Active PD

Generating genuine change in the classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Leslie Kerner

amplify reportingAt my company, we believe effective professional development is something you do, not something you get. In 2011, that dynamic was at the essence of a Delaware program. An Amplify Insight data coach was assigned to every public school in the state to for 90 minute weekly collaborative planning sessions. The goal was for teachers to learn skills and concepts around using their data to drive their instructional practice.

By the end of our first year working with Delaware public schools, the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System (DCAS) for grades 3-10 rose 12 percentage points in reading and 10 in math.

Here’s how Amplify Insight data coaches guided teachers, administrators and students to achieve promising results and create a positive example for districts around the country.


Generic lectures do little to garner audience interest. Every region is different and needs can vary city to city, or even become hyper-local– changing school by school and class by class.

Knowing this, coaches helped Delaware teachers learn how to use their own classroom data, rather than generic data; in our experience that’s the only way to generate genuine change in the classroom. It is immediately meaningful to teachers, who begin to see the impact their data-driven strategies have on student growth. Teachers learned to draw inferences from every source of data at their disposal, from standardized test scores to quiz grades and oral classroom performance— even non-academic data, such as the level of student motivation. We found that teachers were empowered to continue their collaborative conversations outside of the PLCs. One DE high school teacher put it this way: “Now when I go home, I feel like I did something today, as opposed to “I worked today.”

The focus on data was critical because the DOE wanted to establish a consistent process for using it to make a difference in learning. Our trademark approach, TADA™ (Taking Action with Data), helps teachers answer “so what?” and “now what?” using data to inform instruction and identify where students need more help.

Data isn’t the only thing that should be customized for an effective professional development strategy; program formats should be flexible too, shaped around the diverse needs of different schools and districts.

In Delaware, the DOE wanted to provide a structure for teacher collaboration, but not all districts could participate in the same framework. With this in mind, Amplify Insight adapted its program to accommodate different levels of readiness and need, which meant some PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) met with our data coaches in small groups, whereas other schools utilized a “coach-the-coach” approach, in which coaches trained leaders at a given school in the TADA method, allowing them to be the turnkeys for the teachers in their schools.

By contrast, in our Rhode Island professional development engagement, PLCs were not part of the culture; so there we trained leadership teams, as opposed to individual teachers, to lead their schools. While teachers from both states were coached in the same skills, the execution was molded to their available resources to be of maximum benefit to each.

Lasting Community Empowerment

Professional development should have lasting effects. It’s essential to develop a cycle of inquiry that helps teachers build skills to use their data long after our coaches have gone, empowering teachers with career-long skills. Instead of handing teachers the solution to a particular problem, we ask a series of questions that helps them develop skills to solve the problems themselves. Teachers empowered each other through collaborative “data conversations”, which are low-stakes, nonjudgmental conversations with peers about how they apply their own data. By doing this, each school found the best way to draw data from multiple sources and translate that into action; they created student groups by need and lesson plans, got feedback from peers, and found strategies that worked (and didn’t work), and took what they’ve learned to test new strategies in the classroom for differentiated instruction.

Done right, this kind of positive experience extends beyond the classroom and engages all stakeholders—students, families, and the surrounding community. In one school, as part of an action research project, students were asked to evaluate their own work and rate the amount of effort they had invested, along with their level of understanding of the material.

By helping students engage with their own data, we engage parents as well. For example, at one school in Delaware, students presented at Parent Teacher conferences led to an increase in parent participation from 10 percent to 60 percent.

Continual Improvement  

There were a few opportunities for us to receive feedback on Delaware’s experience with our professional development approaches, and we made sure to use what we heard constructively. After the first year in Delaware, the DOE and local districts wanted more Common Core conversations in their Data PLCs, so we expanded the scope of the program and the data coach role to include becoming “Common Core Ambassadors”.

Drawing from another data source, we looked at the results from a survey the Delaware Department of Education had sent to teachers about their experience with the PLCs. Of the 4,500 teachers who completed the survey, the majority of the teachers said the PLCs helped them build skills to collect and use data. Seventy-two percent of middle school teachers rated their coaches as “good” or “excellent”.

This year we have brought professional development to Rhode Island schools, and continue to apply customer feedback to our program. Initially, many schools in the state at the “Basic Level” felt it was too basic. As a result we significantly increased the level of the material beginning with the second round of PD. Also based on similar feedback, we created a new process for year 2 to determine if a school is Basic or Advanced.

Individual schools capture volumes of data about what students know and don’t know, but research indicates that over half of teachers are unsure how to integrate all this data into their instruction. Good professional development will empower every teacher to integrate relevant student data into daily instruction. The effects of learning to use that data will bring better results in the classroom that extend to the larger community, and as the education landscape continues to evolve, so should the programs that help train teachers and their students.

Leslie Kerner is the general manager of Professional Services for Amplify Insight. Visit:

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