Goal Setting and Personalized Professional Learning
How Capital Area IU 15 is moving away from sit-and-get workshops and ensures every employee has the resources they need to grow and make progress toward their goals.
24 school districts
2 career technical schools
9 charter schools
50+ non-public school
Product & Solutions
As one of 29 educational service agencies in Pennsylvania, Capital Area Intermediate Unit 15 serves 24 area school districts, two career technical schools, 9 charter schools, and over 50 non-public schools. The IU leads student initiatives and hosts student programs, summer camps, and competitions. It also supports area school districts with professional development opportunities and provides, manages, and tracks professional learning for internal staff.
Jill Neuhard, Educational Services Supervisor, said her department always strives to do more with less. She is one of four supervisors leading curriculum & instruction and assessment initiatives as well as STEM instructional technology.
That department is the hub of professional learning for the IU and aims to provide a comprehensive catalog of PD offerings that will extend beyond sit-and-get workshops. “One of the goals in our comprehensive plan is to provide personalized professional learning to all 610 staff members as well as be the go-to resource for all of our region.”
That involves changing the paradigm of what professional development looks like. Professional learning to grow in practice, not simply check a box, is the goal – but it means working with administrators to battle the “this is what we’ve always done” mindset.
One part of that is to offer professional learning to help teachers progress in their careers. “[Only] 29% of educators are happy with their current PD right now, and that’s really sad. For retention, what does it look like if we want to keep our staff and grow them? There’s a shortage of teachers, there’s a shortage of administrators. Really great teachers sometimes go into the administrative field, so we want to prepare them with all the skills necessary to move into that.”
“The one-size-fits-all model just doesn’t work for anybody.”
– Educational Services Supervisor
Personalized professional learning doesn’t just mean a wide selection of topics, it also means an array of different formats. “Everyone has different learning styles. Do they learn better in a collaborative network? Do they learn better in a book study? Do they learn better alone watching videos, going through sequence, and then putting the practice into action in the classroom, then coming back and reflecting and sharing?”
Time for a Change
As Capital Area IU worked on its comprehensive plan and began considering how to make personalized professional learning a reality for both internal employees as well as districts in the region, they took another look at the system they used to manage and track the PD program. The IU had previously used a system called 48 CARATS, created by in-house developers. After several decades, it became clear that maintaining the system was no longer a viable option. To make their vision a reality, they needed something new.
Jill and her team listed everything they needed in the new system and began evaluating software. “We wanted to provide a comprehensive catalog of offerings all in one place, easy to access, easy to find.”
Ultimately, they selected Frontline Professional Growth. It was a natural fit since the IU already used Frontline’s Absence Management, and the integration between the two systems makes it easy for teachers to find substitutes when they’re out for professional development. But it was the capacity to support personalized learning that made it click.
“It had the capability to add on those learning and collaboration resources and to make each dashboard personalized for the staff member so they could align each activity with the goal. They could see where they are metric-wise. Am I coming along in this? Do I need more support? Should I ask for more support? We’re making it open to staff for those conversations. What is it that they truly need and what’s the ‘why’?”
The ability for each staff member to align learning activities to their goals – and track progress toward those goals – was what Jill and her team were looking for.
“It was a no-brainer that we chose Frontline.”
The IU implemented the full Professional Growth suite, including Professional Learning Management, Employee Evaluation Management, and Learning & Collaboration resources, during the pandemic. Many educators across the country (and across the world) were looking for online professional development, and as the IU began offering outward-facing PD opportunities through the system, people from numerous states and even countries like the Netherlands joined some of their workshops.
A Culture of Goal Setting
Personalized professional learning begins with knowing where you want to go. Jill and her team work hard to build a culture of goal setting, setting expectations, offering training on writing SMART goals, and working with supervisors to ensure all staff members use the same template.
Every year, each staff member has an initial goal-setting meeting with their supervisor, as well as a mid-year meeting and an end-of year meeting to check progress. Jill has weekly check-ins with her team to determine what support is needed and celebrate successes, and reports to senior leadership every week.
Every goal requires an action step. The Learning & Collaboration Resources in Frontline Professional Growth provide a library of targeted learning opportunities that staff can select based on their own goals and learning style. Jill’s team launched an internal website with information on how to set goals, all the necessary templates, how to use Frontline Professional Growth for exploratory learning and aligning resources to goals, and tips and tricks for supervisors. “We have seen real support with the use of this tool in helping us with our goal planning, our goal setting, where we’re going to go. It really has brought our leadership teams together in having those common conversations about learning and growth.”
They have also aligned activities to specific standards in the Danielson Framework for Teaching, so teachers and staff can easily see which activities may help them grow in a particular area.
Personalized Professional Learning Can Save Money
Jill also sees financial benefits with the learning activities in Frontline. “With some of the tools that we have at our fingertips, we could really save a lot of money. Instead of sending someone to a conference for $2,000 or bringing in a keynote speaker for all staff day for $10,000, we can access some really wonderful resources, saving some money.”
Frontline also provides the reporting needed to inform professional learning strategy and monitor compliance with training requirements.
“We’re coming up with really creative ways to make it super easy to say, ‘Okay, who in our program attended any kind of workshops about equity and belonging?’ Within two minutes we can pull a report and see that,” Jill said.
Those reports also support growth conversations. “We want to see our employees grow. Having that visual, having them pull up their dashboard and then having conversations between a supervisor and an employee is pretty powerful, because the evidence is right there.”
Custom PD Content
Capital Area IU has a team of creators building professional development content to offer through Frontline Professional Growth, so teachers can explore different options and choose courses that align with their needs.
Other staff can also create content to share. If someone wants to build a course or share resources about a certain topic, they can do that. Creating the content counts as professional development time, which incentivizes employees to grow and build capacity. “Two weeks ago I presented to about 180 preschool and early intervention teachers and specialists, and they loved it,” Jill said.
Jill said that in the future, she’s looking forward to using Frontline to recommend targeted learning activities based on needs or areas of strength highlighted in each employee’s evaluation results.
She also is planning to create a program with every mandated training that employees are required to take. “We’re not big on mandates because it’s not really personalized professional learning, but it’s something that you still have to check off the list. If they want to watch the recording or do the training at home, they can do that. If they want to come in and have a trainer, they can do that as well.”
With Frontline, Capital Area IU has found a system that makes it much easier to manage and support professional learning. “Frontline Professional Growth provides a learning environment that really fits the needs of educators and administrators alike. Easy to access, easy to pull reports, and easy to visualize where you are during your process.”
“We have been using Frontline here for a few years and we’re so glad we made the switch. Working with our twenty-four area school districts, our CTCs, our non-pubs and charter schools alike, this system really helps in aggregating like a one stop shop.”