The power of authentic professional development

Aligning resources to increase student growth and achievement through meaningful PD
By: | Issue: October, 2015
September 11, 2015

Following a change in leadership in the Puyallup School District during the summer of 2012, we committed to align the work of the district with professional learning for leaders and staff to serve each student.

Working with the board of directors, “Improvement of Instruction, Student Growth and Achievement” became the central focus of the district, supported by three commitments.

Professional developmentfor instructional and support staff clearly emerged as the key component when we examined where to most effectively apply our resources to achieve our mission. Improving the capacity of our staff to provide effective instruction became the “hub” around which all other alignment efforts revolved.

And we introduced a set of clear operating norms and shared foundational understandings to drive conversations about the alignment of the district to the main mission.

Coherent focus

When we began in 2012, we were concerned with the dependence on outside presenters and the challenges of one-time, “drive-by PD” that was not aligned with authentic professional learning needs. The district was busy training, but had no unified and coherent focus. What passed for professional learning was being managed, not owned.

Our PD reinvention began by building a new culture of ownership in which our leaders were engaged to prepare and deliver professional learning districtwide.

The redesign did not establish a “department/director” in charge of PD. Rather, it is the combined efforts of an educational leadership team, district leadership team, principals and teachers collaborating regardless of title or job assignment.

Active support is required from all district leaders when it comes to delivering high-quality PD. And district leaders evolved a shared understanding that the responsibility for high-quality professional learning is ours, together.

The new system authentically connects individuals in joint PD planning for all levels of professional learning in the district. The collaborative planning process uses data and feedback from principals and teachers to determine future content, context and delivery.

Plan and schedule

Professional development is neither planned nor scheduled based on the convenience of presenters or the central office. It is designed and timed to support principals in their efforts to build the capacity of teachers.

As the district reorganized and priorities were made clear, a common template for professional development activities, formerly known as meetings, was put into place.

The use of a common agenda, often referred to as a lesson plan, is an overt effort to make certain that each session is an example of high-quality professional learning. Note-taking skills, collaboration, organization and higher level questioning are all components of the learning and planning that takes place in meetings at the district level.

The template is now in use in all 32 schools in Puyallup and is recognized by instructional and support staff members as an authentic practice. The lesson plans are also used in the teacher and principal evaluation pilot process, as is feedback from staff on the perceived effectiveness of the professional learning.

Evaluate and refine

Our journey in Puyallup, with PD at the hub of our work, continues. We now are in a perpetual state of evaluation, refinement and implementation of our system.

Feedback has affirmed our alignment and simplification of our strategic focus. Data affirms that the work is positively impacting the capacity of teachers to improve instruction for students.

Our climate and culture within the district tell us that a focus on building the capacity of principals and instructional staff to serve children better sends a message of authenticity to those we serve.

Tim Yeomans is superintendent and Chrys Sweeting is assistant superintendent of the Puyallup School District in Washington.