Overview of Professional Development

Professional development in the Amherst Regional Public Schools is an on-going, continuous process that supports the learning of all staff members who work with students. The goal of professional development in the school system is to improve teaching and learning in order to increase achievement for every student.

Professional development in our school system is grounded in two beliefs: first, that teachers hold significant experience and expertise in their practice; and, second, that everyone is a learner. In order to make good on our promise to children, professional development in our school system supports deliberate and structured opportunities for staff to share what they know in order to be learners together in their practice.

All professional development in our school system aligns with and supports the goals in the District Improvement Plan, School Improvement Plans, individual teachers’ Professional Growth Plans, and, as we look ahead to September 2012 implementation, the new MA ESE Educator Evaluation system. In addition, professional learning throughout the school system derives from the ARPS Theory of Action: “If all teachers engage in an ongoing cycle of disciplined collaboration, focused on the examination and continuous improvement of student learning and instructional practice, engagement and achievement will increase for all students,” and includes learning together about, in, and from our practice.

Embedded Professional Development

Job-embedded professional development in our schools, therefore, supports teams of teachers to work in professional learning community. These collaborative teacher teams unite in their commitment to improving teacher practice and student learning by creating shared norms and values, and by making their practice public to one another. Members of teacher collaborative teams develop a laser-like focus on student learning: they learn from looking together at student work, teacher work, and student performance data; they acquire and engage in the habit of reflective discourse; and, they are mutually accountable to each others’ success. This accountability reminds us of our responsibility to every child we serve.

Most significantly, teacher collaboration teams engage in on-going, continuous cycles of inquiry whereby teams engage in dialogue around a question or problem of practice, and seek and analyze evidence from this issue. From their collaborative exploration, team members then commit to making a change (or adjustments) in their practice, collecting evidence of the resulting impact on student learning, and bringing this evidence back to the group in order to determine how the change impacted and improved student learning. Other questions and areas for exploration emerge, and the cycle begins anew.

In addition to teacher collaboration teams, embedded professional development includes literacy and mathematics coaches in elementary schools that support teaching and learning; district-wide grade-level teams focused on developing collective understanding of the new MA Curriculum Frameworks and standards; targeted professional development sessions and workshops at the building level facilitated by coaches, principals, and teachers; and inquiry groups, focused on such issues as co-teaching, time on learning, and RTI and PBIS. Finally, the school system supports teacher participation in critical friends groups, in order to build capacity for collaborative practice and facilitative leadership in our schools. 

Professional Development in System-Wide Content/Curriculum

The school district is committed to supporting the content knowledge of all classroom teachers, special educators, ESL teachers, interventionists, and paraprofessionals, and to providing professional development for system-wide curriculum initiatives. To that end, the district may, from time to time, contract with outside vendors to support the implementation of curriculum or programs in the content areas. Whenever feasible, this strand of professional development will be delivered during the school day, with release time and substitute coverage provided for teachers, even as the district holds maximizing time in the classroom for teachers and students as paramount to success for all. In addition, our commitment to providing on-going, continuous support for teachers compels us to provide regularly-scheduled opportunities for small-group, job-alike learning throughout the year. 

Participation in External Workshops

From time to time, it may be necessary for the district to provide professional staff with specific skills, knowledge, or support for initiatives that would otherwise be unavailable to staff from within our school system. In these rare occasions, the school system will seek funding sources to support tuition or registration fees, and, to whatever extent possible, reimbursement for travel (the process is outlined in subsequent documents).

Professional Development for School Leaders

Consistent with the school system’s value that everyone is a learner, the District Instructional Leadership Team (DILT), consisting of the Superintendent, Principals, Assistant Principals, and Directors, meets twice monthly (four hours total). Through their collaborative work in DILT meetings, school leaders develop a shared understanding of fundamental instructional practices and student learning by examining teaching, and studying texts, data, and student work together. DILT members model professional learning community through their engagement in cycles of inquiry around instructional practice. Additionally, school leaders bring issues from their own leadership practice to the table for review and feedback. Supported by the UMASS School of Education, DILT members engage in Instructional Rounds together. Together, they are building leadership capacity throughout the school system to support teacher collaboration teams focused on teaching and learning. 

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