Investment in Digital Learning Planning and Professional Development

During this unprecedented time of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, professional learning and support for teachers, instructional technology facilitators (ITFs) and school library media coordinators (SLMC) are more important than ever. In March, North Carolina educators were propelled into remote learning with little time for training and preparation. As part of the Friday Institute (FI) partnership with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI), the FI interviewed five districts in North Carolina to learn more about remote learning implementation. The interviews focus on how the North Carolina Digital Learning Initiative (NCDLI) and other programs offered by this partnership helped prepare educators for remote learning.

Keys to Success

Investment in Digital Learning Planning

Participation in Professional Learning Programs

Collaboration & Coaching

Flexibility

Investment in Digital Learning Planning

Beginning in 2014, with support from the North Carolina Legislature, NC Digital Learning Initiative (NCDLI) was created with the goal of building upon the existing foundation to develop a coherent long-term strategy that sets directions and priorities, supports innovation, and provides resources to enable the State’s educators and students to benefit fully from digital-age teaching and learning. Through NCDLI,the North Carolina Digital Learning Progress Rubric was created and provided a strategic planning tool to support North Carolina’s educators in the transition to digital-age teaching and learning. The rubric provides a “roadmap” designed to help school district teams reflect on the current stage of their transition, plan next steps, and track their progress moving forward. In addition to tools like the Digital Learning Progress Rubric, districts were given access to ongoing professional learning provided by The Friday Institute to support educators at all levels within a district.

Several years of utilizing the resources provided through NCDLI have proven to be essential as districts had to quickly pivot from face-to-face instruction to full-time remote learning in a matter of days during the Spring of 2020. Familiarity with digital learning pedagogy and implementation of digital learning plans helped ease this transition. Although districts vary in their stage of digital learning implementation, all districts were moving in that direction.

In Edenton-Chowan, digital teaching and learning is a top priority and the district received a planning and implementation grant through DLI. Currently, all K-12 students have access to a device which has helped them to prepare for remote learning.

In Dare County, each school created individual digital learning plans aligned to NCDLI and used the DLI rubric to assess their progress towards digital learning. Dare County schools used the data from the DLI rubric to create technology plans that are embedded in the school improvement plan.

Bladen County schools utilized the DLI rubric as part of the school improvement process and evaluated their current stage in digital learning implementation at the beginning, middle and end of year. The rubric helped schools identify areas of growth and strategies for improvements. At the district level, the rubric is used to identify “high flyers” – best practices in certain areas. During PLCs, schools shared best practices with peer schools and school board members.

Participation in Professional Learning Programs

The NC Digital Learning Plan recommends digital-age learning professional development and the NC General Assembly prioritized funding for such opportunities in S.L. 2017-57. Educators from all 115 districts across NC have attended professional learning sessions led by NCDPI and/or the Friday Institute since the inception of NCDLI.

11 Professional Learning Programs plus 2 Grant Competition Rounds. 59 charters represented, 115 districts represented, and 12,000 educator registrations. Educators say NCDLI Participation... 'has changed the way I think about digital teaching and learning,' 'helped me integrate digital teaching and learning pedagogies,' 'helped me know and use appropriate digital tools and resources for instruction,' 'enabled me to make decisions that impact students in a positive way.' 'At the end of this school year, the proficiency score hit an all-time high, with multiple EOGs coming in at greater than 90% proficiency for the 2017-18 school year.' 'As a result of a DLI grant, benchmark results show significant student achievement through the blended learning environment. This provides further proof that creating true blended learning environment increases student engagement and achievement.'
(Click image to see full size.)

The Friday Institute with support from NCDPI provided job-embedded, cohort based programs that promoted pedagogical shifts in digital learning environments and engaged educators at all levels. Participants reported high levels of success with 89% of educators reporting that it “helped me integrate digital teaching and learning pedagogies.” All of the districts reported that participation in professional learning programs, including NCDLCN (North Carolina Digital Leaders Coaching Network) and LPDL (Leadership in Personalized and Digital Learning) afforded them the opportunity to form professional learning networks that supported them with the transition to personalized digital learning. This was especially helpful for educators in rural districts as the cohorts connected role-alike educators across regions. In addition the participation in the professional learning cohorts gave all participants the much needed time and space to exchange digital learning best practices, challenge conventional thought, and promote new strategies. The knowledge exchanged throughout the professional learning cohorts helped prepare the educators for remote learning.

Over the past four years In Burke County, all of the district’s ITFs participated in the NC Digital Leaders Coaching Network where several also later became program mentors. Burke County capitalizes on learning from these professional development offerings to develop teacher leadership. Burke formed a global cohort and trained 90 mentor teachers who in turn trained other teachers in their schools. Mentor teachers also created content to share with other teachers. Additionally, for the last five years, Burke County holds a professional development challenge where teachers are exposed to technology tools, specifically on how to use basic apps. Burke County administrators also invested in their teachers, sending over 200 teachers to attended the NCTIES conference in 2019.

Edenton-Chowan administrators support professional development around digital learning. Educators participate in NCTIES and all coaches participated in the NCDLCN and shared lessons learned in their PLCs, expanding more teachers’ knowledge to innovative digital learning practices. All schools in the district have PLCs. The Digital Learning Coach will go to schools on an as needed basis and lead the transition to chromebooks. Edenton-Chowan is in the process of immersing all teachers in the digital learning competencies, as well as creating master teachers in schools. Through a partnership with Perquimans County, they created model leaders, who provided PD in classrooms focus around instructional design. Teachers are moving towards the role of facilitator. Since the inception of the program, three years ago, nearly 80 teachers have completed the intensive PD program.

Bladen County coaches and media coordinators use strategies learned through their participation in NCDLCN. The coaching network also helped teachers build relationships with other teachers and ITFs and SLMCs, which was especially important when transitioning to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Collaboration & Coaching

The unexpected closure of schools presented the perfect time for teachers to collaborate with instructional support staff to design standard-aligned digital pedagogy. Remote learning pushed the digital learning envelope and offered all teachers the opportunity to tap into district and school resources around effective digital teaching practices. Working in conjunction with ITFs and SLMCs, teachers learned about innovative delivery options and digital tools and applications.

ITFs and SLMS provided hands-on coaching for teachers, including modeling lessons; providing feedback and advice for improving lessons; and driving systemic change in pedagogy. Coaches know that professional learning can’t be something that is done to you; instead, it’s an act of co-creation.

In Edenton-Chowan, district learning coordinators lead professional development for teachers. DLCs collaborate with teachers in the classroom and act as co-teachers. DLCs and teachers work together to design lessons, especially at the middle school level. DLCs often model a lesson for teachers to observe. School library media coordinators are the primary point of contact at the school level and lead PLCs. SLMCs function similarly to DLCs, except at the school level.

Dare County – Before implementation of a digital learning plan, ITFs focused on fixing technology problems and showing teachers how to use technology tools instead of modeling pedagogy. During the pandemic crisis, the focus of ITFs and SLMCs shifted towards coaching, co-teaching and co-planning, reimagining roles to support teachers for instruction. ITFs and SLMCs participated in training in these re-imagined roles. The district IT Coordinator provided coaching and modeling to at least one-half of the ITFs and SLMCs. Dare County teachers, technology specialists and librarians worked together to co-plan and co-teach lessons. During synchronous learning, ITFs and librarians would log on to virtual lessons and participate or observe lessons and offer advice on how to improve lessons next time. Dare also worked to provide sustainable PD with weekly sessions focused on the specific questions and needs of teachers. Collaboration and differentiation strategies and tips were embedded in these sessions.

In Transylvania County, ITFs and DLS coordinated professional learning opportunities for teachers. ITFs worked on modeling lessons and team teaching lessons. During remote learning, professional development included daily google meet time for teachers. 2-3 hour drop in window for teachers to seek support. The role of the DLS expanded during remote learning to helping students, participating in grade level meetings, attending individual classes and co-instructing.

The North Carolina Digital Leaders Coaching Network (NCDLCN) provides instructional technologists, instructional coaches, mentor teachers, and media coordinators with ongoing and job-embedded professional learning opportunities to build capacity in digital and personalized learning.

Flexibility

The professional and personal lives of every educator has drastically changed. Everyone is adjusting to new schedules, a new way of life and full-time remote learning is definitely new for everyone. Teachers may not be able to work “normal” hours as they are taking care of children or others during the day. The traditional school day and the roles of instructional leaders and staff members had to be redefined to adapt to long-term unexpected remote learning. Additionally, the shift to remote learning was difficult for families, as they had to provide a home learning environment for their children in a moment’s notice. For most districts, normal school schedules and content delivery was much different than before. As remote learning evolved, educators developed learning plans with flexible options to accommodate teacher and student needs.

In Transylvania County, high school French was offered at 9am. Teachers noted low attendance rates and moved the class time to 4pm, where attendance improved significantly. Teachers worked diligently to meet students where they are and essentially negotiated class times that best suited students.

Bladen County focused on a flexibility approach for teacher support. ITFs offered support during regularly scheduled PD, as well as just-in-time through email and phone calls. ITFs collaborated with teachers to assess what was working and what wasn’t working in the remote learning environment. Teachers drove what supports were needed and provided open-ended, non-judgmental support for teachers.

Reflections

The sudden shift to remote learning disrupted traditional face-to-face instruction and mandated that districts navigate through a plethora of challenges. Those who invested time and effort in the NC Digital Learning Progress Rubric found the transition less daunting and stated increased preparedness for remote learning. Past participation in digital learning professional development in the past was especially helpful. One highlight of the move to remote learning was the increase in collaboration between teachers, instructional technology facilitators, and school library media coordinators. Though difficult to implement, flexibility in mindset and behavior was a key element of success. As we continue to experience uncertainty, let us uphold these keys to success to continue to provide high quality educational experiences for each and every student across North Carolina.

Authors and Contributors