A Tweak for Professional Development
Question: What do the following have in common: aligning all curriculum to the Common Core; new comprehensive teacher evaluation system; new principal evaluation system; redesigned PSSA tests for grades 3-8; new Keystone exam system; Act 126 (related to child molestation); and, expanding special education regulations?
Answer: They are all state mandates requiring a great deal of teacher training and time to implement.
Question: What do the following have in common: using data to guide instruction; new writing curriculum; new word study curriculum; standards-based report cards; common quarterly assessments; techniques for struggling readers; technology innovations and, grade 7-12 language arts curriculum?
Answer: These are initiatives of our strategic plan designed to make us more effective. They also require a great deal of teacher training and time for development.
As we thought about all the challenges before us as a school district that require training or what is known as “professional development” (PD), we realized that our current system needed some tweaking. Currently, we schedule four in-service days a year. These are days when students do not come to school and teachers become students or curriculum writers or test developers, etc. One of the issues with these day-long events is that much of what is done requires application in the classroom or extended study. You can learn about many things in one day but we know that “cramming” is not the most effective method. Additionally, when it comes to things like curriculum and developing assessments, these activities benefit from shorter work sessions over time.
One of the reasons we went to block scheduling at the high school and middle school is that the old 42 minute period did not allow for students to practice applying what they learned before they left the classroom. The extended period allows students to engage in an application activity before leaving the classroom so the teacher can be certain the student has mastered the material. We are trying to achieve a similar effect with our professional development.
In understanding all of this, I need to point out that one of our four in-service days is what is known as an “Act 80 day.” Act 80 is a law passed many years ago that says if a school is in excess of providing the minimum number of hours of instruction required by school code, you can replace student instruction days with staff development days. Several years ago, we took one instructional day for staff development to reduce the number of instructional days down to 179. (School Code requires 180 days of school but Act 80 allows that to be reduced.) In these days when teachers note that they often run out of time to teach the full curriculum, this does not make sense.
To meet the growing demand for professional development, provide time for practice between instruction and restore student instructional time, we decided to tweak our calendar for next year. The March 17 in-service day has been returned to a day for student instruction. We replaced it with four days throughout the year with a late start for students (2 hour delay) when teachers will report at the usual time. These two hours will be used by the staff for professional development.
The two hour delay/teacher PD days will be the second Monday of the month in November, December, February and March. This gives us staff development time seven out of the nine months of school. We feel it will contribute to more effective staff development.
We know that this can be an inconvenience for some parents of young children and in recognition of that, we altered our first plan to have six late starts down to four. This is one of those decisions where there are many factors to weigh. It has become very clear to us that the number of initiatives from Harrisburg will not slow down and we must find a way to keep up AND do the things we feel are important to remain a district that meets students where they are. I am hoping that our community can help parents with needs in the area of child care. Perhaps local churches could provide a place for children on those mornings. Hopefully, neighbors can step in and those arrangements parents have for weather late-starts can be utilized more than normal.
We will carefully monitor the effectiveness of this new plan next year and if it does not provide the benefits expected, we will return to the drawing board!
The Lancer Letter is a weekly editorial by Richard Scaletta, Superintendent of Schools, General McLane School District. Opinions expressed are Mr. Scaletta’s views on the issues and subjects of discussion.