Further Insight

Insight Education Group leader Michael Moody discusses good professional development, Common Core, and the role of technology.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Michael Moddy CEO Insight Education GroupA thought leader in the field of districtwide instructional reform, Michael Moody is the founder and CEO of Insight Education Group, Inc. He works extensively with school district leaders on design and implementation of instructional initiatives. Previously, Michael was a classroom teacher in elementary and middle schools, an administrator and instructional coach. He’s implemented nationwide professional development programs, supported school and district leaders in various phases of key initiatives, and has served as Chief Academic Advisor to D.C. Public Schools. Co-author of Strategic Design for Student Achievement (Teachers College Press, 2009), Michael has created effective instructional programs emphasizing equal access to a quality education for every student. Here, Michael provides further insight into what constitutes good professional development, more about Common Core, the role of technology, thoughts on leadership, and the state of education today.

Victor: What does good PD actually look like?

Michael: Good PD is about engaging teachers in a process in which they bring their own skills and knowledge to the table as a starting point for learning.  It is practical and models strategies that teachers can use in their classrooms.  Good PD gives learners time to grapple with concepts and apply new learning to their own classrooms, schools, or districts.  Importantly, PD must find it’s way into the classroom, meeting teachers where they are.  This is most commonly referred to as job-embedded PD.  We know so much about how individuals (including teachers) learn.  Yet, we don’t often use this knowledge to build PD experiences that effectively grow teachers in their practice.  After all, we’re educators.  There is no reason that PD shouldn’t reflect everything we know about good teaching.

Victor: When people talk about ‘job-embedded’ PD, what does that actually mean?

Insight Eduation Group logoMichael: Job-embedded PD means many things to many people, which contributes to the challenge of creating effective models.  Job-embedded PD is really about supporting the growth of teachers or administrators in their schools and classrooms, where it matters most.  “Traditional” PD is generally out of the classroom (or outside of school) and thus relies on a teacher’s ability to implement new learning without support or feedback.  If we can bring that learning to a teacher’s classroom, and use the instructional process to provide feedback and make adjustments, a teacher’s practice is much more likely to grow and improve.  Additionally, there is a lot of value in having teachers implement new strategies in their classrooms, with their students.

Victor: How are districts using PD to plan for and implement the Common Core?

Michael: It appears to me that districts are taking a variety of approaches when it comes to implementing the Common Core.  In many cases, teachers are getting an overview of the new standards and the “instructional shifts” required by the standards.  However, given the significant changes in practice that are required by the Common Core, I think we’ll soon see how important a job-embedded approach really is.  Teachers need time to really “dig in” to the actual standards themselves, and have opportunities to plan lessons that reflect not only the new standards, but also the instructional strategies that will most effectively engage students.  Born and developed from this need is Insight’s online planning tool, myCore, a cloud-based platform that empowers teachers to meet the rigor of the Common Core when planning standards- aligned lessons.  Following the job-embedded PD model, myCore provides teachers with coaching support when and where they need it.  We are hearing a lot about text dependent questioning, perseverance, etc., but districts haven’t yet identified the best way to provide models of effective instruction with the Common Core.  myCore includes model units and lesson and a full year’s worth of units and lessons for K-6 teachers.  While the initial step into the Common Core is critical, it’s going to be important for districts to provide on-going, sustained PD relative to instruction.

Victor: What role does technology play in effective PD?

Michael: Technology is becoming a critical component of PD in school systems today.  Many districts across the country are exploring ways to use technology for PD purposes.  The most prevalent systems out there seem to focus on instructional strategies and often include the use of videos as a way to provide examples of practice.  I think we need to refine how we leverage technology, as I know there are even more effective ways to engage educators in the learning process.  At Insight, we are exploring various ways to use technology that are quite exciting.  For example, we’ve launched a project in which we’re utilizing cameras in the classroom to provide teachers feedback on their lesson remotely.  What it’s allowing us to do is leverage “content experts” to give teachers very actionable and explicit feedback.  We are now able to have a great chemistry teacher watch a lesson of another chemistry teacher anywhere in the country and provide feedback on the lesson, suggest strategies, highlight areas for growth, etc.  We’re taking this a step further and launching a platform that attaches comments directly to the video, so the practicing teacher can view comments from the observer while watching their own teaching.  This is only a small example of the power of technology and how I think it has the potential to really push teaching practice and transform how we think about PD.

Victor: How can you measure success when it comes to PD, and what can districts do to ensure that the PD sticks?

Michael: First and foremost, increases in the effectiveness of teacher practice should be used to measure success.  Given the focus on the implementation of new teacher evaluation systems across the country, we are starting to get data on specific elements of a teacher’s practice, including their effectiveness in raising student achievement.  In my opinion, districts should be leveraging the data gathered from the evaluation process to measure the success of their PD initiatives.  If teaching practice is not improving, particularly in the focus areas of a district, then the PD framework may not be effective.  Given the amount of time and money spent on developing and implementing PD in districts, it is becoming increasingly important that districts measure its success.  In our district engagements, we look at actual growth of teacher practice through multiple classroom observations that are part of the evaluation process.

Victor: How has PD evolved in light of national reforms, new technology, state requirements etc?

Michael: I’m not sure PD has evolved as much as it should given the landscape of recent national reform.  For example, we’re seeing districts implement entirely new instructional frameworks, evaluation systems and the Common Core, yet PD reflects a focus on more “traditional topics.”  Our experience partnering with several large districts has taught us that educators are hungry for PD and coaching that is directly aligned with expectations presented within instructional framework – this makes perfect sense.  We work hard to ensure this alignment exists and is emphasized when designing and implementing frameworks with districts.  It is a big lift for districts to completely redesign the PD experience for teachers, but it’s important work.  This point in time also presents an opportunity to more effectively leverage technology in the process.  The field is definitely thinking hard about how to do this effectively, but I think we have some work to do to get to a point where teachers feel like the PD they are receiving is exactly what they need to continue to grow in their practice.

Victor: What role do you see technology playing in PD over the next decade, and where do you see it evolving further still?

Michael: In addition to everything we’ve already discussed, I believe that the use of technology will also allow us to use data in new and exciting ways.  For so long it seems like we’ve operated on experience, hunches or “research.”  However, we now have vast amounts of data, and I hope that technology can help us to capture what is most important about how teachers are learning and thus reshape both the content and delivery of current PD models.

Victor: Leadership plays a large role in the success or failure of PD, how can districts build capacity to sustain quality PD?

Michael: School and district leaders have a tough job, as they’re likely responsible for improving their own practice while simultaneously working to improve the practice of every staff member in their building.  One approach to building capacity is to get really clear and specific on what good leaders do and codify these actions in a framework. The district can then align leader hiring, accountability and support to the expectations outlined in a leadership framework to ensure the decisions and ongoing supports provided are all aligned to a clear definition of great leadership.

Additionally, it is critically important that we provide leaders with the time and opportunity to continue their own learning. This requires a rethinking of professional learning structures that include school and district leaders, and content that is relevant to their roles in the learning process.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education in general these days?

Michael: We are living in one of the most exciting times in education because the national conversation is extremely focused on a few high-stakes, key initiatives – Educator Effectiveness and the Common Core. While each of these reforms have significant (and often times stressful) implications for the field, I do think it is helpful that districts across the country are focused on the same things, and thus can learn from implementation experiences of their counterparts across the country.

With that being said, there’s never been a more important time to ensure that supports for teachers are highly effective and consistent. We’re holding educators more accountable than ever before, and thus I think we have an obligation to provide the best support as well.  Great PD, that is job-embedded and utilizes technology, is going to be the most impactful way to provide such support.

Victor: What formative experiences have led you to your current approach?

Michael: We’ve spent the last decade exploring the most effective ways to train and coach teachers.  Although it wasn’t called “job-embedded” when I first started supporting teachers, we intuitively knew (from my time in the classroom) that teachers needed more than the workshops and then what approach to get better. So, we’ve continually leveraged in-classroom coaching as a centerpiece of our work with districts.  Over the last five years especially, we have really grown to support districts in developing PD models that strengthen the capacity of school leaders to do this coaching – ideally through the use of processes and tools that fall within the realm of what educators are being evaluated on.  Our goal right now is to help districts leverage their evaluation systems to be used in support of teachers. It’s this idea of “growth vs. gotcha.”  Our current approach is all about finding the opportunities for growth, leaving out the gotcha.

Victor: What thoughts or advice do you have for educators and education leadership regarding technology and education?

Michael: Implementation, implementation, implementation! The best ideas are only as good as they can be effectively implemented. I cannot tell you how many great technology tools have been “rolled out” in districts but there is no evidence of use in classrooms.  The good news is that the technology is much more user-friendly than it was several years ago, but it still requires a thoughtful implementation strategy. Additionally, I’d love to see more districts being strategic about ensuring the technology they’re providing is aimed at supporting the key initiatives of the district.

Victor: Anything else you care to add or emphasize concerning professional development, technology use in education and PD, or anything else for that matter?

Michael: I’m very excited by the potential of this work in the field. We are in the midst of some powerful and potentially game-changing initiatives at work in districts. When coupled with many remarkable advances in technology – and they way we use technology – I think we will continue to be pushed in really productive ways. While there is a lot to do, we should be excited by what we might accomplish through thoughtful implementation. We owe it to our students to put forth our very best. I believe we have an obligation to push past the challenges in order to provide an amazing education for every student we serve.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. The 2014 EdTech Digest Awards Recognition Program nomination period opens August 19, 2013 and closes September 30, 2013. For further information, write to: victor@edtechdigest.com


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