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Professional Development offers teachers chance to pause, grow

Opportunities, including summer session, aim to provide alignment & understanding for staff

CASTLE ROCK – The staff in the Professional Development (PD) Department do not have superhero powers, but if they did they would likely stop time for Douglas County School District’s teachers and staff.

While the work being done to modernize teaching in Douglas County is the right thing for our students, they understand that the ambitious vision set by Superintendent Fagen and the comprehensive changes taken on by the District take time and support for our teachers and staff to make it a reality.

“It is a particularly exciting time to be part of particularly Douglas County’s educational system because there is such fervor, there is such excitement. We are going in the right direction and you feel the momentum,” said Amy Lane, PD’s director World Class Education Professional Development Planning & Implementation. “What we’ve heard from the surveys that were given is that teachers needed to slow down, stop and have time to be coached, have collaboration time with their peers and also have time to design their work with our kids.”

PD has taken this feedback to heart.

Big changes in Professional Development
First, the department went through an overhaul, ensuring that its work was aligned.

“How do we streamline our focus, support the work of the District and our leaders and align them with our academic cabinet goals. That is a big piece of the puzzle—to show alignment, but also to show sustainability,” explained Lane.

The key question that the PD staff asked throughout the process was: is the training being offered meeting the needs of everyone in the District?

“We really looked at everything we were doing and say how do we streamline our focus. How do we really get teachers and leaders the tools they need to be successful, so we are headed in the right direction for the students of Douglas County?” asked Amy Lane.

“PD is being very self-reflective,” added Mountain View Elementary School Professional Learning Specialist (PLS) Jean Taylor. “They sent a survey out and asked our people, what do you need to be successful. They are really looking at that feedback and very quickly training on it and providing many opportunities for staff to get more professional development to meet their needs and individualize.

Based on feedback from the system, the department then looked for ways to provide teachers and leaders with a greater depth of understanding, beginning with the philosophy behind it all. The Learning Progressions begin with the foundation of A Case for Change and then grow to provide teachers with insight into Planning, Assessing and Instruction, as well as culture.

“It was a whirlwind. We changed it all in seven months,” Lane said.

“District wide there is now synergy with teachers,” said Pine Lane Elementary PLS Jenet Marsh, who joined the District four years ago at the beginning of the changes. “This past year I have really felt that we are going somewhere. Across the District you can now see that it is going the same direction. Now we have structures in place to help teachers along that journey.”

As always, teachers can participate in classes and get direct support or they may choose take them online at their convenience. PD hopes to build an online Learning Academy, which they say will be a “sharehouse” for best practices.

“These video sessions even have “off ramps” that go a little deeper into content for those people that say, I need to stop and get more clarification,” Lane said.

The team is continually expanding its offerings. In fact, PD has begun work on a new series of videos, which will support leaders, providing them with a series courses on everything from evaluation to site-based budgeting to communication.

A time out for teachers
Last summer the department relaunched New Teacher and Leader Academy and Leadership Summit. This year they are adding a new PD opportunity for teachers called “Time: Let’s Make It Happen.”

All of the sessions are aligned to the cabinet goals and give schools an opportunity to get a running start to the school year.

“I think that is really exciting. Leadership Summit, New Teacher and Leader Academy, the teacher work sessions are all coming together,” Lane said.

“All of those pieces really put us on a path together,” said Marsh. “It is a long path and it will take us a while to get there, but I think it is definitely alleviating some anxiety because there is alignment through the system."

Time: Let’s Make It Happen is scheduled for June 13-16 and July 11-14 and will provide PGI credit to participants.

“We want to honor our teachers’ time. We are all parents first. We have families and summertime for teachers is crucial. For that reason, we were afraid that teachers would not want to participate in classes over break,” explained Lane. “As we started to talk in these small groups and have these grassroots conversations, people were like, ‘this is exactly what we need. We know when you are in a classroom and we have 30 little ones around us, it is hard to stop. We want to honor them and give them time.”

“It is so important to have dedicated time to sit down and focus without having distractions of all of the different layers of our job – to be able to focus and really think about our building and pick and cchoose the pieces we have to meet the needs of our building,” Mesa Middle School PLS Erin Gilbert.

The summer session was designed by teachers for teachers. In fact, PLS from each school were asked to help to determine the content and the group settled on three strands:

  1. Alternative Forms of Assessment
  2. Collaborating with Students
  3. Refining and Upgrading a Unit

The best part is that by utilizing an “unconference” structure, teachers have a lot of flexibility.

“Teachers are not locked in to one strand. They can jump from Collaborate with Students to Alternative Forms of Assessment to Designing High Quality Units,” Lane said. “They can even choose to attend two days or one day. We are going to offer all of those sessions, no matter what, so it is completely up to them.”


The trickle down effect
Of course, in the end, successful PD leads to results in the classroom, something that is on the minds of the teachers involved in planning this summer’s sessions.

“It is exciting work. We are doing the right thing and we are headed in the right direction,” Lane said. “I have three children in the District and my kids are benefiting. It has been fun to see the work that we are doing trickle down into their classrooms.”

“The philosophy really matches my own and what I want for my kids,” added Gilbert. “My daughter is four and my son is two, so I’m very invested in the growth. This is where they are going to school.  I can’t have my kids worksheeted to death. That is how I was educated and I hated school.”

In order to accomplish the change wanted throughout the system, PD’s staff is practicing what they preach. All PD sessions, including those at the summer session, are tailored and differentiated to meet the needs of each educator.

“The voice and choice and the personalization that they want to see in schools, they are modeling that,” said Redstone Elementary School PLS Jill Casas. “They are giving teachers, principals and PLS that same option. They are living what they want it to be. They are conceptualizing and idealizing what they want in their buildings.”

Casas says the District’s focus on teacher leadership is exciting.

“This is about empowerment, not just for students, but for teachers too,” Casas explained. “[District leaders] are saying, ‘here is the focus. Now, you guys, how does that come to life? How are you going to run this?  It is the same model [that they want us to use in the classroom].”

Knowing that this work is not always easy, experts from the World Class Education, Assessment and System Performance and PK-12 departments will be on hand during the summer sessions to support teachers through the process.

“Teachers can bring a unit they want to work through with a coach and get more strategies on how to “Bloom it up (reach higher levels of thinking).” For instance,” Lane said. “During each session we have an hour and half collaboration time where if they get really going on an idea or a project, they can step out—they can go into this work center and they can design.”

“You’ve heard the philosophy behind it, now this is the time to apply it,” Gilbert said. “If some teachers feel that the standards are vague, the summer session is going to provide an opportunity to gain understanding and practical information.”

Learn more about DCSD’s Professional Development and sign up for courses at

Next week: we will continue our series on Professional Development by exploring the role of PLS and school-focused PD, including Professional Learning Community (PLC) days.


February 16, 2016 | By rmbarber | Category: Professional Development

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