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Case Study

Culture Change: Moving Toward Teacher-driven Professional Learning

How Hanover County Public Schools is offering teachers a voice in their learning and bidding farewell to a ‘check-the-boxes’ mentality.

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District Background

“We’re in the process of trying to change our culture around professional learning.”

Chris Biagiarelli, Instructional Technology Project Coordinator at Hanover County Public Schools, and Dr. Steve Castle, Director of Professional Learning and Leadership Development, are working to combat the box-checking mentality that so often surrounds professional development. Until recently, Chris says, “Professional learning has been more about seat time and bean counting and have-tos.”

Five or six years ago, most professional learning in the district took place during two days in August which all employees were contractually required to attend. Teachers who didn’t attend lost vacation days. “Think about the mentality that creates for our staff,” says Steve.

Steve and Chris knew a change was needed, but Hanover County’s existing processes and systems were holding them back. Teachers weren’t accustomed to having choice in their learning. “Our teachers were used to receiving a document that specifically outlined exactly what they needed to do and when,” says Chris.

Staff registered for activities using a mish-mash of Google Forms, spreadsheets, and SignUpGenius. Teachers who sought out specific learning activities ended up confused and frustrated. “Teachers would be hearing from 20 different voices about what things were being offered. There wouldn’t be a source of truth,” says Chris.

Building administrators couldn’t see what professional learning their teachers were taking, and confirming that each employee had completed the hours of PD required was a manual process. “Put this in your head for a second: one person, literally, is going through a spreadsheet for every single instructional employee in our division and determining whether or not they have met those hours,” says Steve. “Oh my gosh. 1987, go back! It’s so far removed from where we need to be.”

A Desire for Change

That’s not to say that teachers in Hanover County didn’t want choice in their learning — many did, in fact. A recent survey showed that a significant percentage of instructional staff see the value in more choice and more options, and Steve and Chris are working to cultivate a “want to” rather than a “have to” approach to professional learning. Chris says, “We want people to have a more self-guided sense about their learning and find value in what they’re doing, not just seat time.”

Dr. Steve Castle Photo

“What we really needed was a direct connection from ‘What is professional learning and how does that lead you into what is supporting your evaluation?’ and ‘What makes you a better teacher, a better employee, and how you’re performing in the classroom with your students?’ And so that’s really the exciting thing we’re trying to move toward.” 

Dr. Steve Castle
– Director of Professional Learning and Leadership Development

Finding the Right System

One barrier to change was the software Hanover County used to manage professional learning. “Before, with prior products, our professional learning was designed to fit the functionality of the program,” says Steve. The product didn’t work well and support was lacking. More importantly, it didn’t work well for teachers. Teachers lacked a record of their learning that followed them throughout their career. “I wanted to log in. I wanted a list of activities. I wanted a calculation of the points and knowing where I am, knowing that I’m going to try to go from here to here, reach my goals for learning, and have credit for all that work that I’m doing. That’s really where a lot of this started, trying to think through the mindset of that teacher who’s receiving this experience and how we can make that a really meaningful one that’s easy for them.”

Finally, Steve decided to push for a change. “I said, ‘We’re done. We’re moving on. We’re going to go into Frontline.’”

Starting with “Why”

Hanover County got started with Frontline Professional Growth more quickly than they thought they would. “All the support staff have been amazing in trying to answer everything and get anything we want done, done,” says Steve. “That has been our experience with the product and the company. Before, it was a lot about paper, signups, requirements of things that had to be literally, physically touched and counted. And finally, we’ve moved on to a lot more automation and systems thinking, a lot more of, ‘This is a part of a bigger project that we’re all working on as a division to become better at what we do.’”

Chris says, “We started with our ‘why’ and our goals, and we backward engineered what we had. And we didn’t get that level of flexibility with any other product.”

Role-specific Learning

To begin, Steve and Chris entered all staff members into Frontline Professional Growth and categorized them according to their roles and responsibilities. This way, when teachers and staff log in, they have access to relevant activities, calendars, and professional development opportunities. It requires a mindset shift for teachers. “We’re trying to get away from anything being prescribed,” says Chris. At the same time, “We want to make it easy for teachers… We don’t want them to jump through too many fiery hoops to get to the activities they need.”

ELA teachers, for example, can simply filter by “ELA” and see a catalog of activities pertinent to their role. “I know some people are pushing back a little bit on that because they’re used to saying, ‘What do I have to do?’ And what you have to do is go in the catalog and pick things that are good for you.”

Teachers can opt to only view learning opportunities offered by their principal and coaches at their school. “They’ll be able to choose that program and filter the whole catalog to just see those activities being offered at their school that only they can see, instead of swimming through the whole catalog.” Chris says this also helps specialists and directors in Hanover County propose new learning activities that are targeted to the correct group of people.

“It has been a great asset to our division, allowing us to give our teachers great information about the professional learning opportunities that they have, allowing them to track and account for their own professional learning and talk to their evaluators, their principals, about the growth that they’re experiencing.” 

Dr. Steve Castle
– Director of Professional Learning and Leadership Development

Tracking Progress Toward Licensure

In-district professional learning constitutes 80-85% of the options provided to teachers, in addition to conferences, webinars, and other activities that teachers might attend. All of these count toward professional learning requirements for licensure. Hanover County wanted teachers to be able to track their progress toward these requirements: 270 points over ten years, plus 14 hours of learning activities each year.

Frontline Professional Growth makes it easy for teachers to see how close to those goals they are. “Before it was an absolute mystery to them how close to or far away they were from that. And allowing them to be able to see that in real time as they signed up and completed things really helped that,” says Chris.

When teachers have the chance to engage in learning that is offered outside the district, they can use a form that Chris built to propose the activity. The proposal automatically gets routed to the right people for approval, and if it’s approved, it counts toward the requirement. “If a teacher attends a webinar that’s very specific to their content area like a lot of our CTE teachers do, we do give them the option of entering that into their transcript. They’ll be able to upload their certificate.”

Quick and Easy Reporting

Some of the building principals asked Chris for reports on what professional learning teachers were engaging with, especially new teachers. They wanted to know who was going above and beyond and who was struggling to meet their hourly requirements, so they could provide the support teachers needed. Some wanted reports each week, others wanted them every 9 weeks. Chris quickly created over 20 custom reports to meet each principal’s request.

“I was able to build that report, set it up for schools, have it automatically delivered to the admin team of those schools, and they were able to have some really courageous conversations with some people and have visibility over what their faculty was doing like they’ve never had before.”

Chris Biagiarelli Photo

“It allows our division and building leadership to have visibility into the professional learning that’s happening with their teachers in a way that wasn’t possible before.”

Chris Biagiarelli
– Instructional Technology Project Coordinator

When some leaders were planning a conference, they asked Chris for a list of registrants so they could prepare the materials to bring for each session. Chris quickly ran a report showing everyone who was planning to attend, along with their job title and department.

More Time for Creating Change

What has a system built to manage and track professional learning meant for Chris? “Frontline has saved me countless man-hours building spreadsheets and Google Forms and Data Studio dashboards, because as long as I had the forms and things built correctly in Frontline, it did it for me. It saved us a lot of work on the back end to answer questions and do things that we’ve been doing by hand for too long.”

It’s not only about saving time. “I think the benefit of using Frontline in our division is that it affords our teachers the ability to have choice in the most easy, convenient way possible.”

Steve agrees. “It has given us a mechanism to provide leverage for the culture change that we know we need to make.”