How To Streamline Districtwide Professional Learning To Boost School Climate
Do the words “professional development” give you anxiety?
It can be a sensitive topic for administrators and teachers who realize its importance but are often frustrated with their current system.
Professional development should help strengthen the school community; not induce stress. In this post, we’ll share some ways to simplify and improve your districtwide professional learning so everyone can get the most benefit—from administrators, to educators and staff, and ultimately, your students.
The Challenge Districts Face with Professional Development
School officials can be in charge of managing districtwide professional learning for thousands of teachers and school staff. This is a huge task, especially considering each employee spends 39-75 hours per school year on mandated professional development. That’s a lot of hours to fill! Not to mention the costs and hidden costs associated with these trainings.
Trying to patchwork solutions together, districts often work with several vendors and platforms to stitch together a costly “custom solution” that can turn out incohesive and complicated.
Requiring staff to engage in this professional learning approach can lead to frustration. In fact, one study found that even if a resource is required to be used by staff, if it’s not customizable, not beneficial, or takes too much time, they won’t use it.
Streamlining Districtwide Professional Learning to Improve School Climate
Effective professional learning programs are “ongoing, coherent, and linked to student achievement.” Professional development curriculum that’s aimed at school climate can be cohesive districtwide while also catering to needs at different ages and schools.
Issues concerning school climate and student wellness change and evolve at different grade levels. For example, a training that would help high school staff learn how to talk to a teenager about mental health wouldn’t apply to a kindergarten teacher who’s trying to help their distressed 4- to 6-year-olds. A good, effective districtwide professional learning solution should factor in those differences by grade level, while also including related learning objectives.
Imagine how having just one solution for school climate and wellness professional learning could simplify processes and help you achieve districtwide goals. A single-vendor solution could help you:
- Reach not only teachers but staff in other roles and/or all employees
- Support a whole child approach that fosters students in their journey from preschool to graduation
- Create cohesion among employees through related experiences of skill-building and learning
- Build capacity across school sites to promote cultural change districtwide
- Evaluate learning outcomes with unified, districtwide data
- Capture larger insights and implications with a districtwide lens
Many districts hold districtwide professional learning days reserved for all teachers and staff to complete professional development curriculum. Why not unify school climate and wellness learning that is tailored to grade level? Districts can create a more connected professional development experience and achieve greater outcomes for staff, and for the students who will be influenced by many staff members during their school career.
How One District Unified Training and Saw Real Results
Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is the tenth-largest district in the country, with more than 27,000 employees and 190,000 students across 198 schools. Beginning in 2013, the county, schools, and community came together to address local concerns about youth suicide.
FCPS needed a solution that could reach educators across the district about having conversations with students who may be experiencing emotional distress. And, with teachers’ busy schedules and the many priorities competing for their time, speed and cost-effectiveness were essential considerations.
Initially, two At-Risk simulations were initially adopted: a version for high school and one for middle school. At-Risk is Kognito’s suite of products to teach PK-12 educators about mental health and suicide prevention which supports improved student wellness and school safety.
The training was well received by staff—95% said they would recommend the training to colleagues. And it led to actual behavior change: survey data revealed an increase of 30-40% in the actual number of students who educators approached and talked with about seeking help.
Due to this success, FCPS decided to expand its districtwide professional learning approach and adopted the full At-Risk suite, as well as our first simulation for high school students, a peer support program called Friend2Friend, and Step In, Speak Up!, which is aimed at helping educators create a safer school climate for LGBTQ students.
Does this united, districtwide professional learning experience lead to better outcomes? Overall, FCPS has seen increases in utilization of its counselors and mental health resources, as well as indications that clinicians in the community are working better with schools. Educators and staff are receiving relevant Kognito training that’s customized to their needs, while also fitting into the district’s unified effort to improve school climate and student wellness.
Kognito’s Districtwide Professional Learning Approach
We understand that when it comes to professional development, one size does not fit all. Different grade levels have unique challenges and needs. That’s why we’ve created a variety of different simulation experiences, all that use the same evidence-based training techniques. Because we believe in an approach that is unified, backed by science, and meets each learner where they are. This approach is outlined below:
All our simulations use role-play conversations to help teachers and staff practice having difficult conversations in a comfortable environment. We offer a suite of simulations for educators and staff at every grade level:
- At-Risk for Early Childhood Educators – Focuses on managing classroom disruptions, addressing challenging behavior, and collaborating with caregivers to support children ages 3-5.
- At-Risk For Elementary School Educators, At-Risk for Middle School Educators, and At-Risk for High School Educators – Mental health and suicide prevention training that supports student wellness, academic performance, attendance, and school safety.
- Building Respect: Bullying Prevention in Schools – Helps staff learn how to address biased language in the classroom, reach out when they suspect signs of bullying, and reinforce staff responsibilities in reporting bullying behavior.
- Friend2Friend – Engages youth in a conversation about mental health and drives change in their skills and attitudes toward seeking help for oneself or a friend.
- Step In, Speak Up! – Builds understanding and appreciation for the challenges faced by LGBTQ youth.
- Resilient Together: Coping with Loss at School – Prepares schools for responding to a death in the school community.
- Trauma-Informed Practices for K12 Schools – Builds skills, confidence, and empathy that better support students whose behavior might be related to sources of trauma or distress.
By choosing a suite of engaging professional development curriculum from a single vendor, you’re able to create a more positive professional learning experience for your teachers and staff, and streamline your processes to create better efficiencies all around.
Plus, when you partner with us, you’ll gain access to powerful administrator tools, data collection, survey personalization, and personalized service from your dedicated client success team.
Ready to see if our training solutions could help streamline your districtwide professional learning and improve school climate? We’d love for you to take a demo and explore our suite of simulations.