District plans out professional development opportunities amid remote learning

by Daniel McKay
Whitefish Pilot | May 20, 2020 1:00 AM

After its first year of professional learning communities, the Whitefish School District is looking to further expand its professional development opportunities for staff.

Ryder Delaloye, District Curriculum Director, presented on plans for professional development for the 2020-2021 school year during the May 12 board meeting, held virtually.

The professional development plan is laid out to align with the district’s strategic plan, adopted last year, by adhering to its three priorities — helping each student improve academically each year, using data to drive improvement, and ensuring the schools are safe, inclusive and welcoming.

For the first priority, Delaloye said he’s hoping to see further development of the teachers’ professional learning communities, which began to meet during early release Wednesdays at the start of the current school year to help align curriculum between teachers and grade levels.

Delaloye said next year will see a furthering of the learning communities process, aimed at establishing a guaranteed and viable curriculum for the district, and so far he’s heard good feedback from teachers about the program.

“Each building will identify the resources and supports they need to continue this process, but I want to highlight the fact that we made a significant investment as a district by having our early release on Wednesdays to carve out and create a substantial amount of time on a weekly basis for collaboration,” Delaloye said. “What we will work towards next year is establishing a framework of [learning communities] so that teachers can begin collecting data, analyzing that data, making instructional decisions, and having an iterative process through the use of common formative assessments.”

Likewise, all new teachers will participate in a half-year, virtual instruction coaching focused on either mastery-based progressions or student-centered assessment and feedback.

The district will also build on its Multi-Tiered Systems of Support program, and educational consultant Bella Bikowsky will conduct on audit of the program aimed and finding new ways to improve.

Remote trainings will also likely be a bigger part of professional development moving forward as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

The new “normal” of remote learning will likely affect what kinds of remote training happens for staff and administrators, Delaloye said, and that will be an ongoing process as the COVID-19 situation plays out into the fall.

“Good professional development is one that carries on and allows for us to iterate and to reflect and to make improvement, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do as we continue with remote learning,” Delaloye said.

Lisa Bloom, second grade teacher, said she’d like to see how remote learning can align with the strategic plan goals.

“Teachers are really going to need some more professional development before school even starts,” Bloom said. “We talked earlier about consistency, and I think the more professional development that we can do with remote learning and tying that into those three priorities, the better we’re all going to look as a school district.”

In aligning with the district’s priority for data-driven improvement, Delaloye said an assessment committee is expected to be created in the fall to identify the most effective and useful evidence-based measures for identifying student growth. Teachers will then be trained on implementing these measurement tools in spring 2021.

Teachers will also participate in training to implement a new math curriculum, which is expected to be approved in June.

As part of building the schools’ environment, the district will continue training staff and new teachers in the school specific social and emotional learning curriculum, including Getting Along Together at Muldown Elementary, Second Step at the middle school and Base Camp at the high school. Another active shooter training will be provided in January 2021 for new staff, as well as a half-day refresher course for middle school staff.

Teams at each school will also continue to explore restorative practices training.

Delaloye said social and emotional tools, as well as restorative practices for teachers, are paramount during the current situation.

“I think this is such an important area of focus for our school district in terms of building those common languages and tools for self regulation, for resiliency, for a growth mindset — all of those pieces we know are critical to the wellbeing, especially as we recover from the trauma that has been this string,” he said.

During the meeting, Superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt stressed the flexibility of the strategic plan, which she says can change to fit the district’s needs.

“Like with the rest of our strategic plan, our professional development planning is a living document and it changes and evolves with us throughout the course of the year,” she said.