“Compared to our old system, KickUp houses everything and takes less of my time to use.”
With thousands of teachers serving the state’s most diverse student body, district staff in Winston-Salem / Forsyth County, North Carolina (WS/FCS) needed an easy-to-use system for managing professional learning that could not only replace their clunky old one but bring in new functionality. With KickUp, district and school staff can more quickly and easily connect teachers with the professional development they need to maintain their skills and renew their licenses, and will integrate classroom walkthrough and mentoring data for an even more comprehensive view of educator growth.
Located in the middle of North Carolina near the Blue Ridge Mountains in historic tobacco country, the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County Schools district is the state’s fourth largest, serving 53,000 students across 80 schools. With students’ demographic backgrounds roughly split between African-American, Hispanic, and white, the district is the most diverse in the state. The district is also Winston-Salem’s third-largest employer, with 3600 teachers.
Like their peers across the country, North Carolina educators are having a difficult year. In response, the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County Schools Department of Professional Learning and Effectiveness strives to ensure that “every employee has the ability to make a lasting impact on a student’s success” by offering “a comprehensive system of support strengthened by our coaching model, evidence-based professional development opportunities, and collaborative partnership to recruit and retain a highly effective and diverse workforce.”
To manage professional learning registration and track credits, the district had built a homegrown technology system that only worked while users were physically present in the central office or at a school site — a huge obstacle to overcome when everyone was working remotely due to the pandemic. What’s more, PD feedback was gathered through a variety of tools chosen by the facilitator or vendor, making it cumbersome to determine which sessions were valuable and which were not worth doing again.
But during the COVID-19 pandemic, the limitations of the old system became teachers began to provide online instruction from their homes during the pandemic. “During spring 2020, nobody could access their registrations or attend PD easily, and they couldn’t look up their CEUs [Continuing Education Units],” says Tina Lupton, who had recently started as the district’s Executive Director of Professional Learning and Effectiveness. In North Carolina, teachers must earn 8 CEUs or 80 hours of professional development in order to renew their teaching license.
Between professional development offered ad hoc through Zoom and a constellation of Excel spreadsheets and Google Docs, the district cobbled together a temporary system, then had to upload all of that old data into the district system so it could be synced with the state’s credit-tracking system.
During the 2020-2021 school year, Lupton decided it was time to replace the old, outdated system with something that worked more seamlessly to organize both registration and evaluation of PD sessions – and that could paint a full picture of teacher development by enabling principals, instructional coaches, and mentors to track coaching, classroom walkthroughs, and mentoring sessions. “We didn’t really have a system for monitoring and managing coaching or walkthroughs,” Lupton recalls. “Everyone was doing their own thing, and had their own data with their own questions, so nothing was connected.”
After an RFP process that brought in several proposals, Winston-Salem / Forsyth County Schools selected KickUp and began to use the all-in-one platform during the 2021-2022 school year. KickUp allows the district to streamline the way it organizes and delivers professional learning, integrating all information about teachers’ mentoring, coaching, and professional development into a single system. The new system includes the same functionality that the district already had – including event registration and attendance – but brings together feedback on those events, as well as walkthrough and coaching logs, all on the same platform.
Training teachers and professional learning staff at the school and district levels was the easy part, says Lupton. “A lot of the work was setting our own district parameters on what we require for PD within the district and from outside,” she notes. “Setting up the KickUp system helped us have those conversations. We were used to doing it the way we’d always done, so we had to come up with ways to identify effective PD.”
KickUp’s tight integration with the online learning platform Canvas has made it simple to create and launch new professional development content, adds Lupton. For example, when the state mandated professional development on social-emotional learning and on the science of reading, district staffers were able to quickly create and launch one-time and regular events covering these topics so groups of teachers could register and participate. KickUp also integrates with the state’s professional learning system, so CEUs are updated with the state within 24 hours of when a teacher earns them.
Spending less time setting up PD sessions has allowed Jennifer Brookshire, a longtime instructional facilitator at Clemmons Middle School, to focus on ensuring that PD content is targeted to district, school, and teacher needs. Clemmons is the district’s largest middle school, with 75 teachers and nearly 1200 students. Brookshire counts Clemmons teachers’ weekly professional learning community (PLC) sessions as PD, alongside state and district PD sessions and workshops offered by various vendors; she enters all PD sessions into the KickUp system for registration and attendance tracking, and then follows up to make sure that teachers provide post-PD feedback and that they earn the appropriate CEUs. “Compared to our old system, KickUp houses everything and takes less of my time to use,” says Brookshire.
As school and district staff plan for the 2022-2023 school year, several are reviewing KickUp data, including Lupton, who is scanning through teachers’ feedback on this year’s professional learning offerings. The district’s six area superintendents are also looking at KickUp’s professional learning data alongside other information in their discussions with principals about their school improvement plans.
Now that instructional facilitators and professional learning staff – and teachers, of course – are comfortable with KickUp, the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County Schools have begun to use the platform to manage classroom walkthroughs and to track mentoring sessions.
The district is working on customizing walkthrough tools for each school based on a set of district questions that principals should ask as they observe classrooms, as well as the tools already in use by different schools. The goal is for each school to use KickUp to collect regular, consistent walkthrough data on teachers’ instructional practices during the 2022-2023 school year.
Some district teams have also begun to use KickUp’s coaching log functionality: teacher effectiveness coaches use it to collect data on the type of support provided during coaching sessions, supports needed, and notes and next steps to the coaching meetings. Mentors working with new teachers also use the coaching logs to document their hours for payment, as well as to capture the topics and professional teaching standards they cover with their mentees.
During summer 2022 planning meetings, Winston-Salem’s teams will use professional learning data gathered this year in KickUp – together with assessment data and surveys – to develop their professional learning action plans for the 2022-2023 school year.
Eventually, mentor logs and walkthrough data will help support teacher effectiveness and instructional improvement that Winston-Salem leaders hope will lead to stronger student achievement. “We will be able to have rich conversations around teacher effectiveness and school improvement by triangulating what teachers are learning in professional learning, how they are being coached, and what we see of instruction through the walkthroughs,” says Lupton.
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