There weren’t enough options. Teachers couldn’t find a class that fit their needs. Programs were hard to fit into schedules. Those were some of the complaints with the Virginia Beach School District’s Professional Learning Program that Janene Gorham, director of Teacher Learning and Leadership for the Virginia Beach School District, said she fielded more than three years ago.
The school division decided then to revamp the program. At the Dec. 1 School Board meeting, Donald Robertson, chief strategy and innovation officer, and Mandalyn R. Swanson, a program evaluation strategist, presented the results of a three-year evaluation of the program and changes that have been made.
Swanson listed the three goals of the program: increase instructional capacity, support teachers as continuous and reflective learners, and provide diverse, differentiated learning opportunities.
The division evaluated those goals based on teacher participation, the evaluation of individual programs and an annual survey about the Professional Learning Program. About one out of every four teachers and half of the principals answered the annual survey, which concerned some School Board members, including Kimberly Melnyk and Chairman Dan Edwards.
School Board members Beverly Anderson and Carolyn Rye asked that the next surveys ask for the teacher’s experience to help better address teachers’ needs.
“From my own personal experience, what I found was that some of the offerings that were included, especially in the things that were mandatory, a lot of times for experienced teachers — they already knew how to do a lot of the stuff — it just has new names for it,” Anderson said. “Some of the younger teachers might need a different type of course compared to a more experienced teacher.”
About three-quarters of teachers who responded said they felt they had an adequate amount of time to complete the professional learning requirements. The window for the 2015-2016 school year began on June 20 and continues until April 30.
The revised program still requires teachers to complete a minimum of 22 points, or hours, per year. State law requires teachers to complete 180 hours over five years, so most teachers exceed the requirements. The current program is broken into these areas:
- Division Professional Requirements: Mandatory learning courses that fall into three categories: learning environments, balanced assessment and curriculum or program updates. Teachers usually gain 6-8 points here.
- Site-Based Professional Requirements: Mandatory courses that each principal thinks are necessary for teachers in their schools. Four points are usually given for the courses here.
- Learning-Strand Choice Activities: The widest range of options for teachers. This includes specific courses the division or other teachers in the division host on student learning, instructional planning, instructional delivery, learning environment and professionalism. It also includes non-mandatory division-sponsored activities, such as approved college courses, conferences and other sessions.
Teachers now can take some of the courses online. Gorham said her department encourages teachers to propose courses and to offer to teach any that they think their colleagues would enjoy and that would benefit them.