The Austin Independent School District (AISD) is a diverse, urban district that is making great progress in student academic achievement. The AISD team recently participated in Working & Learning Online with Steve Barkley.
We asked Trish Jarrott, Coordinator, Employee Effectiveness in the Office of Talent, Acquisition and Development to share her team’s feedback with us. Here is what she had to say:
Q: What challenge(s) was your school district facing?
Developing Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) on six of our elementary campuses comes with all kinds of challenges. When we asked Steve to help us, we were working on securing a state grant (we are currently in the very last year of implementation).
One specific challenge that we were faced with was that we were looking for ways to inform and train our PLC Leads to manage, facilitate, and better lead their PLC teams all year long. It was rocky in year one — our main focus then was to just get the teams to meet regularly. Over time, our leaders expressed their biggest challenge in their teams has been “buy-in”. This tells me two things:
They see the potential power in PLCs and understand the importance in having everyone on board. This was not always the case. Initially, they felt like managing and participating in a PLC was yet another task they were asked to juggle in their already overloaded day. Fortunately, after years of conversations, training and feedback sessions, we have moved to the value of a PLC and that it really is an opportunity in the work day to facilitate real-time professional development.
PLC Leads are willing and ready to share the knowledge they have gained in the PLC process with others. They see value in the work they are doing and the trusting relationships they are building with their team. They also recognize that their combined efforts really benefit the students they work with.
Q: How did you hear about Steve?
I heard about Steve while attending a workshop in our school district aimed at Instructional Coaches and Mentors. I was immediately drawn in by his professional knowledge, humor, and openness to conversation and questions around the work of those that support teachers. I got his contact information from the coordinator — and the rest is history.
Q: What type of training did your team choose?
We worked with Steve in a couple of full-day sessions and then in year three of our grant we actually used the Skype sessions he and Lorene suggested (Working & Learning Online). It was exactly what our PLC Leads wanted! Why? Three things immediately come to mind:
- Regular contact. Steve was able to provide in-time support to them in that he addressed the issues they were facing as the year progressed.
- Pre-planning. We gathered constant feedback from the leaders to plan our sessions.
- Off-time communication. Steve made himself available to our team leaders and their administration via email or Skye to help troubleshoot PLC problems of practice. The smaller bits of time with Steve, and the assurance that he was available to the PLC Leads, made them more relaxed and active in their seminars. It was an incredibly positive experience!
Q: Can you share your results with us?
Overall, the Working & Learning Online format was perfect for us. We reduced our expected cost, had great interactions with Steve, and our participants felt the format was really helpful for absorbing what they were hearing.
In years past, we provided full-day training to our PLC Leads, and while they are always excited to attend and participate, by the time lunch rolled around, they were overwhelmed with content. With shorter more frequent seminars, the leaders felt that the content was manageable, relevant, and useful.
The Working & Learning Online with Steve format is well thought out and executed. The format allowed us to delve a little deeper into topics our teachers were interested in. Steve did a great job of allowing time for discussion and asking relevant questions, so that they could process what he had just shared.
Our teachers reported that this format was much more conducive to absorbing the material. Most of all, they loved that the online format allowed them to really digest the information that was provided. They were really comfortable interacting with Steve, and appreciated the breaks in his presentation to talk with their peers about how the information fit into their campus context.
The cost of these session was extremely minimal compared to what we typically spend on PLC Lead training. We attended a hybrid style event with our Leads this summer and even though there was a facilitator in attendance, I think teams were far more engaged with Steve’s presentations. Having access to Steve and his expertise is invaluable.
Q: Would you recommend Working & Learning Online with Steve to a colleague?
Yes! There are many reasons to go with the Working & Learning Online training sessions with Steve. First, he’s obviously extremely knowledgeable in PLC work and teacher leadership. Next, he has a knack for working with adult learners. He treats participants with the utmost respect and works from a place of collaborative problem solving. Third, Steve is always very flexible in the planning of our seminars and interested in the wants and needs of the PLC Leads. As I mentioned above, Steve was also willing to make himself available for questions and troubleshooting. (I can’t promise that many of them took advantage of the offer, but the fact that he made himself available really put them at ease.) Finally, the cost savings of working through Skype was great considering the limited funds that come with grant work. We felt like we got so much time and input with Steve for our dollar. It really allowed for more flexibility in our scheduling as well.