4 ways a Georgia school district makes the most of professional learning

Four years ago, Georgia’s Floyd County Schools District took on a new challenge: rolling out MAP® Growth™ for the first time. For this mostly rural district serving 9,000 kids in the northwest corner of the state, MAP Growth offered the exciting possibility of high-quality assessment data that teachers could immediately use to improve their classroom strategies—and boost student outcomes.

Barbara Smith, the district’s director of school improvement and professional learning, has worked in education long enough to know that even the best initiatives can fall flat if they aren’t adequately supported and communicated. So when MAP Growth arrived in Floyd County, Barbara used the district’s professional learning program in partnership with NWEA to ensure a successful—and sustainable—rollout. Here are four important ways that Barbara got it done.

1. Start early

Barbara recalls that although Floyd County Schools had considered adopting MAP Growth earlier, it was the arrival of a new superintendent who had used MAP Growth in another district that set the process in motion. Because the district didn’t have much time to roll it out, Barbara felt it was important to seize the moment.

MAP Growth offered the exciting possibility of high-quality assessment data that teachers could immediately use to improve their classroom strategies—and boost student outcomes.

“We began working with NWEA on professional learning as soon as we rolled out MAP Growth,” Barbara says. “Because it was a fast implementation, we decided that it was best to commit right away to offering our teachers plenty of professional learning. That way, we wouldn’t end up simply administering the assessment and then not really using it the way it’s intended to be used.”

2. Collaborate for best results

“When we started working with NWEA to customize professional learning for our district, we developed an organic way of working together based on lots of communication,” Barbara says. “We had teacher-leaders who got intimately involved from the get-go. They felt very comfortable reaching out to our NWEA reps and saying ‘Hey, I’ve got an idea for a learning module’ or ‘Can you tell me more about this?’”

This collaborative process ensured that Floyd County Schools and NWEA were working from a shared understanding of the district’s challenges and professional learning needs. With that alignment in place, the district was able to offer a series of customized workshops in early 2020 featuring NWEA presenters who led discussions on MAP Growth and ways to maximize the value of assessment data.

3. Spread successful practices

Barbara feels fortunate to be in a district where teachers are hungry for new ways to improve their instruction and eager to learn from each other. You can see this sensibility in action when a new initiative is going particularly well at the building level. Even as Barbara celebrates the successes of individual schools, she looks ahead to the district-wide adoption of these emerging best practices as other buildings pick them up and make them their own. And she cites the openness of her teachers as the key to making it work.

Barbara explains: “We have a philosophy of seeing what others are doing and asking ourselves, ‘How can I make this work for my system?’ If it’s good for you, maybe it will be good for me—after I tweak it to meet my particular needs.”

[E]ven the best initiatives can fall flat if they aren’t adequately supported and communicated.

This focus on shared learning and reproducible best practices was echoed in a recent presentation for Floyd County Schools administrators by John Hodge, EdD, a school improvement expert and the president and co-founder of the Urban Learning and Leadership Center. Dr. Hodge’s main message was that it shouldn’t matter which individual teachers you have in your building; the instructional practices should be just as good as those of the teachers in the next school over.

Barbara keeps this approach in mind as she watches schools experiment with new ways of meeting students’ needs and boosting achievement. “If we have one building that’s really drilling down with their professional learning and putting all the pieces in place until they get full implementation, I watch them carefully,” says Barbara. “I wait to see how it plays out, and when we feel we have something that teachers can truly internalize and reproduce, we then go to our other schools with it.”

4. Pivot as needed

With the sudden disruptions of the pandemic, Floyd County Schools had to press the pause button on some of its assessment and professional learning activities. In addition to the in-person workshops featuring NWEA presenters, the Kickoff Classic—Barbara’s annual district-wide, all-staff conference—is on hold. For now, as in states and districts across the country, Floyd County Schools is focused primarily on keeping students from falling behind academically.

That said, Barbara has successfully migrated some of her activities to the virtual environment, such as induction for new teachers and training for a new phonics program.

“It’s been a challenging time, but our teachers have continued to pick up new skills and are now asking themselves how they can incorporate those skills into the traditional classroom setting as we return to normal. So when it comes to professional learning, the wheels on the bus at Floyd County Schools are always turning.”

Read more

For details on how Floyd County Schools uses professional learning to maximize the value of MAP Growth data, read our case study.

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