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Achieving Results Standards in Action - #6 Personalizing How Teachers Connect with Outside Resources
Among the most challenging environments for professional development programming are the small, rural schools in eastern and northern Maine. One such small school in Downeast Maine has confronted the challenge with creativity, shared leadership, and effective use of outside resources. The school, with 20 staff and 106 students, was identified as a "priority school" last year, an event that initially caused discouragement among the staff. However, as staff members have mobilized around their own learning, the professional climate has taken a dramatic turn for the better: teachers are committed to improving student learning though improving their own skills, and are likewise committed to an annual school improvement process that ties school goals to individual teacher development plans.
An initial survey of professional development needs among the mostly veteran staff revealed that the teachers had not participated in conferences or other state and regional offerings due to the remoteness of the school. Teachers had routinely set professional development goals for themselves each year, but the process had not led to noticeable improvements in student achievement. Together, the principal and teachers developed a plan to address both adult and student learning simultaneously [Participation].
A key linkage was made in connecting individual learning goals for each teacher to school improvement plan goals. To better support adult learning, the staff developed a flexible approach to professional development that included: a three-day teacher academy in the summer; a menu of conferences, mentoring, school visitations, and model teaching experiences that each teacher could choose from in developing his or her individualized plan; and a greatly expanded professional library. The expanded goal-setting structure resulted in an immediate improvement in the quality of the goals. Two additional facts were important to the initial success: the professional development activities were funded through the district's local entitlement funds, which allowed the district to avoid local budget increases; and the leadership and oversight of the goal-setting process was shared between the principal and the special services director, thereby removing some of the worries about evaluation implications [Organizational Alignment].
Good fortune smiled on the school as well. A state-level professional development organization was looking for a school to examine more deeply the implications for assessment of Maine's Laptop Initiative. The school was chosen as a site for a researcher/author to conduct a view of the issue, and the result was an injection of new insights and enthusiasm. The "critical friend" engaged the staff in frequent conversations, modeled new practices, and affirmed much of what was occurring in the school's classrooms [Use of Research Data].
Buoyed by the increased commitment to adult learning and the evident support from administration, the teachers have taken a harder look at achievement data and objective evaluation, in general. The new professional development structures will be evaluated this year and connected to student learning results [Continuous Improvement, Focus on Results].
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