What Happens During A Professional Development Day?
By: Todd Curtis
Assistant Superintendent, Sudbury Public Schools
Two Fridays ago, as I am sure you noticed, students were out of school as the Sudbury Public Schools District held the first full Professional Development day of the school year. Parents and community members often wonder what goes on during these days. Perhaps you found yourself wondering, "What on earth happens on a professional development day anyway?"
Educational research is clear that the most important factor in our students' success is the quality and effectiveness of the instruction in the classroom. To this end, our district strategic objectives are focused on providing a consistent curriculum and supporting effective instructional practices across the district. Our professional development program is a key element of how we work towards these objectives. In order to be successful and provide the best ultimate benefits to our students in classrooms, teachers need the opportunity to collaborate over time and sustain a focus on important topics.
So, back to the original question: What on earth happens on a professional development day? This past Friday, teachers from across the PK-8 district spent the day at Curtis Middle School. We began by talking briefly about the purpose of our work as educators, especially as it relates to implementation of the Common Core State Standards. Massachusetts, along with 44 other states, has adopted these new curriculum standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts. While many of the standards are familiar and were based on Massachusetts' previous rigorous Curriculum Frameworks, this adoption requires a great deal of examination and trial at the local level. This was the focus of our work on Friday.
Many teachers on Friday dove into the new math standards. The Common Core introduces a new framework for mathematical practices and raises the bar on a good number of standards. Teachers worked in small groups with colleagues from across the district to design common ways to incorporate these practices and align our previous materials with any new expectations. Other teachers worked with the English Language Arts standards, especially the strengthened emphasis on nonfiction in the Common Core and a brand new standard for digital writing (think of wikis, blogs, and other collaborative media). Still other teachers such as Unified Arts and World Language faculty members worked on aligning their own curricula across the district and designing ways to meet the needs of all students in our classrooms. In all cases, the core objective was building our capacity to best meet the needs of all students - when teachers returned to their classrooms on Tuesday morning and into the future.
Sometimes professional development involves going to conferences or bringing in experts. Especially when it comes to the work of examining our local curriculum and instructional practice, however, there is great value to turning inward for expertise. Nearly all of the work on Friday was facilitated by Sudbury teachers and administrators. By examining current practice, strengthening what works, and designing new material to fill any gaps, teachers - the people doing the important work in classrooms - have true ownership of the work. We develop a common language across schools and classrooms as we work to build solutions that fit our classrooms and students in Sudbury. Not only do we learn new things from each other, but we build consistency and shared expectations in ways that aren't possible when we rely upon facilitators or providers from the outside. While this takes time, the outcomes for our teachers and our students are richer in the end.
Most teachers and administrators don't want to be away from their students too often; they are dedicated to getting the most out of every moment with them. Full days away and early release days, then, must have a good return for our efforts. Friday's work has us off on a great start in using our professional development program to continue "improving on excellence."