North Carolina: Tweaking Common Professional Development Models for Added Value

Many kinds of professional development exist within and across schools, but the IMPACT Model School Grant has provided enough professional development dollars to allow some 'best practice' modifications to two common models that have reputations for being less than effective: conference attendance and outside consultants.

Conference Attendance: The Assignment

Clearmont Elementary School
Burnsville, N.C.

Yancey County is a small mountain county in North Carolina, and Clearmont Elementary School is one of the smallest of the small. Each grade is only one classroom, and current teachers are often former students of the school. As Principal Pete Peterson says, 'When North Carolina end-of-grade test scores come back, the whole community knows whose students were successful - or not.'

The size and rural nature of the county also makes traveling an expensive challenge. But wide-ranging experiences, particularly in this fast-paced, technology-rich world, are an important part of a 21st century teacher's education. For this reason, Peterson crafted a large portion of his IMPACT Model School Grant's professional development around attendance at state and national conferences.

While a broadening of job-related and personal experiences is a highlight of conference attendance, the perception also exists that conference travel can be little more than a state-subsidized party. To ensure that no one could accuse his staff of this, Peterson created a list of conference requirements that all teachers must adhere to before, during and after the conference:

1. Turn in a schedule of sessions before going to the conference. This requires teachers to plan their time, consult with colleagues to avoid duplication, and create a focus for their days away from home.

2. Schedule time in the exhibit hall. Peterson believes this is extremely important. Several of Clearmont's best equipment purchases this year resulted from time spent in the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) vendor area last summer.

3. Turn in handouts from best sessions. Peterson is quick to emphasize best sessions. Teachers should never turn in handouts just to document attendance. Clearmont keeps a big notebook of handouts and ideas from conference presentations that teachers can refer to when they need new ideas for their own lessons.

4. Bring back two great ideas per day. These may or may not be from conference presentations; perhaps they are from a conversation a teacher had waiting for a session to start. The key is that they must be ideas that the teacher and/or the school can implement because each conference attendee must ...

5. Document use in the classroom and

6. Be prepared to present ideas at teacher meetings, parent meetings or other conferences. Without these expectations, conference attendance is wasted. Parents especially need to understand that professional development enriches a teacher's classroom practice. Peterson provides opportunities for his teachers to share their conference experiences with fellow teachers and the school's parents. He also models the expectation of presenting at conferences in the hopes that others across his school system and the state will benefit from Clearmont's IMPACT Grant.

7. Spend time with colleagues. In addition to taking its own faculty, Clearmont has invited teachers from its partner school to attend conferences with them; thus, creating opportunities to share experiences and find new ways to collaborate.

8. Take advantage of the opportunity. While attending conferences, Peterson and his staff find exemplary schools to visit or organize tours. Teachers can learn about the area and bring back digital photos, brochures, as well as realia to use in their classrooms and share with each other.

9. And, of course, have fun! Developing and encouraging collegiality and collaboration are important components of the IMPACT Model School Grant and teaching in general. Well-planned conference attendance is an excellent way to broaden a teacher's subject and general knowledge base, as well as to foster lifelong friendships and working relationships - a good investment of time and money!

Outside Consultant, Long-Time Contract

Wells Elementary School
Wilson, N.C.

Wells Elementary School Principal James Davis believed that the IMPACT Model School Grant requirement of flexible access in both the media center and computer lab would be the key to the school's grant success. His dilemma was how to focus enough time and resources on its implementation to ensure that success.

Davis knew he was lucky to have both an instructional technology facilitator and library media specialist who were competent and well-liked, as well as faculty who were excited about the potential of flexible access to create a school culture in which technology would actually become an integral part of instruction. In addition, he was up front in acknowledging his need for help in designing a schedule that encouraged both media center and computer lab flexibility, as well as grade-level collaborative planning. A poorly implemented program that would stifle enthusiasm and vision was not acceptable. Davis' solution: Hire an outside consultant to focus on flexible access and collaborative planning, which, in turn, would lead to the design, implementation and evaluation of technology-rich, resource-rich units of instruction.

This outside consultant, a retired media and technology supervisor, was hired to make 36 weekly visits. During the initial summer months of her employment, she worked with Davis to create a schedule which would allow common grade-level planning times for teachers that would include both the technology facilitator and media specialist, as the IMPACT Model required. She also met individually with the technology facilitator and media specialist, working through the initial theory of flexible access and how to design their programs to reflect that theory.

Once school began, she made herself available for each of the grade-level planning meetings. After an overview in which she used some North Carolina Department of Public Instruction videos to illustrate flexible access and collaborative planning, she modeled the collaborative planning process by chairing the meeting. Each week she encouraged more teacher participation until, long before the end of her 36-week contract, the classroom teachers were chairing their own meetings; planning collaboratively with the media and technology personnel and each other; and implementing some unique, technology-rich and resource-rich units of instruction.

Davis acknowledges that flexible access and the collaborative planning process it ensures have made a huge difference in the success of the IMPACT Model at Wells. Much of the credit, however, goes to his decision to hire a consultant whose entire focus was essentially a just-in-time, carefully modeled, job-embedded professional development 'course' in its implementation.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.