As spelled out by the new regulations, educators are required to obtain initial approval and final endorsement of their professional development plans from their supervisor. It is the educator's responsibility to ensure that her proposed professional development activities meet all state requirements for recertification. Approval of the plan means that 80% of the proposed PDPs in the plan are consistent with the educational needs of the district and/or school and that the plan is designed to improve student learning.
Direct supervisors (or their designees) are required to review and approve individual professional development plans. This means that the principal will have the authority to approve the plans of teachers and other educators who report to the principal. A principal may delegate this role to a department head. The superintendent will approve a principal's plan, and the chairperson of the school committee will approve a superintendent's plan. Educators may seek peer review prior to supervisor approval.
The process for approving individual professional development plans should be fluid enough to allow educators to develop plans individually and collaboratively, receive initial feedback from supervisors, modify their plan (in mutually agreed upon ways), and submit their plan for formal approval. Individual Professional Development Plans are intended to represent a 5-year recertification cycle. Educators need the flexibility to add relevant professional development opportunities as they arise. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education requires educators to develop individual professional development plans that meet the minimum number of PDPs required for recertification prior to initial approval. However, The PDPs to be earned in the later years of the plan may be identified in a more general manner. Educators may be asked by their supervisor to provide justification of the relevance of the proposed activities.
When discussing a plan with an educator, or when reviewing the plan for approval, supervisors may consider asking the following questions. These may assist the supervisor in determining whether or not an Individual Professional Development Plan is aligned with school and district goals and designed to improve student learning.
Is the plan consistent with the subjects or topics included in the school and/or district plan?
For example, a district may, based on student MCAS scores, identify improving student literacy as one of its areas of need. The district goal may read: "All educators will improve their literacy instruction by increasing their knowledge of the mechanics of reading, expanding their repertoire of strategies for teaching literacy, and including literacy in every lesson in every subject."
Educators may review this goal, and could include the following as individual professional development activities: "Year One: I will attend workshop on the literacy model for our district. I will present what I've learned at a faculty meeting."
"I will supplement this with a summer Wilson training and all follow up days, and incorporate the Wilson method into all lessons. My documentation in support of this will include: my certificate of completion, and papers written or curricula developed, and a sampling of lessons that incorporate this instructional strategy."
These activities clearly build on the District goal of improving literacy instruction and can be clearly observed in the classroom.
Another example might relate to technology. Based on student performance on the Science & Technology portions of the MCAS, a district might decide integrating technology is an area of need. A district goal might be: "All teachers will become proficient in the use of hardware and software used by the district. All teachers will integrate technology into lessons and activities in at least one academic area."
An individual plan could build on this by including the following as proposed professional development activities. "I will participate in after-school workshops on computer literacy. I will develop proficiency with Microsoft Office, including Microsoft Excel. I will use Excel to maintain accurate student records. I will develop lessons and assignments that require student use of word processing programs."
Do the proposed activities address areas of need in terms of student learning?
Above all else, individuals and their supervisors must consider student learning needs. Standardized tests, such as MCAS, provide one measure of student learning. Other assessments will also provide valuable information on student strengths and weaknesses.
When approving an individual professional development plan, supervisors should consider whether a teacher has aligned her goals and activities to school goals for student learning. For instance, if an elementary school has identified student performance in math as its primary focus, a teacher's proposed activities should include those that will improve both her content knowledge in math as well as her math pedagogy.
Can a clear link be established between proposed activities and student learning?
Student learning is the most important consideration in developing individual, school, and district goals for professional development. Teachers can establish this link by reviewing student performance on assessments administered by the teacher, and on student performance on MCAS and other standardized tests. An experienced teacher can review student achievement on each unit's assessments and identify patterns of strength and weakness in student performance. This can inform the professional development activities in that individual's plan.
For instance, while preparing her plan, a teacher might examine student scores on a series of assessments in physics. If students have performed poorly on assessments relating to magnets, that individual may decide to enroll in a workshop or course that will improve both her content knowledge of magnets and her instructional strategies. Alternately, the same teacher might observe that, through classroom labs, homework assignments, and teacher administered tests, all of her students demonstrated mastery of the concepts relating to quantum mechanics. One of her professional development activities might be to teach a refresher course in that subject to her physics colleagues. Or, she might develop a study guide that can be shared with colleagues teaching the same concept.
All of these activities relate directly to student learning as measured by classroom assessments. A supervisor should look for such a link when approving professional development plans.
Will the plan improve student learning at the grade level and subject area of the educator's primary teaching assignment?
There are many ways for educators to earn improve student learning. For instance, educators can lead Case Study Seminars or develop and run district mentor training. These activities improve the quality of teaching, which common sense and a variety of studies suggest will result in higher student achievement.
In addition, teachers should be sure to include some activities that specifically address the learning needs of the students in their own grade level and subject. Different courses and groups of students will have discrete needs and teachers should accommodate these needs into their Individual Professional Development Plans.
Has the educator identified professional development goals prior to identifying proposed activities?
Goals are not a required part of an Individual Professional Development Plan; they may, however, help the educator identify their individual professional development needs and create a coherent plan of related activities. A supervisor may encourage the individual to create goals based on evaluations of her strengths and weaknesses, collaborations and career advancement plans, the special needs of specific classes of students and subjects being taught, and her own professional judgement.
For instance, an individual might review her evaluations, student performance on assessments, and feedback from colleagues and parents and identify specific professional development goals.
Has the individual considered his own professional development needs within the context of t the school and district goals?
When approving professional development plans, supervisors should consider whether the individual's goals are aligned with the school and district goals and whether they are designed to enhance the ability of the educator to improve student learning. Supervisors may ask for clarification on how an individual's personal professional development goals will link to school and district goals.
For instance, a teacher may wish, as part of personal professional development goals, to learn more about differentiated instruction. Understanding how to tailor instruction to all students within her classroom will help her to deliver effective instruction. Even if the school or district does not have a goal specifically relating to differentiated instruction, this goal could align with general school and district goals that address improve student learning.
Another example might be that the algebra teacher is interested in professional development in writing skills. A goal might read: "Year One: I will enroll in Creative Writing 101 through the continuing education unit of the local college. I will increase my writing skills, with special attention paid to the rules of syntax and grammar. I will incorporate this into lessons by requiring students to keep an Algebra Journal that explains, in correct English, the concepts of each lesson. I will document this through my own writing assignments from class and through samples of student work."
Through her justification and documentation of her activities, it is clear that this individual plans to incorporate the new knowledge into her lessons. This demonstrates that this goal aligns to a school and/or district goal focused on increasing student proficiency in English/Language Arts. This plan would also include goals directly related to the individual's specific content needs.
It is important to note that educators are responsible for ensuring that their individual plan meets the state's recertification requirements for content. It is not the supervisor's responsibility to ensure that Individual Professional Development Plans include enough PDPs in content to satisfy the state requirements. In the review process, it would be helpful for supervisors to be familiar with state requirements in order to assist individuals with their planning.
Is there flexibility within the plan to accommodate modifications over time?
Over the course of a licensure renewal period, schools and districts may refine their professional development goals, based on improvements in student achievement. Or, an individual's teaching assignment may change to a different subject or grade, which would alter some of the individual's goals.
Because individuals are required to revisit their plans every two years with a supervisor, individual plans should be developed in such a way as to build in flexibility.
For instance, an individual might clearly specify concrete, measurable goals for the first two years, and might include less specific goals for the next three. An individual whose school and district goals stress improving student achievement in History and Social Science might center her goals around increasing her own content knowledge in History and Social Science and set the following goals for Year One:
"Year One: I will enroll in a summer content institute on United States history from 1776 through World War I. As the major project for this course, I will partner with the teachers on my grade level to develop an interdisciplinary yearlong unit on immigration that is aligned to the Curriculum Frameworks and our district's curriculum. Together, we will organize a symposium at which students will present their research findings (tentatively scheduled on the school calendar for early Spring). I will document this work with my curriculum, and major assignments for the course, and a sampling of student research."
Year One activities are thus very specific; the school and other professional development providers may have already established a professional development calendar. Year Two activities may be broader and less specific. For instance:
"Year Two: I will participate in the scheduled district writing seminar to continue to improve my writing skills. As a result of this I will publish an article in an education journal. I will organize a seminar series for parents that builds on the same subject students will be studying. I will document this work through the article, through the plans for the seminars, and through letters and written feedback from seminar participants."
After Year Two, the individual will meet with her supervisor to modify (if necessary) the activities within the next two years of the plan. The goals for Years Three through Five might resemble the following.
"Year Three: I will enroll in another summer content institute, ideally on either World History or United States' history from 1939-the present. I will enroll in a course on differentiated instruction, through either a professional association or through a local institution of higher education. I will document this work through major projects completed for each course.
Year Four: I will develop lessons that support special needs students in my classroom. Documentation will include student work and progress toward IEP goals. I will attend a summer workshop on gifted and talented students.
Year Five: I will develop a curriculum unit with the teachers on my grade level that accommodates gifted and talented students in my classroom. Documentation will include lessons from the unit, and samplings of student work."
Will the proposed activities add to the educator's repertoire of skills and content knowledge?
In their daily work, educators must draw on a wide range of skills and content knowledge. For teachers, this might mean including several different instructional strategies and forms of assessments that accommodate the many types of learners in their classrooms (including students with Individual Educational Plans, as well as gifted and talented students). For administrators, this might mean observing teachers and offering feedback, as well as working with students. Individual Professional Development Plans should help educators increase the breadth and depth of their repertoire of skills required by their positions.
Is the educator planning to participate in a range of meaningful and professionally relevant professional development during the recertification cycle?
Recertification offers educators a chance to be lifelong learners. While the proposed activities should include a variety of different and meaningful activities, the activities should be relevant to their profession. For instance, a series of courses on ancient Chinese history may be interesting to the English/Language Arts teacher, but without a clear link to the subject and grade level being taught, may not be professionally relevant and should not be the entire focus of that individual's plan.
Individuals may be asked to justify the relevance of the proposed activities, and may be asked to identify how the proposed activities will enhance their skills and abilities.
Do the proposed activities address the Professional Standards for Teachers?
Every teacher in Massachusetts must be able to demonstrate the Professional Standards for Teachers; those standards comprise the state's pedagogical requirements. Supervisors should be familiar with these standards and should consider whether the proposed activities will help teachers address the five categories within which all of the standards fall: Plans Curriculum and Instruction; Delivers Effective Instruction; Manages Classroom Climate and Operation; Promotes Equity; and Meets Professional Responsibilities.
In the documentation of the professional development activities, and in the biannual review, teachers should demonstrate each of the standards.