Indian Prairie School District 204
Indian Prairie School District is the 4th largest district in Illinois with a mission to inspire all students to achieve their greatest potential. One of the district administration’s key goals is to, “Create and maintain an environment of cooperation and assistance in which staff members can contribute to the full range of their talents and have a responsibility to challenge their creative resources, including participation in and development of in-service training opportunities.”
School Superintendent Dr. Karen Sullivan has set a strong priority for personalized learning for students to prepare them to be future-ready. As a result, Rebecca Mack, Director of Educational Effectiveness, started wondering how to better personalize teachers’ professional learning. With such a wide range of educator abilities, years of service, and needs, “one size fits all” options wouldn’t do the trick. Professional development had to shift to what teachers need to grow, apply, and make a difference in the classroom to impact students in a positive manner.
But time presented a barrier. In today’s world, everyone has busy schedules and pressing commitments outside of the work day. While many educators want to take advantage of opportunities to grow and improve, the time commitment to be “in a seat” from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. doesn’t really work when teachers have carpool, dinner to make, doctor’s appointments, and other obligations.
Looking at ways to personalize PD content and fit people’s unique time pressures pointed in the direction of increasing online PD options. But, the district’s educators’ experience with online PD was primarily limited to staid compliance training, with very mundane video tutorials and a quiz at the end. They hadn’t really participated in quality, precise online learning opportunities.
Plus, online PD options were oftentimes more expensive than they were worth. Typically, the district would pay a set price, and, as Rebecca observes, “It was a huge investment whether we had one user or 1,000. And the content was limited, it wasn’t really updated, and it wasn’t rich – it was mostly just a video clip or some readings, but there wasn’t really that reflection and application component.”
So, how could the district offer high-quality online PD to personalize the PD experience? And how could they invest in ways to get teachers more engaged in today’s online PD?
As part of its overall approach to personalizing professional learning and connecting it more closely to teacher’s learning needs, Indian Prairie implemented an online catalog of professional development that includes a wide variety of options, one of which is the Performance Matters PD Premium Library. The goal is to give teachers the flexibility to choose PD that meets their needs and schedules.
The result? As Rebecca observes, “We have really found that we have more participation in our online personalized professional development, versus face to face sessions. The number one driver of that is the flexibility of teachers’ ability to work on PD when it meets their needs, when it’s convenient, when it’s a good time for them.”
The district chose the PD Premium Library based on its assessment of the return on investment. The district was particularly drawn to the “a la carte” nature of the Performance Matters PD Premium Library. “You can sort the Library by content, vendors, topics – there’s just such a wide range – and then you purchase what you need. If you don’t use all the seats you thought you’d need for an online course, you can have the extra seats refunded back.” Rebecca feels the program has good ROI – the resources are highly recommended, researched, vetted, and high quality.
The district has been thoughtful about getting the word out about the online PD that is now available. At the start of the 2016 school year, it leveraged the countywide district institute day, a required day of PD for all teachers. Morning sessions focused on district and site-based strategies, as well as discussion of why district educators entered education in the first place. The afternoon, though, was a little different from past years. Teachers went back to their buildings with a set of options to focus on what they wanted to do, learn, and reflect on. A selection of online PD courses that the district team knew were of interest to teachers were among the options. This gave teachers the chance to re-experience what online PD can deliver and see that they could take it to a higher level than compliance. Teachers loved that they were empowered to make a choice. Once they saw that the online PD was easy to navigate, they became more inclined to pursue online courses.
Word of mouth has also been powerful in encouraging more staff members to join online learning. Even though the online courses are optional, they fill up right away. Rebecca receives emails from staff around the district with messages like, “I hear so and so is taking the ‘Habits of Mind’ course, and it’s filled. When will that open again?” or “I’m hearing my teachers talk about that they are doing, and I want to join in. When will it be available?”
The online courses also are integrated into the district’s iPSD Academy, which teachers leverage to earn credits to advance on the salary schedule. Teachers can choose from a wide variety of PD formats in the iPSD Academy, including face to face, blended, and the PD Premium Library courses. iPSD courses are meant to be rigorous – they are longer in length, anywhere from 16 to 32 hours of time. Teachers are learning, doing, and applying, and are required to show evidence that they have met outcomes that improve or grow their practice. Rebecca shares that the “Premium Library courses have been super beneficial to enhance the iPSD Academy.”
This all adds up to more personalized and time-aware professional development for everyone.
Rebecca sums up by saying, “…if you stop and think about it as an educator, you always want to continue to grow and get better. Even when you think you’re at your best, there is always something to grow and improve on. And one of the ways that’s going to help you is to be aware that things change, so you have to stay current. You have to learn about new practices or enhance ones that you’re currently doing. A great way to do that is by having that professional development.”
Written by: Callie Turk, Founding Partner, Intersections in Education Consulting