RI Statewide Professional Development I-Plans
In a Rhode Island high school, an English teacher and a Physical Education teacher decide to contribute to a school debate on a new form of block scheduling by organizing a year-long study group to research its effectiveness in other schools. In a Rhode Island middle school, a math teacher who suspects that differentiated instruction might allow her to reach more of her students attends courses and workshops on this approach and gradually incorporates it into her teaching. In a Rhode Island elementary school, a second grade teacher is concerned that a state School Accountability for Learning and Teaching report has identified the need for improved reading instruction at her school. She trains with a reading specialist to implement the 4-Block reading model in her class, co-writes a teacher resource manual on the strategies she has tested for improving early literacy, and leads workshops around the state on what she has learned. In the busy lives of educators, following through on projects like the ones described above is often difficult. Other, more pressing concerns -- grading a pile of papers or planning for tomorrow's class -- usually take precedence. In the state of Rhode Island, however, a new approach to re-certification is providing more and more educators with the motivation and the time to engage in the long-term, job-embedded professional development activities that meet their schools' and students' needs as well as their own professional goals.
For years, professional development for most Rhode Island teachers and administrators meant either one-shot workshops led by outside experts or expensive graduate courses that sometimes had little relevance to their specific professional needs. Educators received no credit or validation for the school-based professional development so essential to improving teaching and learning for their students. In 1999, however, the Rhode Island Department of Education introduced a new approach to re-certification that is revolutionizing the way educators improve their practice: the I-Plan. Designed by a team of Rhode Island teachers, administrators, union leaders, university education professors, and Department of Education personnel, the I-Plan program, now in a pilot phase, allows educators to direct their own professional development, identifying specific goals for growth and meeting them through an ongoing process that includes a wide variety of activities.
Under the I-Plan model, educators seeking to renew their certificates first examine their aspirations, their students' learning, their school's or district's improvement plan, and professional teaching or leadership standards -- including the Rhode Island Beginning Teachers Standards (BTS), the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC), and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) -- to identify two to four goals for their own professional development. They then select a series of activities to help them meet these goals. Professional development activities approved by the I-Plan program include not only the traditional fare of graduate coursework and workshops, but also curriculum development; participation in ongoing education-related groups, such as school improvement teams; applied studies with colleagues, including action research and mentoring; publications and conference presentations; and individual learning activities, such as educational travel or externships with content area specialists.
The wide variety of professional development options available through the I-Plan has been a boon to teachers involved in the pilot program. Anna Ledoux, a science teacher at Chariho Middle School in southwestern Rhode Island, was tired of taking courses for re-certification; they took up valuable time and money, and most of them "really did not apply to what I did in the classroom." When she learned that the I-Plan program would allow her goals to drive her professional development choices, she was eager to participate. After three years in the program, she is delighted with its flexibility and has taken full advantage of the range of activities it allows. Her schedule now includes work on her school's Improvement Team and Professional Development Committee, mentoring of new teachers, supervision of student teachers, and participation in workshops on standards and classes on technology. Remarkably, however, Ledoux no longer regards professional development as a drain on her resources. "I actually have more time to be involved with my students, in my school, and in activities that are related to what I do in the classroom because I not only receive credit for these activities, but I also receive validation for their importance."
Before submitting an I-Plan, educators are guided through an intensive self-study process that helps them to identify appropriate goals and develop their long-term plans for professional development activities accordingly. I-Plan Fellows and coaches conduct information sessions and workshops on the program at schools or regional sites and provide face-to-face feedback for educators constructing their plans. The Fellows also facilitate workshops on newer forms of job-embedded professional development such as collegial study groups, mentoring, cognitive coaching, and action research to help educators envision alternative ways of meeting their professional development goals. After receiving their initial coaching, educators submit completed I-Plans to a three-member team of peers who serve on a review panel. Panelists reviewing a particular plan are chosen for their relevant experience; thus, elementary school teachers from urban areas review other urban elementary school teachers' plans, and administrators from rural high schools review other rural high school administrators' plans. Using a rubric created by the I-Plan design team, these panel members either approve the plan or return it to the educator for modifications.
Just as I-Plans are designed to promote ongoing professional development, the I-Plan review process is designed to promote ongoing support. Although each I-Plan spans a three to five year renewal period, the review panel remains involved throughout the entire period. I-Plan participants must submit annual portfolios to the panel with evidence of their progress. A culminating portfolio of reflections and artifacts must also be submitted at the end of the renewal cycle; it is evaluated by the review panel to help determine how well each professional development goal was met -- and what the overall impact was on teaching and learning.
In addition to the challenge of supporting ongoing, job-embedded professional development, the I-Plan Fellows, former teachers Lucille Andolfo and Karen Lepore, have had to face the task of making their program sustainable throughout Rhode Island. It was not easy to design a unique system for re-certification that is capable of growing quickly and maintaining its high quality throughout the state, but the key to the process, according to Andolfo, was "much developmental work during the pilot and many revisions based on continuous 360 degree feedback." For example, in the first year of the pilot, the I-Plan consisted of an 11-page proposal, with multiple pages of sometimes redundant writing. After hearing from I-Plan participants and other stakeholders, including union leaders, who voiced concern about the form of the plan, Andolfo and Lepore streamlined it, simplifying the paperwork of I-Plan participants and reviewers while maintaining the core elements of the program. By soliciting the wisdom of educators trying out the I-Plan and making adjustments as necessary, the I-Plan Fellows have sought to create a program that learns from its mistakes and grows better as it grows bigger.
As the coordinators move toward their goal of statewide I-Plan implementation, they are laying the groundwork for a self-sustaining program. Not only are they soliciting and using the feedback of new I-Planners, but they are also training these educators to take on leadership roles in the program. From the beginnings of the pilot phase in 1999, educators who create successful I-Plans have been recruited to serve as review panelists, I-Plan coaches, or district point people -- local liaisons with the I-Plan coordinators -- providing a foundation of high-quality support and sustainability for the program. In addition to this growing network of personal support for I-Planners, the I-Plan coordinators are developing a "tool kit" of documents and a series of training modules to help make I-Planning accessible and helpful for every Rhode Island educator.
Another source of support for the I-Plan program is its series of partnerships with other key educational programs and organizations in Rhode Island. These partnerships were slow to materialize, but they bring the promise of greater staying power for the program. Some districts are integrating the I-Plan into the structure of their mentoring programs. Local union affiliates of both the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) are espousing the I-Plan program and incorporating contract language around this model of professional development. Some districts are moving to parallel evaluation systems so that an educator's I-Plan can serve as part of the professional development plan for evaluation. Teacher training institutions including Rhode Island College, Roger Williams University, and the University of Rhode Island are beginning to incorporate the I-Plan into their curriculum. Even educators in private schools are showing interest in the I-Plan model, as some Rhode Island private schools require that their faculty be state certified.
I-Plan supporters hope that the program will soon expand beyond its pilot phase and the state Board of Regents will adopt it as the re-certification policy for all Rhode Island educators. If all goes as planned, the sometimes irrelevant coursework and one-shot workshops of the past will be replaced throughout the state by carefully chosen, job-embedded activities that help educators to grow and in turn help students to learn.