Teacher Professional Development
The Achieving by Changing Initiative helps us understand
+ Provide curriculum-centered professional development in implementing rigorous standards
+ Develop networks that foster peer learning and support
+ Offer responsive and effective technical support
Many education advocates have lamented that rural schools, especially those in sparsely populated communities, have come “last in line” when it comes to getting the support they need to improve students' educational outcomes. And urban areas with larger student populations have often received the lion’s share of support.
Barbara Hunter-Cox, Director of Teaching and Learning at the Arkansas Public School Resource Center (APSRC), noticed that 82 percent of school districts in Arkansas were classified as rural. After initiatives were implemented in the larger, urban districts, the rural districts “got a carbon copy” of that plan, almost as an afterthought.
APSRC provided technical support and advocacy services to traditional and charter public schools. Through an APSRC initiative providing curriculum-focused professional development, hundreds of teachers in rural Arkansas and throughout the state learned the most effective ways to implement rigorous standards in their classrooms.
According to a survey of teachers conducted by APSRC, the organization's Achieving by Changing (ABC) initiative was essential for incorporating rigorous standards in instruction. During Common Core implementation, survey results also showed ABC participants had greater knowledge of Common Core in general. Both teachers and initiative leaders attributed the initiative’s success to the tight network of peer support.
Hunter-Cox knew the training APSRC provided had to be informed by feedback loops with participating teachers. Seven months before the first training session, teachers were recruited as design team members and worked closely with the APSRC planning team. Teachers clearly understood that empowerment, not regulation or oversight, was APSRC's top priority.
Networks of peer learning & Support
APSRC wanted to overcome geography as a barrier to building and supporting a truly statewide network. So, APSRC created a network within a network design made up of 10 regional hubs for all participating school districts. Each school had a team of teachers representing the training needs of its staff. Those teachers shared what they learned with their peers and built upon this knowledge within their schools.
Curriculum-focused professional development
About a year and a half into the ABC Initiative, APSRC learned that teachers were frustrated by the limited number of appropriate textbooks and other resources to provide the rigorous and relevant instruction Common Core required. Fortunately, APSRC’s response to the dilemma sparked a boost in collective morale. The network organized a working session, called a huddle, over three summer days. During the first huddle and the six that followed, teachers developed a shared curriculum as well as grade and subject-specific study units.
The educators from the small, rural schools largely benefited from these huddles. Now, an instructor who was her school’s only science teacher did not have to wrestle with science curriculum challenges alone. Instead, she could work through those same issues with other teachers in her subject area. And following a huddle, she could stay connected with huddle members and bounce ideas off them for the rest of the school year.
Responsive & effective technical support
Much of the support APSRC provided at the ABC meetings dealt with how to use online tools that supported implementation of more rigorous standards. Teachers wanted to tap the wealth of open-source educational ideas available on the web without suffering information overload. To help optimize the research process, APSRC promoted the website Pinterest, a platform for compiling teaching resources—like graphic organizers and instructional YouTube videos–into pages organized by subject, grade, and unit. “Pinterest blew our socks off,” Hunter-Cox said.
Jessica Wright, a teacher at LISA Academy in Little Rock and a participant in the ABC Initiative, agreed that ABC’s use of Pinterest dramatically streamlined online research for Common Core-aligned resources. “It’s a huge thing for teachers,” she explained. “The idea of wasting an hour Googling something when you can go to a board and find something worth using in five minutes—that’s definitely a lifesaver.”
Over the course of those many curriculum-writing sessions, APSRC amassed a complete collection of study units. Since sharing these resources online, the ABC Pinterest group grew to over 1,000 followers, and Hunter-Cox reported that many out-of-state teachers requested additional resources and assistance from APSRC.
The anecdotes about positive impact were bolstered by the positive results of independent surveys showing ABC’s success. According to one survey, 83 percent of ABC participants said they knew where to go to find resources to help them plan Common Core-aligned lessons, compared to 74 percent of non-participants. In addition, 75 percent of participants said they collaborated with colleagues at least once a month to implement the Common Core standards (compared to 68 percent of the non-participant group), and 68 percent of participants said they incorporated open educational resources into their planning and instruction (compared to 55 percent of the non-participant group).
Hunter-Cox celebrated what teachers accomplished. “If I had a magic wand, we would celebrate teacher successes and reward them with more resources,” she said. “There are early adopters all across the state who have really been burning the midnight oil to get ready for more rigorous standards. I would like to come up with a way to celebrate their successes.”
 Arkansas Public School Resource Center, http://www.apsrc.net/schooldistricts-169, retrieved October 31, 2014.
 Basic Policy Research, Arkansas Public School Resource Center (APSRC) Common Core Survey Report: Assessing Achieving by Changing (ABC) Initiative Participants’ Common Core Readiness and Implementation, November 2013.