Professional Development | Feature

Districts Turn to Intensive PD to Prepare for Common Core

With the 2014-2015 introduction of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) right around the corner, Crystal Morse knew that the 45 staff members at Bauerwood Elementary in Jenison, MI, would need help getting up and running with the new benchmarks. As school principal, Morse said she looked around for enrichment options and found what she wanted from Discovery Education, which her staff had been using for two years.   

“We were already benchmarking three times a year with Discovery for our assessment component,” Morse explained. In 2013, the school integrated the company’s technology books into its science department. Then it learned about the Common Core Academy, a new offering Discovery had developed to help teachers and administrators implement CCSS into their classrooms. The program is built around 2-day professional development events held in different locations around the country.

Discovery holds Common Core Academies on topics like “Connecting Specialized Instruction to Common Core State Standards: An Academy for Teachers of Students with Special Needs,” and “Moving Toward Greater Focus and Coherence In Your Classroom:  Making Common Sense Out of the Math Common Core State Standards.”

Morse said Jenison Public Schools sent representatives to participate in the English language arts (ELA), math, and leadership academies. Having attended the academy several times, Morse said Discovery was a natural choice for a district that was already using its other products. “I wanted to be able to involve our teachers in an offering that was already at their fingertips,” she said.

According to Morse, the enrichment and professional development has helped Bauerwood Elementary’s teachers bridge the gap between traditional assessments and standards and those being imposed by CCSS. “It’s not as simple as saying, ‘Here’s where we’re going so let’s do it;’ there are a lot of different facets involved with this initiative,” said Morse, who in July used knowledge gained from the academy to teach 130 instructors from across the district about Common Core’s ELA component. “We are sharing information and pointing teachers back to everything we learned at the academy with our teachers,” she added.

From the academy, Morse said she took away “an abundance of information” on how to effectively transition to an academic world where CCSS serves as a cornerstone for assessment and student progress. She also participated in a leadership session with Karen M. Beerer, vice president of professional development for Common Core State Standards for Discovery Education, and has since corresponded with Beerer to get follow-up questions answered. “I had some great conversations with the leaders of the academy throughout the professional development sessions themselves,” said Morse, “and I’ve also been able to tap into them as a resource on other issues.”

Up next for the Bauerwood Elementary staff is a two-day professional development retreat for K-6 teachers. Morse is also working with the district’s other elementary school principals and arranging upcoming CCSS PD sessions based on what she learned at the academy. Pleased with the results so far, Morse said she wishes teachers and administrators had more time to learn and implement CCSS. “Unfortunately, there’s a time factor involved and that’s never easy to manage,” she said, “but having external resources that we can turn to is certainly making the process more painless.”

Bringing the Knowledge Home

Interested in learning more about CCSS and how the new standards are going to be applied in the classroom, Michael Roth, superintendent at Salisbury Township School District in Allentown, PA, attended one of Discovery Education’s Common Core Academy’s two-day leadership sessions earlier this year. Since then, the 1,500-student district has sent its assistant superintendent and director of special education to similar sessions and is now looking to partner with Discovery to work with its entire administrative team.

At that academy, Roth says presenters discussed CCSS’ background and applicability in K-12 schools. Attendees were then able to dive into the new standards and “start pulling them apart to see how they were organized in terms of language and vocabulary,” Roth said, adding, “It was highly interactive and hands-on.”

Roth, whose district encompasses four schools and employs 120 teachers, says the experience helped him wrap his mind around the various steps that need to take place in order to successfully use CCSS in the classroom. He was then able to bring that knowledge back to his district and share it with administrators and teachers.

Roth says the enrichment is critical because his district’s approach to assessment will be much different than what teachers and students are accustomed to. “There’s a real mind shift away from the standards that we’ve worked with over the last 10-15 years,” he said. He sees resources like the academy as effective tools for administrators and teachers who are looking to bridge that gap.

“Having a resource that can guide us through that process has been helpful,” said Roth, “particularly when it comes to figuring out how to integrate CCSS across all of our district’s different curricula areas.”

Enhancing Students’ Digital Capacities

With more than 1,800 students in five schools, the Pojoaque Valley School District in Santa Fe, NM, started implementing CCSS in its elementary and intermediate schools in 2012. Tracie Lenihan, an instructional technology training specialist, helps teachers integrate technology into their curricula with an eye on increasing students’ tech and visual skills to prepare them for CCSS. As part of that initiative, the district recently added Discovery’s Common Core Academy to its toolbox.

“We were using Discovery’s assessments in grades 4-11 to generate reports and drill down into the test data,” said Lenihan. “When they introduced the academy, we saw it as a good facilitator for CCSS.” Having participated in several academy sessions, Lenihan said, “I got to see what Common Core instruction actually looks like,” she said, “and how to create a rigorous learning environment for our students.”

Looking specifically at the “next generation” of assessments, for example, Lenihan said she learned about their characteristics, their application in the classroom, and the various ways that schools must address them. “The digital tools that Karen [Beerers] used to impart the content were very useful,” said Lenihan, “and I’ve since shared them with our teachers, school leaders, and other colleagues.”

Next on Lenihan’s agenda: getting the necessary technology integrated district-wide and ahead of the pending CCSS deadline, and then ensuring that both teachers and students know how to use it effectively. “We’ve invested in a lot technology as a district,” Lenihan explained, “but there’s a gap between integrating it and showing teachers how to use it in their curriculums.”

Concurrently, Lenihan is working with teachers to get students up to a digital capacity where they can succeed on the digital assessments, perform basic tasks, and demonstrate content knowledge. “These are ongoing challenges that we deal with on a daily basis,” she said.


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