Note: this post is part of a series about Noble’s preparation for the upcoming school year.

Noble teachers have been preparing for the new school year in many different ways this summer. We talked with Lyndsay Cowles, Ph.D, Noble’s Senior Manager of Instructional Development, to learn more about the professional development provided to teachers to ensure successful remote learning this semester.

MM: How does Noble think about professional development at the beginning of the school year? What are the goals?
A. Like everything, PD this year was-0 a little bit different! We knew that we wanted to continue to develop our teachers for the long-term while also supporting and prioritizing instruction in a remote context. We didn’t want to offer a bunch of tricks and short-term solutions but, instead, offer development around practices that will serve students in any context.

Lyndsay Cowles, Ph.D.
Senior Manager of Instructional Development

 In addition, Noble has committed to becoming an anti-racist organization. As an Academics Team, we began this journey last year when we adopted Culturally Responsive & Sustaining Teaching (CRST) as one of our tenets of The Noble Classroom. To fully embody CRST, anti-racist thinking and practices are necessary. So, at the beginning of the year, we focus heavily on the learning and, in many cases, unlearning that is needed to develop these mindsets and practices. For example, we offer a session on the “History of Education in Chicago” to provide the historical context for the work that we do while disrupting dominant (and racist) narratives that skew the historical record. We offer “Pre-CRST,” which defines culture and its impact on the brain. This year, we’ve also added an Identity Series that supports educators in understanding the impact of identity and intersectionality in the classroom. And, we were very excited to offer for the first time “Out in the Classroom,” a session that supports LGBTQ+ educators in bringing their whole selves to the classroom. While mindset work is a continuous journey, we want to ensure that teachers have this work at the forefront when beginning the year.

MM: Can you talk about the back to school PD calendar, how many sessions were offered, and what sort of content is there?A: We had three days of Network-provided PD in early August, then campuses had two full weeks of development and preparation before students “returned” to school. During those three days of Network-provided PD, we offered 36 unique sessions, plus 5 sessions to share the newly-created Noble Hedgehog Curricula. About half of those sessions were provided asynchronously, so teachers were (and still are!) able to participate in nearly 100 hours of professional development – all online! 

In addition to the content provided in these sessions, we tried to model best practices for remote learning. As I mentioned, about half of our sessions were offered asynchronously with Zoom office hours, while the other half were synchronous, and we made those decisions intentionally based on the best medium for learning. Instead of just giving sessions on, for example, how to do breakout rooms or how to use polls and the chat features, we modeled them in our sessions and made time and space for participants to “see behind the curtain.” 

MM: Who leads the PD sessions and where do the ideas come from?
A: Our direct development sessions are primarily led by our Instructional Hedgehog team. This team of 18 is composed of educators from 12 of our campuses. It includes ten teachers, 3 of whom are Distinguished Teachers, four deans, three assistant principals, and one principal. Additional sessions are led by the Academics Team and external providers such as TNTP and Relay Graduate School.

All of our sessions are aligned to The Noble Classroom or, this year, The Remote Noble Classroom. We also get feedback from instructional leaders and teachers. And then our Instructional Hedgehog members go to work! They develop and create all of the content so that our sessions are designed specifically for Noble teachers.

MM: How does Noble collect feedback on the effectiveness of PD sessions and adapt for the rest of the year?
A: We provide a feedback survey for each session, and we intensely review and adjust based on those results. The Academics Team works with facilitators to determine what worked well and what needs to be changed for subsequent sessions. 

Many people may not know that our facilitators also create “indicators of success” for each session, that we share with instructional leaders (ILs). As ILs are providing coaching to their teachers, they can look for and support those indicators of success. This development method has many benefits, including allowing campus teachers to receive more direct development, ILs can focus on in the moment coaching, and ultimately, we receive feedback from ILs about how effective our sessions have been in practice. We want to ensure that we’re working seamlessly with campus-based leaders to support our teachers.

MM: What does the PD calendar look like for the rest of the academic year?A: We’ll offer Network-provided PD at the end of Quarters 1, 2, and 3. However, we’re still working on the structure of these days. We know that we’ll be remote for at least Quarters 1 and 2, and we also know that a full day of Zoom is not the best context for deep learning. So we’re thinking creatively and intentionally about what is best for teachers. What will remain the same from previous years is that we’ll offer two direct development sessions of a teacher’s choosing, and all teachers will also be working in their content-based teams for additional development and collaboration. These collaboration “rooms” help teachers calibrate rigor in student work, dig deeper into a specific standard, or apply the lessons from a direct development session to their particular content.

Overall, we’re pretty excited about the opportunities that remote PD can offer. We think that we’ll come out of this time of crisis with more robust systems of development and collaboration than we’ve ever had.

* Editor’s note: Hedgehog is the term Noble uses for a small group of committed staff who focus on a single area/project, often researching, creating policy/curricula, and implementing sound strategy in their area of expertise. For example, hedgehog curricula involved a small group of Noble math teachers working as a team to develop a baseline curriculum for math, sophomore English teachers for sophomore English, etc. Those baseline curricula are then available for all Noble teachers through the staff portal.

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