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Staff Learning at Lakota West Gets Personal

Staff Learning at Lakota West Gets Personal

When personalized learning is the end goal for Lakota students, staff are no exception. This is especially true at Lakota West High School, where a new and more personal approach to professional development for teachers offers both variety and choice - and a chance to be both the learner and the expert. 

West innovation specialists Lindsay Ellis and Tracie Kleman are the leaders of West’s building-level professional development programming, which requires teachers to participate in at least one learning session a month. They quickly realized that teacher-led sessions were the ticket to not only more buy-in among their peers, but also more productive and enticing content that taps into what they need.  

“It started as just wanting to give staff an opportunity to show off their enthusiasm and passion for their work,” said Ellis, adding that the program has developed very organically since its start last school year. They now have a growing group of “PD roadies” that regularly attend nearly every session they offer. 

The school’s PD calendar includes, on average, two different sessions a week led by staff, and for staff, before the first bell of the school day rings. Kleman says the topic “doesn’t have to be anything monstrous.” In fact, the idea is to keep it simple and share out strategies they see their teammates using that could have a similar effect across other subject matters. 

“We try to identify pain points for our teachers and then solutions that their peers are already using that they might find helpful in their own classrooms,” said Kleman, who regularly surveys staff to identify trends and specific topic requests. 

“What I enjoy most is that we are able to choose to attend PDs that interest us,” said West teacher Rikki Bell, who says her experience leading her own sessions has  “reignited the passion (she has) for teaching.” 

“I also think that since the PD is coming from a teacher, it’s really insightful to see how other teachers do things in their classrooms and best practices that could be adapted into my own classroom. It gives us opportunities to be around like-minded teachers who we may not get the opportunity to see,” she continued.

A recent session led by Butler Tech sports medicine teacher Nikki Roether was very popular. It challenged teachers to consider the benefit of graphic note-taking, a strategy she has found boosts information retention, creativity and choice, among many other things for her students. Other sessions have focused on more technical topics like using Canva for design and rubrics for standard mastery, while others - like teacher Bell’s on becoming an ally for students of color or Tricia Becker’s to teach basic Spanish for communicating with West’s English Learner (EL) students - have become multi-part series. 

Kleman and Ellis usually host their own sessions too, while Assistant Principal Cathy Bella hosts a monthly coffee chat to openly discuss issues and problem-solve together. Entire departments, like West’s counseling team, have even hosted a session all about the college application process to help equip teachers with answers to the questions they so often get from their students. 

Most importantly, to emulate the personalized approach teachers strive to provide their own students each day, the program models choice - not only in content, but also in its format. Thanks to Kleman’s efforts especially, a whole library of virtual, on-demand PD options are available to staff who prefer to work independently and at their own pace. 

Kleman and Ellis are especially grateful for the support of West’s leadership team, which was willing to overhaul the format of its regular staff meetings to accommodate the new staff PD format. Beyond the in-person and virtual options, another unforeseen outcome has been a growing virtual library of personalized learning strategies employed by West staff. 

And beyond the skill sharing, they say the greatest impact has been on overall building culture.

“The best part has been showing off all of our great leaders and seeing their enthusiasm for their work,” Ellis said. “It truly changes the culture when you empower people and trust them to be the professionals that they are.” 

  • Personalized Learning