacher learning in the district, said that educators in her district are taking short professional development courses on digital tools, planning, assessment, teaching, student reflection, parent engagement, and building relationships. “These sessions are offered four times a month, remotely,” she says.

The following are five best practices from lessons O’Brien learned while the district was training educators for SY 2020-21:

  1. Plan ahead. O’Brien pointed out that teachers need to have time to plan to use the skill, strategy, and topic with their students.
  2. Share information. “The learning is ongoing; not just once,” O’Brien says. As teachers apply what they learned in professional development, they should also share experiences with other teachers in follow-up sessions.
  3. Give and seek support. Professional development takes place in groups, according to O’Brien. Therefore, make sure teachers receive follow-up support in trying the new practice either through coaching or peer support.
  4. Be flexible. O’Brien said the district encourages all schools to provide weekly in-class coaching for its newest teachers. “This has been compromised a bit because many instructional coaches are now in the classroom filling vacancies,” she explains. “All new educators attend monthly communities of practice to work on problems of practice in their classrooms.”
  5. Promote equity conversations. As teachers have time and receive support, O’Brien says they should have equity conversations where they discuss and take action on how to give each child access to high-quality learning.

Claude Bornel covers ELs and other Title I issues for LRP Publications, publisher of DA. 

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