Getting More Out of PD

Three benefits of incorporating data and technology in professional learning. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Kenneth Wilson

CREDIT eSchool SolutionsAs Director of Staff Development and Teacher Evaluation, I am charged with planning and implementing strategic professional learning programs for Dorchester School District Two in Summerville, South Carolina. I believe the key to successful professional development (PD) management is to value staff relationships and feedback as well as master logistics and planning by embracing technology and insightful data.

We’ve learned that the more data is collected, the more you can get out of your PD management technology.

There are many things to take into account regarding effective professional learning and PD management. Below are three ways that data and technology have improved our PD management and planning processes, and ultimately allowed us to create stronger, more effective professional learning opportunities for our staff.

1. Actionable Insight into PD Offerings

It’s important to collect feedback and learn from data on current PD offerings in order to continuously improve PD available to your teachers. With data, we can answer insightful questions like which PD sessions had the most attendees, how our educators prefer PD to be delivered, or how they feel about past PD they’ve completed. We have found that sending surveys around various topics has been incredibly insightful.

Every year we send out a Staff Development Needs survey using Google Docs or Survey Monkey to learn things like: the most ideal time of year for PD; the most important topics or concepts; how teachers would like to see PD delivered, whether face-to-face, online or in small groups. This survey data offers insight into our staff’s PD needs and preferences so we can plan our offerings accordingly.

Another valuable survey we use is an Exit survey. Upon completion of a session, each attendee may be required to take the survey, asking questions like: did you take what you learned in the PD session and implement it in your classroom; was the instructor well prepared for the workshop; were the materials for the workshop appropriate; were the concepts presented relevant to your job; did you benefit from attending this session; would you recommend this training to others. This survey data is stored in our PD tracking software, Electronic Registrar Online (re-engineered as Thrive™), which allows us to easily export and analyze the data collected.

From this data, we can see at a high level whether teachers perceive value in these professional learning opportunities, whether they are helping to improve their practice, and how they can be improved in the future.

2. Better PD Planning 

Another major benefit of incorporating data and technology in professional learning is that it helps us plan more effectively for future PD offerings. We can take the holistic data that I mentioned earlier and apply it to our PD programs. For example, in one Exit survey we found that a majority of teachers found the session extremely valuable and were implementing what they learned in their classrooms. However, they wished that this course were offered earlier so that they could implement the new techniques sooner in the school year. As a result, this coming year we will hold the session in October rather than January.

We also analyze the registration data to see which topics and sessions we should plan to continue, increase, or possibly retire. If there’s a long wait-list for a particular session, we will try to plan for a similar topic so that everyone who is interested will have the chance to complete that course. Likewise, if we see an overwhelmingly positive response from an Exit survey for a particular course, we will take that feedback and plan to provide courses on similar topics. By taking a closer look at the data collected, we can gain insight into the time of year and mode of professional learning that our staff prefers. From the Staff Developmental Needs survey, we can see if most people prefer to attend PD over the summer versus the spring, for example. We can also learn whether teachers favor on-demand online or face-to-face courses and plan to increase the preferred method of offerings the following year. This information helps paint a better picture of the level of interest in current professional development programs so that we can improve them in the future.

Data and technology make it easier to manage the logistics of PD planning. Our staff can register for any PD course through our PD management system, which gives us an up-to-date view of the number of registrants. This helps us plan for logistics like lunch, travel, and ensuring that space is set up accordingly. Furthermore, the PD session presenter can log in and see the number of registrants at any time, which helps in planning more effectively for the presentation. For example, if only 10 teachers sign up, the presenter may want to have a small round table discussion. If 100 teachers sign up, the presenter will probably want to leave questions till the end or pre-emptively assign registrants to small groups for a short discussion period.

3. Easier Compliance Tracking 

Finally, utilizing data and technology has drastically improved compliance management processes in Dorchester. With ERO, we can log in and quickly see whether or not a teacher has completed his or her PD requirements. If we want to know how many people have been trained this year, we can see that in a matter of minutes.

Additionally, the system is used to monitor educator licensure renewal. It allows us to know whether the educator has earned the 120 points required for renewal and provides the certification data entry person with the necessary documentation from which to enter renewal points on the State Department System. My team can log in and go to a teacher’s profile and see a list of every PD course they have completed. They can quickly see if the teacher has the number of technology course hours required and any special certification like our Jason Foundation suicide training, which is required for secondary educators’ certification renewal. With automated PD tracking, our compliance processes have become much more efficient because the system collects the necessary information, leaving only verification of the data to review.

We’ve learned that the more data is collected, the more you can get out of your PD management technology. Since data collection can be automated through the PD management system, it’s fairly simple to gather the important information and data points you need to draw actionable insights in order to improve your PD planning and the overall quality of professional learning.

Kenneth Wilson, Ph.D., is the Director of Staff Development and Teacher Evaluation at Dorchester County School District Two in Summerville, South Carolina. As a former educator, principal and director of high schools and career technology, he is dedicated to improving the learning experiences of educators and students of all socio-economic backgrounds. Write to: kwilson@dorchester2.k12.sc.us.

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