Teacher Development

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We’ll take you to a Phoenix elementary school that creates better teachers by regularly pulling them out of classrooms. At Brunson-Lee Elementary, they found that making time for teachers to work on lesson plans together strengthens instruction. Sarah Ravel, Curriculum Coach at the Brunson-Lee Elementary school, and Alexis Wilson, assistant superintendent of the Balsz School District, will talk about the professional development for teachers.

TED SIMONS: In addition to professional development workshops, teachers at Brunson-Lee get time to compare notes and brainstorm with colleagues. We learned more about teacher professional development from Sarah Ravel, curriculum coach at the Brunson-Lee elementary school and Alexis Wilson, assistant superintendent of the Balsz School District.

TED SIMONS: Thanks for joining us.

SARAH RAVEL: Thanks for having us.

TED SIMONS: Give us kind of a precise definition of professional development for teachers.

SARAH RAVEL: Absolutely. So, in any profession, as things change over time, you are USA looking for, as a professional, to keep up with the best practices and finding a way to hone your craft. Professional development is how we support teachers as a district and at school site levels, to refine their craft, in order to best support our students.

TED SIMONS: How do you differentiate professional development from career development?

ALEXIS WILSON: Well, I think that takes place in a couple of different ways. In the Balsz district we're fortunate because of our learning calendar, we were able to offer early release days for students every Wednesday, and so those Wednesday afternoons, our teachers gather, as you saw in the piece, to work on different instructional strategies, to perfect their craft, if you will. And so, we start there, and then we also offer a once a month district level professional development where teachers come together in their particular cohort groups, so what might be a grade level or a content area, where they focus on, instructional strategies there, for career, we offer for some of our instructional coaches or teachers that are willing and able to move into more leadership roles, the opportunity to participate in some professional development, that might take place outside of the district and be facilitated by sentence to grow them in their careers.

TED SIMONS: As far as professional development is concerned, how has this changed over the years?

SARAH RAVEL: That's a great question. Historically, I think, schools and districts have struggled providing high quality professional development for teachers. In fact, if you look at teacher exit surveys, people who are leaving the profession, you will often see poor professional development for leaving their school or profession. So, research tells us that high quality professional development is ongoing. It's job embedded, and it take place within a group of teachers who are engaged in the same practices as you are.

TED SIMONS: You mentioned exit interviews and such. There something specific teachers are looking for that in the past they were not getting and now they are trying to, you are trying to give them?

SARAH RAVEL: Definitely. I think differentiation. So, in the past we have seen a lot of PD, professional development, one size fits all approach. And now, we're really trying to target specific grade levels or teachers that work with specific groups of teachers, so our English language learners. And providing opportunities where they can come together as a group and talk about the specific challenges of their own.

TED SIMONS: And you mentioned making time is a big factor here, technology is probably helping along those lines. Or is it?

ALEXIS WILSON: No, I think that -- we have to continually integrate technology throughout the professional development, so that the teachers become more savvy and more comfortable with using technology as a resource to instruct their students, as well as the students using technology. We're fortunate that we have a lot of technology available for our students in the Balsz School District.

TED SIMONS: How do we know professional development for teachers is helping education? Is helping students? Do we have metrics out there? Can we gauge this, measure this?

ALEXIS WILSON: Sure. Anyone doing professional development should be using data to gauge how it is going, so you are looking at student achievement results. That can take place for ongoing instruction throughout the day. It can be an informal opportunity. You have benchmark assessments that we give at the end of every quarter. And you have got pre and post assessment data and teacher evaluation data, so you are trying to align all those things to meet the needs of your teachers and ultimately, your students.

TED SIMONS: And invariably, though, with data, especially with school, you have variables, and so how do you factor in those variables to find out if it's really working?

SARAH RAVEL: I think that you go back to look at what are students producing in the classroom? And when you really are looking at what are students doing in math and writing and reading. Looking at the piece of student writing, you are able to find those pieces where you've been successful. And the key part of professional development where it really becomes successful is when it helps teachers identify what is successful, that's in student learning, and link that to the practice that they apply in the classroom. It helps them make that connection between the two.

TED SIMONS: And as far as school administrators, how involved are the administrators in professional development?

ALEXIS WILSON: Very involved. This year, we have worked a lot to make sure that we were also providing professional development for our school principals, so we have an outside consultant group that comes in. Works -- does planning with them. A lot of our work over the last couple of years has been to prepare our leaders, our teachers, our students for the Arizona college and career ready standards. So, a lot of training has taken place on that.

TED SIMONS: I was going to ask about the standards. Assessments. -- that's one of the variables. I hear that teachers, if they give me one more test I will scream and yell. Is it frustrating at times when you have to deal with those things?

SARAH RAVEL: I think that the unknown is always frustrating. And it's difficult for teachers when they -- they are not sure that they can trust the new system. We have a lot of teachers who believe strongly in the common core standards. Yet, they are not sure we're going to continue down that path with the standards, so there is hesitancy to really buy in and dig in deep with discovering what those standards mean and how to best teach those when we're not sure that they will be around.

TED SIMONS: Not too much hesitation, there? Most teachers are for this?

SARAH RAVEL: Many teachers are in our district. We have embraced because we have seen how these standards have impacted our students.

TED SIMONS: Last question, as far as professional development is concerned, nothing is free. How much does it cost? Is the funding there, or as we hear so much with education, is the funding slip sliding away?

ALEXIS WILSON: We are fortunate in some respects that we have some excellent internal instructional coaches like Sarah and many other coaches at other sites that, actually, deliver a lot of that professional development. But, we have to seek out grants and other ways to fund You know, consultant groups so we might work with, that can come in and either train the coaches or others so that they can deliver that, so it's a bit of a trainer model. Of course, we would like to be able to offer more, as much as we can, but we do the best that we can.

TED SIMONS: All right, good luck and congratulations on your success so far. Thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

SARAH RAVEL: Thank you.

TED SIMONS: And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you very much for joining us on this special Arizona education edition of Arizona Horizon. Have a great evening.

VIDEO: If you have comments about Arizona Horizon, please contact us at one of the addresses on the screen. Your comments may be used on a future edition of Arizona Horizon. Thank you.

VIDEO: Arizona Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

HELIOS: The education foundation is proud to underwrite Arizona education. A 12-month series highlighting the issues affecting college and career readiness of the students. Through a decade of strategic partnerships, we have worked to change lives and strengthen the community through education. 11:40:17:06

Sarah Ravel:Curriculum Coach at the Brunson-Lee Elementary school,Alexis Wilson:Assistant superintendent of the Balsz School District

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