Gray Middle School, Tacoma, Washington

21st Century Professional Learning Pathway
By: | January 6, 2019
District Name: Tacoma Public Schools
District State: Washington
District Website:

Gray Middle School in Tacoma, Washington, wants teachers to master classroom technology tools that enhance students’ understanding of communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. To meet that challenge, the school launched the 21st Century Professional Learning Pathways program during the 2016-17 school year.

“We put together a cycle of learning for teachers and staff that was project-based to develop capacity and also just to get them excited about learning in our building,” says principal Shaun Martin.

Dave Davis, Tacoma Public School’s director of instructional technology, and Kim Williams, a business analyst for the district, worked with Martin to develop Gray Middle School’s PD program.

The program creates project-based PD by pairing staff choice with technology. Staff members then identify collaboration, communication or feedback as a primary focus. They also pinpoint a problem or project to frame their learning, such as a learning standard that is hard for students to master.

Once staff members determine their pathway and project, they set a goal and create an action plan. The plan includes how they will learn the technology tools, apps, programs and pedagogy to implement their project.

In terms of comfort with technology, Davis says school staff run the full spectrum from “very comfortable” to a “self-described dinosaur.”

“That dinosaur is now absolutely integrating technology in a process that really tried to personalize our training and support,” Davis says.

Teachers and staff use laptops to access PD, develop their projects and implement their work. To support teacher growth, the school created an innovative professional learning cycle that leverages their Microsoft partnership, amd project-based and blended learning.

Teachers are allocated optional hours for PD each year, and they can use that time for extended learning related to their pathway and project.

All school staff became Microsoft Innovative Educators in 2016-17, and 91 percent of teachers completed at least one project cycle during 2016-17, with several staff completing more than one.

At the end of last school year, a technology showcase was held to exhibit these collaborative projects as executed by students. Staff and students worked together to create booths or stations. All staff participated, and more than half of students were involved. The event drew more than 1,000 visitors to the school.

“It’s one of the biggest events that we’ve ever had here,” Martin says. “It was a culminating activity and celebration of the cycle of learning that we were engaged in for the entire year.”

As for the future? The program was implemented across Tacoma Public Schools in fall 2017.

“Just to give you a sense of scale, on a given day, we’re the second- or third-largest district in the state of Washington, representing close to 30,000 students, 60 schools and about 2,000 teachers,” Davis says. “We wanted to see if what we could do at a particular school would work there and then try to take it to scale. So now we are taking it to scale.”

To help strengthen the collaboration among staff, the district is considering ways to embed the PD into an existing PLC structure. Also, to improve feedback, more frequent whole staff or PLC check-ins may be included in staff meetings or in-service days.