At a Glance
The leadership team at Franklin County Career and Technology Center in partnership with education consultant Daniel M. Perna, Ed. D., have created and implemented an individualized program for educator professional learning. The first two years of the program have yielded positive results and a positive shift in educators’ perceptions of professional development.
An article in Education Week (October, 2022) examined a paper published by the Research Partnership for Professional Learning and written by researchers at Harvard Graduate School of Education and Brown University. The paper examines the literature to understand what works in the field of professional development—and, just as importantly, what does not. When done right, professional development can improve teacher practice and student experiences. But when done wrong, it can have little to no impact and end up frustrating teachers who don’t see any relevance to their work. “Teachers in different schools, in different subject areas, in different districts have very different experiences with their professional learning,” said John Papay, an associate professor of education and economics at Brown and a co-author of the paper. “Some of it, we know, can be effective, and some of it, we know, isn’t effective. The challenge is, how do we maintain this investment in and emphasis on professional learning and teacher development throughout the career while also working to make it more effective?
Before becoming assistant director at Franklin County Career and Technology Center Lesli Shuman, Ed.D. had observed a disconnect between traditional faculty wide professional development and teachers’ learning and engagement. Recognizing that professional learning communities had run their course, she and Administrative Director Terry Miller began to shift their approach to develop a program that would be meaningful, embraced by their teaching staff, and aligned to the research on effective learning. If teachers were expected to individualize instruction for their students, then that same consideration should be provided to their faculty.
In the summer of 2022, the leadership team engaged Daniel Perna, Ed.D., a well-known and highly respected education consultant, to assist with the development of the program. A first step was to engage education constituents in the process. The gathered group began by defining expectations for the new program to assure that it would become a catalyst for improving student learning and help fulfill the school’s mission to shape and promote the skilled workforce of tomorrow.
In a recent conversation about the program, Dr. Perna stated “For years the body of literature going back to the 1980s stress a more personalized approach to teacher professional learning. The concept is simple: individual teachers could define their own professional development focus. But, we realized that the teacher’s focus needed parameters that relate to instruction, student achievement and/or improvement of the program.”
The program was rolled out to faculty at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year. Instructors received detailed information about the “why” behind the shift to individualized learning and the “how” implementation would work. The instructors were charged to begin thinking about their own professional learning topics that would be reviewed and discussed with the leadership team. There was some initial hesitancy, as this was a major shift from traditional professional development, but as instructors began to engage in the program, the excitement grew!
The program is built on three key components, PRACTICE, REFLECT, REVIEW. Each month Dr. Shuman and Dr. Perna meet with each instructor. Each instructor presents what they have learned and how it impacts student learning. Together they discuss progress to date, challenges or barriers to achieving their targeted goals, and offer feedback and ideas for the next month. This process is critical to the success of the program and requires a significant commitment from the administrators. The return on investment is clear. Instructors see that they are valued and in turn, commit to their professional learning goals. At the end of the school year, the administrators compile their notes on each instructor and present them with four open-ended reflection questions. Instructors are also asked to complete a survey related to their experiences.This provides the constituent group the opportunity to review the gathered information and develop a set of actionable conclusions.
In the interview to learn about the program, Lesi, Terry, and Dan were asked to give an explanation of the impact the program has had to date. They shared the experience of one of their veteran Automotive Collision instructors, who at the inception of the program, was unsure of making the shift to individualized learning. But with the encouragement of the administrative team to try something new, the instructor branched out and took some certification classes that he could bring back to his students. As he became more comfortable with the process, the instructor reached out to industry partners. This year he set the goal of adding a new industrialized paint program, an idea that came directly from five industry partners. This is an incredible endeavor as it would be the FIRST industrialized paint program in a Pennsylvania career and technology center!
Overall the new program has been beneficial not only for the instructors, but for the community. It is a paradigm shift from what the school has had in the past. It is teacher-led, with the leadership taking the role of a support staff. Now teachers want creativity to start to come into play. They are much more engaged. There has been a major shift in mindset regarding professional learning. Dr. Perna shared, “As opposed to a teacher coming into my office and saying “I need…” and expecting me to do the work, now they come in with “I have an idea!” They look at this as their initiative, and say, “I know what will work, give me a chance to try it!”
This approach takes time and at the onset, may move slowly, as the new approach is a marked change from the traditional “sit and get” or disconnected professional development that instructors have experienced in their careers. A common question early on was “When do I find the time to do this?” The leadership team had to not only inspire this shift, but create the conditions for success. For example, if an instructor needs time to complete their individualized professional learning, there are opportunities for students to do work-based learning.
Lesli Shuman shared that a key to their success is directly related to the monthly meetings with instructors. She and Dan Perna commit to clearing their calendars to meet two days a month with each instructor. This can be challenging to a building administrator, but it is absolutely essential to the success of the program. These efforts not only show commitment to the program, but also send a clear message to instructors that they are valued. In the first end of the year survey, instructors revealed that they invested in their professional learnings because they know they are accountable to the monthly meetings, but those meetings were highly valued.
It can be challenging for instructors at the onset to self-direct their professional learning. Therefore, providing a list of suggested or approved ideas can be helpful to get instructors started.
The Franklin County Career and Technology Center’s Individualized Professional Development program was recently featured in ACTE’s Techniques publication. The link to the October 2023 article can be found below.
Terry Miller, Administrative Director
Lesli Shuman, Assistant Director
Daniel Perna, James Daniel & Associates, LLC, Owner and President
ACTE, TECHNIQUES October 2023: https://www.acteonline.org/publications/techniques/techniques-archives/?rnd=1705255711