July 30, 2014
Every day the media reports stories of teachers struggling to prepare students for new academic standards and the rigor of 21st century jobs. Behind each story, there is data that describes the particular content areas and grades at which students struggle. The Regional Educational Associations’ (REA), utilizing this data and the wisdom of experienced teachers, efficiently use their Succeed 2020 resources to plan professional development opportunities addressing these struggles.
Professional development is the on-going training that helps teachers learn about new content and standards, as well as improve their teaching abilities. The eight REAs have coordinated hundreds of professional development activities in schools across the state through Succeed 2020. REAs look at a variety of data sources, including ACT (college entrance) scores, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data, and Northwest Evaluation Association’s (NWEA) assessment data, to pinpoint exactly what areas teachers need more support in. This gives the REAs the information that they need to plan activities. Collaboration with the school districts is also key to planning and implementing professional development.
Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are one popular way for many REAs to deliver professional development. The Northeast Education Services Cooperative (NESC – based in Devils Lake) brings together educators three times a year through PLCs. For instance, in some schools there may only be one math teacher for all students in grades 9 – 12. This teacher does not have a colleague in the school to talk “math” with, so the PLCs provide the opportunity for all the math teachers in a region to get together every few months. NESC strengthens the teacher discussion by analyzing data so that teachers hone in on the areas students struggle with most. NESC staff also bring resources and facilitate the discussion. However, math teachers are not the only ones participating in these planned and coordinated PLC’s! NESC has planned and implemented regional PLC’s with counselors/career advisors and teachers of all grades and content areas.
So are these PLC’s and other professional development activities useful/helpful? Data collection is an essential part of knowing the answer to this question. Prior to and at the conclusion of the PD activities, the REA’s collect data from participants via surveys on areas in which more support is needed, how helpful/useful the training was, and how it could be improved among other points.
The South East Education Cooperative (SEEC, based in Fargo) has used extensive data to design, implement, and evaluate the success of professional development. SEEC staff surveyed mid-level educators on their comfort level implementing the North Dakota State Standards for math. Results showed that there was some uncertainty with the new math content to be taught (because of the new standards) and the implementation of instructional best practices (teaching strategies). After providing four full-day training sessions dispersed through the school year in which educators had the opportunity to learn hands-on problem solving strategies, the educators felt much more prepared to implement the strategies in their classrooms.
Through these trainings teachers often comment that “these trainings not only impact the way I do business in grade 6 math but in all my classes” and “math is only a small part of my day, but I can use these strategies in reading, science and social studies as well.”
Through well-planned and targeted professional development opportunities for educators across the state, the REAs are helping ensure that ND students are well-prepared for increasingly rigorous academic standards.