One important goal contained in School District 65’s five-year strategic plan adopted last March is to provide a “comprehensive staff development program.” This is pivotal to many of the District’s instructional strategies, including implementation of the Tomlinson model of differentiated instruction, implementation of Response to Intervention, implementation of co-teaching and push-in interventions, and implementation of technology-mediated instruction.

The professional development goal is taking on additional importance now, because it is pivotal to the effective implementation of the inclusion plan that the Board approved on Nov. 30. Under that plan, many additional students with a disability will be integrated into the regular classroom.

A District Leadership Team has been formed to establish timelines for implementing the inclusion plan, to develop a plan for professional development on ways to address the needs of students with a disability in the regular classroom or general education setting, and to determine measurements of success. The plan for professional development on inclusion obviously needs to be coordinated with ongoing professional development on the other initiatives.

Last April, the District laid out plans to improve and expand its professional development program in the areas of differentiated instruction and technology-mediated instruction. We heard that many teachers gave rave reviews about the workshops provided on the Tomlinson model of differentiated instruction, and it appears that a good start was made on technology. In addition, we understand that professional development is ongoing this year.

According to the administration, professional development should be ongoing and intensive, meaning “50 plus hours over a school year on a topic.” In addition, there appears to be growing concensus that a critical part of professional development occurs when teachers plan together and engage in joint lesson planning.

A February 2009 report, “Professional Learning in the Learning Profession,” prepared by the National Staff Development Council (NSDC) and the School Redesign Network at Stanford University, says, “The most powerful forms of staff development occur in ongoing teams that meet on a regular basis, preferably several times a week, for the purposes of learning, joint lesson planning, and problem solving. … Many scholars have begun to place greater emphasis on job-embedded and collaborative teacher learning.”

In presenting a professional development plan last April, Assistant Superintendent Susan Schultz similarly said, “Professional development is most effective where teachers engage actively in instructional inquiry in the context of collaborative professional communities, focused on instructional improvement and student achievement.” She added, “It includes a variety of models: workshops, lesson studies, book studies, active research, coaching, mentoring, team or department collaboration projects, to name a few.”

Jean Luft, the president of the District Educators’ Council (the teachers’ union), recently said in order to implement the inclusion plan effectively, teachers need adequate supports, differentiated professional development and “time for collaboration, planning and consultation.”

Right now, the only measure of success adopted by the Board for the professional development goal is to “assess the degree of staff satisfaction with the District’s professional development programs and activities.” This is extremely vague. It does not define what an effective professional development program should look like, nor does it contain measurable targets of success.

Given the importance of professional development, we encourage the Board to define what it wants the professional development program to look like and to adopt measurable targets of success, and to require data, in addition to teacher surveys, to determine if the District is meeting the targets.

At the very least, we encourage the Board to work with the administration, DEC and its consultant to develop a meaningful teacher survey to gather information on whether enough workshops on relevant topics are provided; whether workshops are effective; whether teachers are attending the workshops; whether teachers are given sufficient leave time to attend the workshops; whether teachers have adequate time for planning, collaboration, classroom observations, coaching and mentoring; the degree to which these activities are occurring in each school; whether principals are fostering teacher learning communities; and other relevant topics.