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Starting in the 2016-17 academic year, D.C. Public Schools teachers will receive weekly training in their subject areas as part of a new professional-development program called LEAP.
DCPS officials say the regular cycles—conducted in small teams across grade-levels and led by instructional coaches or other experts within the school system—will help teachers prepare for upcoming lessons, review best practices, and better align their instruction with Common Core standards. Although the training won’t count for IMPACT, DCPS’ system for evaluating instructors, principals will be able to observe their staff as a matter of providing feedback. The program is cost-neutral, and will typically occur during the school day.
“The first thing that’s different is what we’re focusing on within professional development,” Jason Kamras, DCPS’ Chief of Human Capital, says. “A lot of [professional-development] programs are pretty broad, focusing on general teaching practices like classroom management, asking higher-order questions. We’re shifting the focus from those types of things to, very specifically, the type of content you’re teaching.”
One example, according to Kamras, could be how instructors teach the addition of fractions with different denominators, with an eye toward the “key misconceptions” students tend to have. So success will look like teachers and pupils being able to perform algorithms as well as being able to tell stories and draw diagrams to show a “deep understanding” of what a particular problem is asking. As for the humanities, Kamras says digging into the “shades of difference” between words, for instance, rather than merely requiring students to recite synonyms could aid their reading comprehension—and aid teachers in honing various techniques.
“In essence what we are doing is creating an adult curriculum for teachers that is aligned to the student curriculum for kids,” Kamras explains. “Teaching the Common Core is tough; it asks new things of teachers that were never asked before. This our commitment to helping them improve practice [and] develop skills.”
LEAP leaders will walk teachers through strategies and upcoming “focus lessons,” which teachers will live-practice for as a component of the program. Instructors of different grades will participate together in 90-minute learning seminars based on subject (schools will have some flexibility in scheduling these sessions, and DCPS says they wouldn’t take place on nights or weekends). Teachers have already had a flavor of how the learning cycles will play out through DCPS’ Cornerstones initiative from this year, a spokesperson says.
But Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, said in a recent interview that some of her members are concerned about taking on leadership roles and having less time to focus on classroom activities, or—in the case of assistant principals—on disciplinary and community issues. Davis added that others are unclear on the full extent of new responsibilities involved with LEAP, despite an online seminar DCPS held on it earlier this year. Still, she says she likes the fact that subject-area teachers will collaborate.
“I’m getting calls and complaints from teachers who are being selected by school principals or DCPS saying ‘You will lead a program,’ and [the teachers] don’t want to,” she says. “And being asked to sign documents.”
Kamras notes that he’s seen “a lot of excitement” among teachers for LEAP, which came out of the work of a task force of instructors and leaders. He adds that DCPS will closely monitor the program’s effectiveness.
“My goal is that this is so exciting for our teachers that they don’t miss any of it,” Kamras says when asked about ensuring teacher attendance. “That teachers feel that this is an incredibly valuable use of their time; that they are developing relationships with colleagues; that they are getting work done for [the] next week.”
“That’s what we’re shooting for.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery