Professional learning is integral to a strong instructional materials adoption, and even more important in guaranteeing that selected materials thrive in classrooms. Don’t take our word for it—ask Newport-Mesa Unified School District (NMUSD).

During its 2016 math adoption, NMUSD leveraged comprehensive, team-based professional learning throughout the process. Its story offers three examples of the power of professional learning to ensure that the materials selected are standards-aligned, that educator voice and expertise is effectively harnessed, and that teachers are supported in using the materials to best meet the needs of all students.

1. Winnowing for Alignment

A Little Help from Your Friends
From the beginning, Newport-Mesa Unified School District put the college and career readiness of their students at the center of the adoption. This meant selecting materials that were first and foremost aligned to the standards.

Leaders knew they couldn’t decide alone. They put together a steering committee of educators with the charge of winnowing the field of potential programs to determine which two would be piloted by more than 100 teachers across the district. They also knew that this team needed a deep understanding of the standards and shifts in order to select aligned materials.

To support this preparation, the district turned to its local county office, the Orange County Department of Education (OCDE), to work with the steering committee and provide extensive professional development in the math instructional shifts of focus, rigor, and coherence and to provide guidance on how to collect evidence in support of those shifts.

Training for Success
Ensuring every member of the committee was well-versed in the shifts was vital to keeping alignment front and center.

This process also gave the district flexibility to evaluate for local criteria once alignment was assured. OCDE instructional staff Vanessa Cerrahoglu, who co-led the professional development reflects, “I’ve been through processes where a group of us sat in a room, among piles of textbooks to sift through. Who knows if we were looking for the same things, let alone the right things? Developing a shared understanding of what ‘aligned to the standards’ means and what that might look like, is critical. There’s nothing more powerful than a room full of educators constructing a district lens by which to evaluate curricular materials.”

"There’s nothing more powerful than a room full of educators constructing a district lens by which to evaluate curricular materials."

– Vanessa Cerrahoglu

During the winnowing process, EdReports ratings and criteria became a guide for alignment as the group examined many possible programs to pilot. Using these criteria was in itself a learning opportunity; the team could apply its professional development in the shifts to reading the evidence about the shifts in the reviews.

Lorie Hoggard, principal of Killybrooke Elementary, says, “We started using EdReports early on in the process to study the different materials that were available. As a steering committee, we were able to focus on the EdReports criteria and rankings to make our decision [about what to pilot].”

2. Teacher-Centered, Evidence-Focused Pilot Process

Preparing for a Pilot
The focus on professional learning didn’t end with the steering committee. To continue building knowledge and shared criteria for evaluation, the 30 lead pilot teachers received additional intensive training in the math shifts, the EdReports review framework, and evidence gathering.

Pilot teachers entered weekly data based on a rubric the steering committee had co-developed. The large swaths of evidence concentrated on alignment criteria and local needs. 

Fourth grade teacher James Christman says, “A lot of the focus of our pilot process was on the three shifts: rigor, coherence, and focus. In evaluating the programs, those shifts were weighted more heavily when you entered the quantitative scores for evidence. Then there were other categories that were weighted less, like teacher usability, assessment, and technology.”

Analyzing the Results
Without the professional learning offered by OCDE and the district, this approach to evidence collection would have been impossible. The pilot data would have been less reliable and less consistent -- leading to a less informed program recommendation to the board.

What’s more, because of the depth and quality of the professional learning, evidence wasn’t simply collected, it was analyzed. Teachers and the district staff were able to identify trends in the materials, including gaps that might require additional professional development and support during implementation. 

The data the teachers collected and the experiences they had with the materials were integral in the district’s final recommendation to the school board.

3. Successful Implementation and Beyond

Rolling Out New Materials
The commitment to professional learning continued even after the the curriculum was selected. Many districts consider choosing a program to be the end of the adoption process when really it’s just the beginning. NMUSD understood having quality materials means little if teachers are not supported in implementing them in the classroom.

Working with pilot teachers and OCDE staff, Newport-Mesa developed a professional learning strategy that included summer and year-long sessions. 

"This structure is especially effective because it supports team-based collaboration around the content teachers will teach."

– Jody Guarino

OCDE instructional staff Jody Guarino describes what the on-going “moonlight” series looks like: “We have professional development teams that meet monthly. They dive into the upcoming instructional unit, identifying big ideas, concepts, representations, and strategies. Then they facilitate two-hour grade level sessions with teachers from across the district. This structure is especially effective because it supports team-based collaboration around the content teachers will teach.”   

Learning Never Ends
There’s no end in sight for these professional learning teams. Plans for year two sessions are already under way. Jody Guarino says, “Next year, we’re planning to go deeper into mathematical content with the instructional materials providing the context.”

Teacher Becky Brockman is already seeing results with her students, “I’m seeing students think about math in different ways than they have ever thought about it before.” 

"I’m seeing students think about math in different ways than they have ever thought about it before."

– Becky Brockman

And she believes this impact will only grow the more she collaborates with fellow teachers around the materials and all they have to offer, “I’m excited that I have curriculum that I can really sink my teeth into for the next two to three years to keep learning.”