The Art of Building Exceptional Professional Development for First Year Teachers
"No longer do we have one and done PD," says Tara Amsterdam, an Instructional Coach in the Colonial School District in New Castle, Delaware and one of Schoology's 2015 Educators of the Year. She's part of an innovative group called The BRINC Consortium, an organization of Delaware school districts collaborating closely with the goal of closing achievement gaps and personalizing learning for every student.
"Through the use of Schoology, I have developed online courses for our novice teachers," explains Tara. "Novice educators participate in our comprehensive induction program for three years. Each year focuses on a necessary subset of skills for new educators, such as the classroom environment and planning and preparation."
Their digital environment enables Tara and team to offer these PD courses in face-to-face, blended, and completely online formats. It's helped them push the boundaries of what PD is 'supposed to be' and move beyond to a non-traditional PD model that both "participants and facilitators love the new format."
"Facilitators in face-to-face professional development are able to house materials [online] for participants to access at a later point in time," she says. "This also allows them to provide updated information and resources as well as support new teachers as they try out their new learning in their own classrooms."
As for the blended and virtual PD sessions, Tara's use of Schoology has opened up numerous opportunities for collaboration and growth. She's built in support, accountability, and feedback right into lessons to give new instructors and other participants a consistent source of positive reinforcement. And the sense of community that comes with using such a collaborative platform encourages participants in the blended and virtual PD programs to share ideas and feedback with each other as well as with their mentors and coaches.
You can probably see the common theme shared among all her PD courses, regardless of the format—continual support and reinforcement through a community driven learning environment. Tara is now able to "offer online professional development that goes beyond the traditional click through with a digital assurance at the end." She says that the PD she offers has "evolved to include educator choice and voice as well as continued facilitator support."
This strategy has even eliminated the end of the year snow make-up days and instead provided meaningful online PD throughout the year. Otherwise, instructors would be stuck in "long and drawn out sessions where everyone has summer vacation on their mind."
Sharing Her Innovative PD Statewide
Over the past summer, Tara teamed up with Mike League, an Instructional Technology Specialist at Indian River School District and fellow Schoology Ambassador who works nearly 100 miles away. "Mike League and I collaborated with the Department of Education to share and showcase this type of work at the summer lead mentor training," Tara explains. "It was energizing to see two districts from opposite ends of the state using the same platform to support new teachers in new and innovative ways."
"This sparked many districts interest in how to utilize Schoology to support novice educators," she continues. "Since then I have continued to connect and collaborate with educators across the state on how to utilize Schoology for new teacher mentoring."
It's no wonder that Tara and Mike's strategy has engendered such excitement. Each year they have a Schoology course for the "comprehensive induction program." They teach participants how use Schoology from the student's perspective and model best practices of online instructional design.
But this is not a one-way street. New instructors use the platform as a, sort of, playground where they can develop and experiment with their own course materials. And while they learn the ropes and hone their skills, the built-in online community gives them an outlet to ask questions and mentor each other during that crutial first year of teaching.
Tara also supports districts in their implementation of Schoology. "This past year, I collaborated with the state department of education to support districts, buildings, and educators as they roll out Schoology," says Tara.
"Over the course of this school year, I have been able to continue supporting these districts through statewide PD at our Schoology Champion Cadre sessions. These sessions have allowed Schoology users from around the state to come together and learn about best practices when rolling out and utilizing Schoology in their buildings and classrooms."
Tips from Tara for Instructional Coaches
To close, Tara has a few tips for instructional coaches, whether they use Schoology or not.
- "I would encourage instructional coaches to use the platform daily in their current role. You can read all about your platform online or watch webinars, but most learning takes place when we actually live and breath in the environment we are asking those who we coach to use. This has helped me learn functions and tricks to best support the educators I work with."
- "Expect bumps in the road. As you are learning, modeling, and supporting teachers, there will be things that don’t turn out perfect. This is a okay. Providing personalized blended learning is a journey for all involved. Demonstrating the growth mindset will support you along this journey. Know that with each bump there is learning and growing taking place."
Colonial School District
New Castle, Delaware
2015 Educator of the Year
The Art of Schoology: Tell Us Your Story
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