This time of year, you’re probably on the hunt for back-to-school professional development institutes to attend over the summer. This is a critical time for your leaders and educators to learn how to promote student recovery from COVID-related learning loss and a whole school approach to equity and excellence. We’ve compiled a list of three high priority professional development topics for school leaders before the 2021- 2022 school year:
1. Formative Assessments and Data-Driven Decision Making
You probably won’t be surprised to learn most students have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Factors like school closures last spring, a lapse in many students’ support services, and communities’ general lack of preparedness for extended periods of remote learning have caused widespread learning loss among students.
In fact, McKinsey & Company reports that on average, students are “likely to lose five to nine months of learning by the end of this school year.”
But not all students have experienced equal setbacks. For example:
- Students of color have been disproportionately impacted in their learning. McKinsey & Company estimates that “[s]tudents of color could be six to 12 months behind, compared with four to eight months for white students.”
- Students with IEPs and special needs are likely to experience more learning loss and skill regression than the average student, especially if they have not received consistent, supportive services since before the pandemic.
- Some students may actually show learning gains during the pandemic if they had access to private tutors, enriching learning pods, and other individualized supports.
EdWeek explains that one of the most important professional development topics leading into the 2021-2022 school year is pre-assessments; schools must use pre-assessments at the beginning of the school year to find each student’s knowledge and skill levels following the pandemic. And the data collection can’t stop there: School leaders must learn how to use pre-assessments, formative assessments, and other data throughout the school year to create responsive school systems that support every student’s unique learning needs.
Next, school leaders must support teachers by collecting, interpreting, and making decisions based on student data. The Learning Policy Institute reports that “while teachers often have access to assessment data, they are poorly supported in understanding how to interpret that information and take next steps in response.”
Principals and district leaders must provide professional development to help teachers learn:
- When to use pre-assessments and formative assessments
- How to develop formative assessments that provide useful insights about students’ content mastery and learning gaps
- How to provide timely, actionable feedback following formative assessments to help students improve or accelerate
- How to use assessment results to inform upcoming lesson plans and differentiate instruction
- How to provide supports for students who are falling behind, and enriching activities for high-performing students
2. Learning Acceleration and “Just-in-Time” Supports
School leaders and teachers are justifiably concerned about the seemingly daunting task of helping students recover from COVID-related learning loss. As we approach the 2021-2022 school year, your team may be tempted to simply re-teach or offer remediation for all the content students missed during school closures.
However, research suggests that remedial instruction can actually cause students to fall further behind. Students understand that standards have been lowered for them, and they rise only to the expectations educators set for them. Some students become so discouraged that they want to give up on learning altogether.
Instead of using a remediation strategy, the Learning Policy Institute recommends that school leaders:
- Accelerate learning — Provide professional development for teachers to learn how to teach the appropriate grade-level curriculum, while providing “just-in-time” supports to address students’ specific knowledge and skills gaps.
- Incorporate wraparound supports — Some students will need more supports than their teacher is able to provide. School leaders should partner with community organizations and government services to provide vital wraparound supports, including mental wellness resources, nutrition support, and devices that allow students to access learning materials at home.
- Curriculum-aligned expanded learning opportunities — Many students will need expanded learning opportunities outside of the traditional school day to recover from COVID-related learning loss. School leaders should arrange opportunities for students to continue learning before or after school and during school breaks with programs that align with the curriculum. Leaders must also address barriers for students who may struggle to take advantage of these expanded learning opportunities. For example, students with transportation issues may need the option of taking a later school bus ride home following after-school activities.
3. Ongoing, Job-Embedded Professional Development
Summer conferences and professional development institutes offer invaluable experiences to educators. You have the opportunity to collaborate with other school leaders, learn from their experiences, and appreciate outside perspectives.
Unfortunately, a one-time institute does not provide enough support to help you implement sustainable changes at your school or district, regardless of the professional development topic in question. Education research shows that school leaders and teachers need ongoing, job-embedded professional development to recognize significant school improvement.
“In many districts, professional learning to support formative assessment practices is limited or missing altogether; is provided primarily by assessment instrument developers and tied to the instruments themselves; or is something teachers have to pay for out of pocket. Given the centrality of formative assessment processes in learning…it is essential that states and districts allocate funding and dedicated, sustained time for collaborative teacher learning. This is particularly effective when connected directly to teachers’ practice…”
As a school leader, you can provide job-embedded professional development throughout the 2021- 2022 school year by:
- Setting aside regular time for teachers to engage in collaborative professional development, such as through Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)
- Providing one-on-one instructional coaching so teachers can receive immediate, individualized feedback to improve their practice
- Implementing instructional rounds to engage networks of teachers in classroom observations and professional learning
Expert Support for School Leaders and Professional Development
You may feel overwhelmed when you think about the dozens of areas you know your school or district needs improvement in the upcoming school year. This pandemic has opened our eyes to countless opportunities to provide better-individualized support for all students.
Our career educators at the Center for Student Achievement Solutions would love to help you make sense of the changes that your school or district needs. We work with principals, district leaders, and state Departments of Education to:
- Assess your strengths and areas of opportunity
- Set priorities for your educators’ professional development and school strategies
- Develop a targeted professional development strategy based on your most pressing needs
- Maintain sustainable professional learning that produces measurable results for students and teachers