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Building Instructional Capacity Through Professional Learning

Unfinished learning can occur every year, but the need to address these learning gaps became exponential due to the pandemic. Many districts have since reanalyzed their systems of support to help improve educational outcomes for students. A strategy Hartford Public Schools (HPS) used to alleviate the effects of unfinished learning was to use ESSER funds to expand their math instructional coaching support. 

Previously, HPS had 13 district math coaches supporting 42 schools and expanded the team to 24 math coaches. This increase in the number of math coaches allowed for more personalized support and guidance for teachers in the district. Many of the math coaches were classroom teachers who had recently transitioned from the classroom to coaching roles. All of the new coaches were knowledgeable about pedagogy and instruction and hoped for extra time and support to have a deeper understanding of the coherence of math standards in all grades for their new role. To support their growth, Hartford Public Schools selected Achievement Network (ANet) as their partner to provide meaningful professional learning and support with leading teachers in professional learning communities.

Responsive Professional Learning

In the 2021-22 school year, the district implemented two professional learning series led by ANet Professional Learning Facilitator Dr. Lakishia Robinson. Each series helped build the coaches' understanding of standards and shifts in math instruction. The first series focused on unpacking standards and emphasized sense-making over answer-getting strategies. This training helped the coaches to better understand the coherence of math standards across all grades and how to incorporate vertical progressions in their coaching sessions with teachers. The second series of professional learning facilitated by Dr. Robinson was focused on how to develop and facilitate professional learning communities (PLCs) within schools. The training expanded to support instructional coaches of all subjects in strategies for effective planning and facilitation of PLCs, unpacking student data and teaching standards, and fostering collaboration. Dr. Robinson helped instructional coaches model unpacking the standards collaboratively and facilitate time for teachers across grade levels to collaborate.

“I think what I appreciated most about the work with the series was the responsiveness to what the group needed. It was not just selecting a canned presentation from the ANet professional learning catalog. It was fully customized to what our needs were with the two  overall objectives in place, and I think she did a really good job reflecting on how our coaches were engaging with the work. She listened to feedback from how I was seeing the work translating into practice, and then customized each upcoming session to build on successes and support challenges that coaches were experiencing,” said Director of Mathematics Mario Carullo.

In the current year, Hartford Public Schools shifted the focus of its professional learning partnership to hyper-focus on secondary math coaches. With the adoption of the new curriculum, the math coaches needed to be well-versed in the curriculum modules themselves in order to effectively support teachers in implementing them. This year’s professional learning through ANet concentrated on deep study of the modules. The instructional coaches familiarized themselves with the nuances as well as the big themes of the modules to foster teachers’ study and understanding of the modules. Dr. Robinson provided scenarios for instructional coaches to work through, such as how to unpack a module in a time constraint or how to ensure you reach your objectives during PLC time, while also leaving time for each person to meaningfully unpack the standards. 

“The Hartford partnership has been a model partnership. Mario and his team display a willingness for innovation and a commitment to ensure teachers possess the skills needed to serve students at the highest levels. We worked collaboratively to prioritize needs of the coaches and the teachers, and the entire team established a relationship of trust with me that allowed them to explore solution pathways that may not have been possible if they weren’t vulnerable and open about real barriers within the work,” said Dr. Robinson.

Collaboration and Trust In The Partnership

A key component of the professional learning partnership is the foundation of trust built between Dr. Robinson and the instructional coaches. Dr. Robinson brings years of experience as an educator and takes time to listen to the instructional coaches and Hartford leaders, such as Mario Carullo, to deliver the most impactful professional learning experiences for all adult learners.

“She has experience leading this work herself and doing the work that we're asking coaches to do directly with teachers. She's encountered and overcame these challenges before, so she was able to recommend potential solutions based on her experience. This was really helpful, because it wasn't just brainstorming possible strategies to respond to challenges; she came with a toolkit,” said Mario Carullo. 

Hartford Public Schools continues to use ANet as their trusted partner to impact educational outcomes for students. All three professional learning series occurred alongside ANet coaching to help build instructional capacity for Hartford educators and assist in the adoption and implementation of a new math curriculum. Hartford Public Schools collaborated with ANet Coach Dr. Clarice Clash-Turner, who supported the district in the curriculum adoption and implementation process.

“Hartford Director of Math Mario Carullo trusted myself and Dr. Robinson to embark on his journey for new math materials and robust professional learning to impact changes in math achievement for historically underserved students. New materials implementation is hard work, but with dedicated partners like Hartford it was seamless for myself and Dr. Robinson to strengthen Hartfords’s enabling conditions and wrap-around support to math coaches and district leaders,” said ANet Coach Dr. Clarise Clash-Turner.

ANet Coach Dr. Clarice Clash-Turner and Professional Learning Facilitator Dr. Lakishia Robinson created a foundation of deep collaboration with Carullo and often helped provide a sounding board and outside perspective as they moved forward with the work. Before each professional learning session, Dr. Robinson and Carullo met to discuss how things are going in the district, give an overview of barriers and opportunities, and have time to tailor content to match their experiences. After the session, they would schedule a brief feedback session to process the discussions and make notes for their next session. Carullo observed that many of the priorities discussed in his planning and feedback sessions with Dr. Robinson would be discussed in his sessions with Dr. Clash-Turner.

“This year’s work was more than curriculum implementation- it was about creating sustainable systems that will support the district in meeting goals year after year. One of the key highlights included celebrating their successes! I loved their energy, and I hope to grow with them for many years to come!” said Dr. Robinson. 

The partnership between Hartford Public Schools and ANet demonstrates the importance of professional learning for improving math education outcomes. Through ANet's customized professional learning series, led by experienced educators like Dr. Lakishia Robinson, instructional coaches deepened their understanding of math standards and developed strategies for facilitating effective professional learning communities. By prioritizing professional learning, Hartford Public Schools continues to demonstrate a commitment to improving educational outcomes for students and supporting teachers in their critical role as educators.

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