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Professional Learning Current Reality & GAPSS

Lisa A. Flicker

Kennesaw State University

August 2017

Dr. Campbell

June 2017

Part A: Professional Learning Current Reality


At Holcomb Bridge Middle School (HBMS), the primary focus for the last four years has

been providing students skills necessary to not only become lifelong learners, but confident and

competitive in todays rapidly changing global economy. The vision statement at HBMS states

that Holcomb Bridge Middle School fosters educational excellence and cultural enrichment in a

safe, respectful, global learning environment through innovative and engaging standards based

instruction, data driven decision making, 21st century technology, comprehensive and continuous

monitoring and assessment, and valued diversity (HBMS, 2017). All of these factors are an

integral part of what directly impacts what personalized learning opportunities will be offered to

the faculty and staff at Holcomb Bridge Middle School.

Holcomb Bridge understands the importance of valuable and individualized personalized

learning for their teachers. Allison Francis, the Personalized Learning Coach at Holcomb Bridge

Middle School states that technology is a tool for personalized learning, and Holcomb Bridge

understands this. Technology is viewed as a resource to assist in improving students skills in

problem solving, critical thinking, and agency in learning, She further states that it is the hope

that technology be used in transformative ways as opposed to simple substitution (A. Francis,

personal communication, September 5, 2017). The ISTE site states that all the technology in the

world will not make a difference if educators do not know how to use it. If educators are given

enough time to collaborate and build networks with the digital tools they are given, their

instruction becomes much more effective (ISTE, 2017). This is definitely the philosophy and

vision that Holcomb Bridge Middle School (HBMS) has implemented. Personalized learning

opportunities are varied and individualized to teacher needs and requests. These needs are based

from surveys, administrative observations, and one on one discussions with the personalized

learning coach.

Fulton County School System, which recently changed to a charter system, and includes

Holcomb Bridge M.S., strongly believes in access to technology for all of their students. They

are in the midst of a one-to one roll out initiative for all of their schools. Holcomb Bridge Middle

School was in the first phase, which occurred two years ago. As it is a charter school, individual

schools are allowed to choose the type of device to roll out to their students. Holcomb Bridge

Middle chose iPads. Classrooms are also provided with smart boards, and at HBMS, the EPSOM

Smart Projector is used for all of their classrooms. Furthermore, every student has 24 hour access

to their own iPad with 5GB per month data package. This package, however, will end at the end

of the 2017-2018 school year, when the Digital Promise/Verizon Innovative Schools contract

runs out. These resources, however, would never be useful if those who are using them are not

adequately trained. In the book, Instructional Coaching, by Jim Knight, the concept of praxis is

discussed, including the importance of teachers being able to reconstruct and use content the way

they feel the most useful in their own classroom setting (Knight, 25). If this does not occur then

the valuable implementation of the technology being introduced may not truly happen.

Needs Assessment

The professional learning needs at Holcomb Bridge Middle School are driven by several

factors. These factors, according to Allison Francis include, but not limited to, academic data

from Milestones, and STAR testing, feedback from teachers and staff via surveys and classroom

observations, informal conversations, and the Principals Advisory Council meetings (A. Francis,

personal communication, September 9, 2017). Holcomb Bridge Middle School, through a

Digital Promise grant, has a Personalized Learning Coach, Alison Francis, to facilitate all

necessary and mandated Digital Promise trainings, to support teachers as they try new

technology tools, brainstorm, and to help put together learning opportunities for the teachers and

staff within the school.

Mrs. Francis had been a teacher at Holcomb Bridge before she took on the role of

personalized learning coach. She is very familiar with the population of students at the school as

well as many of the staff. However, she did not necessarily understand where each teacher was in

their own personal journey for incorporating technology, including their comfort level in doing

so. As a personalized learning coach, she had to gain the confidence of teachers, understand their

needs, and create individualized plans to meet those needs. This was accomplished through

surveys and one on one discussions with teachers. In terms of personalized learning, Mrs.

Frances provides teachers with options for learning that can be tailored to their proficiency

levels. She states that this year the school had a cohort of teachers working with Ed Tech

Teacher for Personalized Learning PL, while other teachers went through more entry level PL

coordinated by her (A. Frances, personal communication, September 9, 2017)

Much of the data pulled, whether from S.T.A.R. assessments, ITBS, Milestones,

formative and summative assessments completed on Naiku or Fulton Connect are collected and

analyzed from the data clerk, Melanie McCullom. She relays information to administration and

teachers during administrative and grade level meetings. In the last three years, Holcomb Bridge

Middle Schools College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) score had been steadily

going up. However, in 2016, there was a substantial decline. Melanie McCullom attributes the

decline to drops in the areas of achievement, progress, and EL/SWD/ED performance. We saw

drops in every content area except for 8th ELA. This caused both our achievement number and

progress number to decrease because students scored lower and showed less growth than

previous Milestones. We also did not meet any of the 12 EL/SWD/ED performance flags for the

2016 CCRPI score. We met 6 of the 12 in 2015. However, Mrs. McCullom was hopeful that

we would see an increase in 2017 as we showed growth in almost every content area in this past

years GA Milestones (M. McCullom, personal correspondence, September 11, 2017). Given

these results, it was concluded that more specific training was needed, and that this training

needed to be just as personalized for HBMS teachers as we were asking teachers to provide for

their students.

Professional Learning

Holcomb Bridge Middle School is a 1:1 Personalized Learning School and a Verizon

Innovative Learning School directed by Digital Promise. Furthermore, Holcomb Bridge Middle

is a culturally diverse school. Acknowledging the great diversity within the school comes the

acceptance that all students learn differently, have different needs, come from different

backgrounds, and require various strategies to access their potential growth. Teachers are given

access to professional learning communities that are content, grade-level, and vertical-team

aligned in order to collaborate for the success of all the students. These needs are often

determined through administrative walk-throughs, teacher requests, one on one discussions with

the personalized learning coach, or through county initiatives.

Mrs. Francis, the personalized learning coach, states that the major strategic plans that

Holcomb Bridge Middle School would like to achieve are to train teachers on instructional

strategies that promote problem based learning and increase higher order thinking skills. She

went on to say that she wants our PLC focus to be on interdisciplinary instruction,

differentiation, formative assessment, and providing meaningful feedback. (A. Francis, personal

communication, 2017).

Professional learning at Holcomb Bridge Middle is implemented in several different

formats that depend on who is delivering, the needs of those being delivered to, and the specific

group directed toward. At times, it may be delivered through the various PLC groups teachers

are members of and based on their own specific group needs. All teachers are members of

several different PLC groups, these groups had been decided upon by the Guiding Coalition

Committee which is made up of teachers, staff, and administration. Grade Level PLC occurs

each Wednesday during planning, Tuesdays are for content meetings during planning,

Humanities/STEM meets once a month, professional development slated for Mondays during

grade level planning, and faculty meetings once a month. As specific needs arise, teachers wish

to share knew information learned, or information needs come through the pipeline, it is then

disseminated through proper channels and to the group that it needs to go to. Typically, there is a

reflection piece that is given afterwards for teachers to fill out and rate how meaningful it was to

them and how likely they are to utilize this new tool or strategy.

Mrs. Francis also gave some insight in to the specific program implemented in regard to

professional learning at Holcomb Bridge Middle. She said that there was professional learning

from Ed Tech Teacher (ETT) that was provided to a cohort group last year, and again this year.

The ETT training consists of a blended model of in-person small-group trainings and online

supplemental webinars. The remainder of the staff receives colleague-led trainings in person

with small group and one-to-one follow-up from the personalized learning coach. We had a

trainer from Mastery Design Collaborative train a cohort of teachers on the implementation of

varied path and pace options for learning and in a face-to-face design (A. Francis, personal

communication, September 9, 2017).


However, some professional learning offered at Holcomb Bridge is in a more

personalized way to teachers and through e-learning. Understanding that the technology

landscape is constantly changing and evolving, many professional organizations are stipulating

that members stay current by taking part in a minimum of training hours per given time period.

When offered through e-learning formats, these organizations recognize that work schedules and

personal life are often filled in this day and age. Therefore, providing the format in a way that

allows the member to access the training on their time, and when convenient to them is often

times more productive and meaningful (Fok, 2006). Holcomb Bridge understands the time

constraints of their teachers as they balance work with family. Therefore, provide certain

opportunities for professional learning through the e-learning format.

As stated in Learning Forward, learning communities are vital to the success of the entire

school. They require members to be accountable, to convene regularly, to promote collective

responsibility, and all for the goal of strengthening their practice and student achievement

(Learning Forward, 2015). Teachers at Holcomb Bridge are required to attend these meetings,

are asked to be engaged and to help create and follow through with the norms and goals decided

upon by the group.

Alignment to School Improvement Goals

Holcomb Bridge Middle School has several strategies in place to help align its school

improvement goals with professional development. As mentioned earlier, the CCRPI scores for

Holcomb Bridge went down substantially in 2016. With this, came a re-evaluation of the specific

needs of our students, as well as our staff. We saw that there was a huge discrepancy between

English as a Second Language Learners and Learning Disabled. Holcomb Bridge previously

only had a graduation coach and a STEM coordinator, with the drop in scores, we qualified to

obtain additional Math and Language Arts coaches. Looking to bridge the gap between the

discrepancy in scores within the different groups of students present in the school, teachers are

working together in their various PLC groups to create strategies to achieve more balance. This

is being achieved through a focus on personalized learning, voice and choice, and how the

implementation of technology can best be used to reach these goals for all students.

School improvement goals are also supported through data walks and discussions during

backward design days offered to teachers once per semester. These are content aligned and

optional. The data clerk, coaches and admin are each aligned to a specific content and join in on

initial meetings to discuss a focus and plan for the specific needs of students. After which

breakout groups occur between grade level and content to plan and devise questions or requests

from our professional learning coach for additional help with implementation of ideas and

strategies. Additionally, administration and instructional coaches met monthly with the Path and

Pace trained cohort to gain feedback and establish areas of support where needed.

Funding and Incentives

Most of Holcomb Bridge Middle Schools personalized learning opportunities for its

teachers takes place during the regular school day, and during the teachers planning time. As

some of the PL is vertically aligned or by content, it may be offered the half hour before school

begins. Administration is very cognoscente of the fact that the middle school hours last until the

late afternoon, so they tend to not require any meetings after regular school hours. Backwards

Design Days do require substitutes. Backwards design days allow teachers, across the 6th through

8th grades at HBMS, within the same content, to plan and collaborate for a day together.

Additionally, there is professional learning is geared toward all staff, such as Project Based

Learning through the Buck Institute of technology.


Holcomb Bridge Middle School has a very diverse population, academically, socio-

economically, racially, and ethnically. Without a personalized learning approach, it would be

impossible to achieve success for all students given the vast degree of need in existence.

Teachers who are successfully implementing personalized learning practices are recognized in

the school for their successes with leading professional developments and with Commitment of

Excellence Awards that are handed out each month (A. Francis, personal correspondence,

September 9, 2017).

Specific funding used to come from a SEED fund when Fulton County became a charter

system. Now, the county is distributing money based on need, focusing funds in achievement

zone schools. Holcomb Bridge has $40,000 that will fund the AVID professional development

(A. Frances, personal communication, September 9, 2017).


Holcomb Bridge Middle School is an incredibly diverse school that welcomes students

from almost 40 countries. The school is a Title I school, with a Title I Parent Liaison, and

includes a special education program for autistic children as well as Moderate Intellectual

Disabled (MOID). Programs and teachers in each grade level for English as Second Language

Learners. There are Student Support Teams (SST) and Response to Intervention (RTI) that also

suggest interventions for students. HBMS also has Talented and Gifted criteria and staff for the

identification and services of gifted children attending the school. Holcomb Bridge Middle

School utilizes team teaching in all core classes. According to Leigh Doss, the Special Education

Chair at Holcomb Bridge Middle School, and the concept of team teaching may be one of our

weakest within the school. We are working on creating opportunities for team-teachers to work

together through professional learning opportunities (L. Doss, personal communication, August

25, 2017). The ultimate goal for teachers to create strategies they may utilize to meet the needs

of the individual students within the classrooms they serve.

Holcomb Bridge Middle School utilizes Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports

(PBIS) professional learning focusing on how to relate to and successfully navigate interactions

with students of varying backgrounds (A. Frances, personal communication, September 9,

2017). PBIS is a multi-tiered approach for social, emotional, and behavioral support of all

students, include underrepresented groups, within the school (PBIS, 2017). PBIS provides

experts to conduct whole-group training with year-long follow-up and resources.


Collaboration is an integral part of the day to day operations for Holcomb Bridge Middle

School. There is an underlying philosophy that no one works as an island and collaboration is the

key to success. As long as PLC members see strategic accountability as something they do to

themselves, for themselves and others in the learning community, and not as something imposed

from outside, they will embrace it. You can tell that strategic accountability is working when

PLC members say, Of course, were accountable. Why would we not be accountable? (Easton,

p.2, 2016) This is not to say that teachers are not granted autonomy on how they may deliver

lessons to students, but through collaboration they are better able to gather increased knowledge

and strategies on how best to meet the specific needs of all students.

Holcomb Bridge Middle School schedules content collaboration once a week during

planning for each grade level. Administrators are assigned to a content and attend each of the

content PLCs. Periodically, the personalization, math and literacy coaches may attend to

brainstorm strategies based on data collected from local, STAR, and other county-wide

assessments. Furthermore, contents have the opportunity to collaborate vertically once a month.

During weekly grade level collaboration meetings, grade level business is kept to a minimum so

individual student concerns and progress may be addressed and potential strategies put in to

place. Co-teachers, however, are not given specific planning time set aside each week to

collaborate together.

Furthermore, collaboration is also available through the S.T.E.M. and Humanities

Vertical Team meetings that occur monthly. During these meetings that occur the second

Wednesday morning of each month, teachers have the ability to model favorite strategies or

tools, share any professional learning opportunities they have had, or be given any information

that needs to be relayed from department heads in the county. Small group sessions occur as

Social Studies and ELA separate in the Humanities Meeting, and Science and Math separate in

the S.T.E.M. to better personalize specific needs and curriculum questions they may have.


The manner for evaluating the implementation and effectiveness of professional

development at Holcomb Bridge Middle School is through the TKES process, classroom

observation, staff surveys, student feedback, and through the evaluation of student achievement

data (A. Frances, personal communication, September 9, 2017). Specifically, teachers are

evaluated by several means at Holcomb Bridge Middle School, including formal and informal

evaluations. Formal evaluations are conducted through the policies and procedures set up

through the Teacher Keys Effectiveness System (TKES). TKES evaluates teachers on what they

need to know and do to successfully accomplish goals they have set-up for themselves and have

successfully helped to promote student achievement. Pre-evaluation conferences are set-up and

conducted early in the first semester. Administrators are assigned to educators to evaluate during

specific windows of time. Reflection pieces are asked after walk-throughs to be completed by

the teacher and submitted to the main administrator assigned. Once per semester the educator

and main evaluator meet to discuss progress, anecdotes and areas of concern or excellence with a

mid-year and summative conference. These one-on-one conferences give the administrator and

teacher an opportunity to discuss areas of weakness possibly helped through professional

development opportunities, and areas of strength the educator could utilize to lead professional

learning opportunities at Holcomb Bridge Middle.

Evaluations are also conducted on educators informal interactions and contributions to

PLCs and from observations in classrooms by administrations and school support personnel.

These informal evaluations are utilized to assess professional development needs and to observe

the utilization of strategies being implemented. According to the Learning Forward site,

educator performance standards are used as driving indicators for the implementation of

professional development opportunities and geared toward the equitable and effective success of

all students (Learning Forward, 2017). Holcomb Bridge Middle School, therefore, uses informal

and formal evaluations as guides towards implementing personalized learning to support school

initiatives and student achievement.



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Kappan, 98(4), 43-48.

Fok, A. P., & Ip, H. S. (2006). An agent-based framework for personalized learning in
continuing professional development. International Journal of Distance Education
Technologies, 4(2), 48-61. doi:10.4018/jdet.2006070105

Holcomb Bridge Middle School Mission. (n.d.). Retrieved September 11, 2017, from

Knight, J. (2007). Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction.

Corwin Press.

Learning Forward Georgia. (n.d.). Retrieved September 11, 2017, from

OSEP Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (2017).
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