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4 Simple Ways to Boost Educator Growth Every Day

Professional Growth

With the start of a new school year almost upon us (or maybe already here), educators everywhere are gearing up — making preparations for students, polishing up lesson plans, training new hires and laying plans for the year.

As C&I departments publish professional learning catalogs and plan PD initiatives, many are asking, “How do we engage our teachers in professional learning? How can we make sure PL in our district is as effective as possible?”

Those are great questions, and for educators who know all too well just how busy autumn can be, the answers might seem unattainable.

We asked leaders at several different school districts to weigh in. They had some compelling ideas for effective professional learning that can be implemented right away, even if you don’t have the resources — or the time — to start a massive program.

(Transcripts have been lightly edited for readability.)

  Listen to individual stories

“One of the things that we definitely need to always be mindful of is making sure that we’re not just tracking big data and impact change at the system level, but making sure we’re finding out those individual stories,” said Rowena Mak, then the Director of Student Learning Programs at Adlai E. Stevenson High School District #125 in Lincolnshire, IL. It’s equally important to connect with individual students, look at cases of student success and work with teachers to identify what has been effective in encouraging student growth. Such stories will help connect the data in your systems to the names and faces in your classrooms.

“One of the things that we definitely need to be mindful of is making sure that we are not just tracking big data and impact change at the system level, but making sure we are finding out those individual stories, knowing the names of students and the case studies of students where those success stories are. I know that in my program in particular, I make sure that I know names of students and their stories, and how it is that their story might be different or the same.

“I work with a lot of teachers, and finding out specific names of students, and then saying, ‘How did Bob grow this year? What connections are we making between Bob’s growth and the intervention efforts that we’re putting into place?’ So, helping everyone understand that when we talk about RTI, when we talk about changes, we’re not talking about some nameless or faceless student, but actual people in our school.”


  Spread success around

Gretchen Polivka, Math Specialist at Fairfax County Public Schools in Falls Church, VA, recommended identifying key practices in each school that you’d like to see adopted by everyone. “What are some things you would like to see common in your entire school building? What are some things that you think everyone in your school should be implementing?” Then, encourage your teachers to observe those practices in action.

“In order to get something started in your own school, start small and really think about what are some things that you would like to see common in your entire school building? What are some things that you think everyone in your school should be implementing so that all students, regardless of which classroom they’re in, have access to the same level of instruction?

“All students should be able to have high quality, high leverage teaching, regardless of whose classroom they’re in. So, picking out some of those key things that each school thinks is important, and then starting to look at what components of those should be in place, and what does it look like in each classroom. Then teachers can have the ability to go around and see those things in action.”


  Look for “Aha!” moments

Heather Peterson, the Coordinator of Organization Effectiveness, and now the Coordinator of Culture and Climate, at Hampton City Schools in Hampton, VA. She stressed the benefits of teachers self-identifying what their needs really are — and the increased engagement that accompanies such discoveries“A lot of times we tell teachers what they need vs. letting them discover that ‘Aha!’ of how something’s going to make a difference.”

“One way that I was able to help get a teacher engaged in professional learning was helping them to identify what their true needs were. A lot of times we tell teachers what they need versus letting them discover that ‘Aha’ of how something is going to make a difference. Sitting down and talking about, ‘What challenges are you facing, or what is something you would like to overcome to make your students more successful?’ — providing the opportunity for the teacher to have that ‘Aha’ moment really made a difference for her. And she was completely engaged and wanted to know, ‘What else can I do? And where can I get more of it?’”


  Make the most of hallway conversations

Great learning doesn’t need to be formal or lengthy, said Claudine Scuccato, a principal at the Peel District School Board in Ontario. “Do we need to sit in a boardroom to learn? Of course not. Can we have a learning conversation in the hallways that’s just as meaningful in two minutes as two hours of PD? Absolutely.” Time may be in short supply, but you can still create a culture of learning and collaboration in your organization — even if it’s in the hallways, at lunch or in the parking lot.

“Teachers say there’s such limited time to do so much for kids. We need to talk about what professional learning actually looks like. Do we need to sit in a boardroom to learn? Of course not. Can we have a learning conversation in the hallway that’s just as meaningful in two minutes as two hours of PD? Absolutely.

“We have to take the learning that other people have done and share that. Those conversations that happen at lunchtime, or that happen in the hallway, are just as meaningful and powerful. Time can’t be a factor all the time, so we have to make those conversations meaningful to what we need and to what we need to do to meet the needs of students.”

How do you know if your professional learning program is effective? Check out “Professional Development Program Evaluation for the Win!” This free resource (plus podcast!) is jam-packed with strategies to systematically review your professional learning program, collect and analyze data around its effectiveness, and then create useful and compelling reports.

Ryan Estes

Ryan is part of the global award-winning content team at Frontline Education as recognized by Content Marketing World 2017. He spends his time writing, podcasting and creating content in the area of K-12 professional growth.