Overview of Professional Development

Professional development in the Amherst Regional Public Schools is anon-going, continuous process that supports the learning of all staffmembers who work with students. The goal of professional development inthe school system is to improve teaching and learning in order toincrease achievement for every student.

Professional development in our school system is grounded in twobeliefs: first, that teachers hold significant experience and expertisein their practice; and, second, that everyone is a learner. In orderto make good on our promise to children, professional development in ourschool system supports deliberate and structured opportunities forstaff to share what they know in order to be learners together in theirpractice.

All professional development in our school system aligns with andsupports the goals in the District Improvement Plan, School ImprovementPlans, individual teachers’ Professional Growth Plans, and, as we lookahead to September 2012 implementation, the new MA ESE EducatorEvaluation system. In addition, professional learning throughout theschool system derives from the ARPS Theory of Action: “If allteachers engage in an ongoing cycle of disciplined collaboration,focused on the examination and continuous improvement of studentlearning and instructional practice, engagement and achievement willincrease for all students,” and includes learning together about, in, and from our practice.

Embedded Professional Development

Job-embedded professional development in our schools, therefore,supports teams of teachers to work in professional learning community.These collaborative teacher teams unite in their commitment to improvingteacher practice and student learning by creating shared norms andvalues, and by making their practice public to one another. Members ofteacher collaborative teams develop a laser-like focus on studentlearning: they learn from looking together at student work, teacherwork, and student performance data; they acquire and engage in the habitof reflective discourse; and, they are mutually accountable to eachothers’ success. This accountability reminds us of our responsibilityto every child we serve.

Most significantly, teacher collaboration teams engage in on-going,continuous cycles of inquiry whereby teams engage in dialogue around aquestion or problem of practice, and seek and analyze evidence from thisissue. From their collaborative exploration, team members then committo making a change (or adjustments) in their practice, collectingevidence of the resulting impact on student learning, and bringing thisevidence back to the group in order to determine how the change impactedand improved student learning. Other questions and areas forexploration emerge, and the cycle begins anew.

In addition to teacher collaboration teams, embedded professionaldevelopment includes literacy and mathematics coaches in elementaryschools that support teaching and learning; district-wide grade-levelteams focused on developing collective understanding of the new MACurriculum Frameworks and standards; targeted professional developmentsessions and workshops at the building level facilitated by coaches,principals, and teachers; and inquiry groups, focused on such issues asco-teaching, time on learning, and RTI and PBIS. Finally, the schoolsystem supports teacher participation in critical friends groups, inorder to build capacity for collaborative practice and facilitativeleadership in our schools. 

Professional Development in System-Wide Content/Curriculum

The school district is committed to supporting the content knowledgeof all classroom teachers, special educators, ESL teachers,interventionists, and paraprofessionals, and to providing professionaldevelopment for system-wide curriculum initiatives. To that end, thedistrict may, from time to time, contract with outside vendors tosupport the implementation of curriculum or programs in the contentareas. Whenever feasible, this strand of professional development willbe delivered during the school day, with release time and substitutecoverage provided for teachers, even as the district holds maximizingtime in the classroom for teachers and students as paramount to successfor all. In addition, our commitment to providing on-going, continuoussupport for teachers compels us to provide regularly-scheduledopportunities for small-group, job-alike learning throughout the year. 

Participation in External Workshops

From time to time, it may be necessary for the district to provideprofessional staff with specific skills, knowledge, or support forinitiatives that would otherwise be unavailable to staff from within ourschool system. In these rare occasions, the school system will seekfunding sources to support tuition or registration fees, and, towhatever extent possible, reimbursement for travel (the process isoutlined in subsequent documents).

Professional Development for School Leaders

Consistent with the school system’s value that everyone is a learner,the District Instructional Leadership Team (DILT), consisting of theSuperintendent, Principals, Assistant Principals, and Directors, meetstwice monthly (four hours total). Through their collaborative work inDILT meetings, school leaders develop a shared understanding offundamental instructional practices and student learning by examiningteaching, and studying texts, data, and student work together. DILTmembers model professional learning community through their engagementin cycles of inquiry around instructional practice. Additionally, schoolleaders bring issues from their own leadership practice to the tablefor review and feedback. Supported by the UMASS School of Education,DILT members engage in Instructional Rounds together. Together, they arebuilding leadership capacity throughout the school system to supportteacher collaboration teams focused on teaching and learning.