Edmonds School District
In the years from 1990 to 2000, the Edmonds School District in Lynnwood, Washington, has become a strong and focused school district with increasing student results. The Joint Professional Development Committee formed in association with the Edmonds Education Association served as the catalyst for the reform in professional development. The committee identified principles for professional development, surveyed staff regarding their needs, and created teacher performance standards in the core content areas. Starting in the year 2000 the Joint Professional Development Committee and the Professional Excellence Committee will begin setting standards for all certified employees and aligning selection, evaluation, and compensation with the standards. These two groups annually evaluate the effectiveness of staff development by examining student achievement data and program participant responses.
There are three keys to success in Edmonds. The first is the building of a culture of collaboration and participation. The second is the development of teachers as instructional leaders who design and provide professional development. The last is the use of data to inform decisions.
Overcoming the longest teacher strike in history just ten years ago (in 1990), this district of almost 22,000 students in Washington state made progress toward the first key to success by building trust and capacity, taking time to learn to work together, and establishing a highly decentralized culture. "Trust building with the association is absolutely requisite for doing this. There is no shortcut. This is deep work. You have to have the relationship in place," says Sally Harrison, Director of Standards, Assessment, and Instructional Delivery.
The district's staff development program evolved from a National Science Foundation grant that helped the district create school-based math teams with teacher leaders: the second key to success. These teachers expanded their knowledge and practice in mathematics, and shared their learning with their fellow staff members. Through this model of teacher-led professional development, the district created a similar model in literacy and science. Success with this model promoted the district to replicate teacher-led professional development in other content areas.
In the application for the Model Professional Development Award, the district states, "The professional development model is one of collaboration in which teachers are in key leadership positions in development and provision of professional development. Teacher leaders and teacher teams provide training and support to their peers. The model affords teachers the opportunity to meet together to learn, discuss and share new ideas and classroom experiences that go well-beyond the typical, one-shot training workshops."
The district uses its six non-student days a year to provide professional development. Content of professional development comes from the curriculum framework. When there is curriculum writing that identifies what students should know and be able to do, there is a companion piece for teachers on what they should know and be able to do. This is tied to the evaluation system and creates the needs for professional development.
FOCUS, the annual summer institute taught largely by teachers, supports the district's move to become a performance-based, standards-based educational system. This four-day event includes training and professional dialogue in curriculum, instruction, and assessment. For the last eight summers, FOCUS has been a significant professional development process for promoting the districts goals. "It sets the stage. It's not just words but the action. It's building a picture together. When the teachers disperse, hopefully they carry the picture with them," says Harrison.
Other structures for professional development in Edmonds include action research (led by teams of teachers), intensive summer mathematics institutes, collaboration, and ongoing professional development opportunities. The district also supports six full-time and five part-time teachers on special assignment who develop curriculum and provide professional development.
The third key to success in Edmonds has been the use of student achievement data to identify the areas of focus. The district uses student data to develop school improvement plans and monitor progress. A team of central office staff including the superintendent visits each school to review performance data and the school's plan to improve student achievement. During these visits the team asks what is working and what gets in the way. These visits are constructive opportunities for the district staff to learn how they can best support and assist the schools in their improvement efforts. In addition, these visits initiate the problem solving process to help schools design and implement their improvement process.
Student performance in Edmonds has steadily increased over the last five years in reading, language, math, writing, and listening. Students participate in state and district assessments. The best evidence of the success of the professional development efforts in Edmonds has been the decrease in the achievement gap among groups of students. Schools with the largest percentage of students receiving free and reduced price lunch are achieving at or above the district average growth rate.
In Edmonds, professional development is teacher-directed. Teachers have an integral role in designing, delivering, and implementing professional development. Teachers have multiple opportunities for learning, applying what they learned, receiving feedback, and reflecting on their learning.