A Blueprint for Effective Blended Professional Learning for Teachers
Teacher professional learning at Sussex Central High School in Georgetown, Delaware, moved into the 21st Century during the 2015-2016 school year. Using a blended learning format via the digital platform Schoology, Sussex Central sought to enhance the effectiveness of its teacher professional learning experience. The goal was to expand teacher instructional capacity and to increase student academic achievement through delivering blended teacher professional learning.
At the time, I led our professional learning efforts. I decided to write this article to document the approach and ultimate transformation of professional learning at Sussex Central and to provide guidance for other education professionals looking to innact a similar transformation.
This is our story.
The Needs Assessment
Previously, teacher professional learning at Sussex Central was face-to-face with not all staff in attendance. It was limited in time and relied on disconnected conversations between sessions. While the focus for professional learning was data driven, members of the staff were concerned with the lack of focus on one particular professional learning concept. This was accepted, however, because the diverse needs of teachers and students drove professional learning to address a myriad of concepts and strategies.
Professional learning occurred monthly after-school with staff dialogue confined to teacher planning periods either with the school’s instructional coach or at the monthly professional learning presentations. What was missing was continued and extended learning of the professional learning concepts in-between the monthly sessions, as well as conversation amongst staff on implementation of newly learned strategies. The question was how to broaden teacher-learning in-between the face-to-face sessions and encourage staff collaboration.
The Action Plan
Sussex Central High School’s teacher professional learning goals for 2015-2016 were two-fold. First was to deliver professional learning using the blended learning format. Either in whole group or small group face-to-face settings; teachers were delivered background knowledge and foundational concepts of professional learning topics. Our teachers then continued their learning on their own through online activities including videos, texts, research, discussion boards, photo albums and other collaborative activities. To engage all staff, the online component provided an opportunity for those unable to attend the face-to-face sessions to have access to professional learning materials, thus providing school-wide pervasiveness of teacher professional learning.
The second goal was to deliver more personalized professional learning. Here’s a breakdown of the specifics and timeline:
September 2015—All staff received extended training on creating a positive and productive classroom environment. Then, online, they selected specific topics within this concept they wanted to focus as well as a choice of which online activities within that section to participate. Our staff was also presented with scaffold activities of previous professional learning concepts.
October 2015—The focus turned to the concepts of high student expectations and Growth Mindset. Here, the staff had the option of selecting a differentiated online activity to participate based upon familiarity with these concepts.
November 2015–January 2016—Differentiated professional learning was provided based upon teacher needs. One group consisted of new teachers trained on Common Core vocabulary strategies. The remainder of the teachers centered on collaborative classroom walkthrough’s focusing on instructional strategies and providing feedback to colleagues. The entire staff was also involved with professional learning activities focusing on the new SAT assessment.
End of January 2016—Our staff had become familiar enough with the blended learning format to allow an even greater differentiated approach to meet expressed staff needs based upon analysis of standardized assessment data and student populations.
February–June 2016—By this time our professional learning had four differentiated groups. Math teachers focused on student-centered lessons with engaging activities. The remainder of the staff selected one of three learning modules in which to participate: reading strategies for students who were proficient in reading, reading strategies for students who were not proficient in reading due to their Special Education needs, and reading strategies for students who were not proficient in reading due to their being English Language Learners.
Staff participation in professional learning activities improved from an overall 77% average from the previous six years to a 99% participation rate with seven of nine sessions having 100% participation due to our staff being able to access online activities if absent.
Administration observations of teachers provided data on the transference of teacher professional learning into classroom practice. Evaluations completed in September identified eight staff members rated either “Needs Improvement” or “Ineffective” as per Delaware’s Department of Education teacher evaluation rubric of classroom environment. After the September professional learning, these teachers were assigned online personalized interventions focusing on creating a positive classroom environment. Two months later, 7 of the 8 staff members were rated “Effective” with one teacher moving from “Ineffective” to “Needs Improvement” according to the principal’s classroom observations.
When comparing data gathered via observations and walkthroughs from October 2015 and June 2016, we saw an increase of the Common Core literacy standards in the areas of using informational texts, supporting claims with evidence, students engaged with multiple texts, argumentative and informational writing, incorporation of Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary, and conducting research. In Mathematics specifically, we saw an increase in academic vocabulary usage, conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency and many of the Math Standards Practices; all of these had been addressed during the November–June professional learning sessions.
Student academic achievement increased as measured by the Grade 11 School Day SAT data displayed in Fig. 1 below:
The Educational Impact
Sussex Central High School’s use of the blended learning format to deliver teacher professional learning enhanced our teachers’ abilities to equip their students with the necessary ingredients to be successful 21st Century citizens. Preparing students requires work by teachers at the grassroots level, and the steps we took ensured both teachers and students were equipped with the necessary tools to meet the demands of college and career expectations.
School-wide integration of technology through professional learning allowed teachers to transfer to students the ability to analyze and make critical academic decisions as they navigate the technological world. Resources inherent to Schoology’s learning management system combined with purposeful teacher preparation and planning, allowed students with varied learning styles and language backgrounds access to the most complex of information in visual and sensory forms.
Since 2016, teacher professional development has been refined to deliver services through department areas. Whether the staff focuses on a similar or differentiated concept, departments have the ability to adjust the focus to meet their needs. Furthermore, teacher leadership has expanded as teachers in those departments alternate in the planning and delivery of professional learning thus enhancing teacher ownership and efficacy.
*A special thanks to Michael League, District Technology Specialist at Indian River School District, for all his support.