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Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform.

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A Look Ahead at LEAP

By Guest Blogger — September 02, 2016 3 min read

Note: Kelsey Hamilton, a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute, will be guest-blogging today.

Hi all! I’m glad to be back for a final blogging round on the new changes to DCPS this fall. A brief catch-up for those of you who are just stopping by: On Monday, I talked about a major change instituted by DCPS in 2009 called IMPACT. This initiative revolutionized the teacher evaluation process and received accolades and criticism alike. This fall’s brand new professional development program LEAP, co-developed with New Orleans-based Leading Educators, is the next step in DCPS’s vision for stronger schools, staff, and community. On Wednesday, I touched on how the program is structured and shared a few details from my trip visiting a teacher training session. Today, I’ll take a look at what these changes mean to DCPS, and what reactions have been to the new initiative.

The increased opportunity for communication and collaboration between teachers and leaders is a highlight of the LEAP program. By creating the space and time for teachers to discuss teaching methods and potential solutions to classroom troubles, the initiative fosters a stronger teacher community. This innovative new approach to professional development could help teachers and students alike by allowing teachers to share ideas on teaching specific content, and for students to benefit from that conversation.

Additionally, the emphasis on open lines of communication between the teacher and observer offers a promising step forward, especially in light of the reworked IMPACT teacher evaluation. Overseeing teachers’ work and assessing performance is a tricky endeavor. In giving teachers the time and chance to work with experienced, successful educators and receive frequent, informal feedback, LEAP provides teachers with strong support. The observations become a tool for developing teacher skill, rather than for doling out punishment or reward. The careful structuring of feedback also enables these coaching tips to pack plenty of punch. LEAP leaders craft their advice into actionable steps for teachers that guide the production of real results.

While this innovative program holds promise, it is still difficult to judge how it will work in practice. When I was sitting in at the training session, the LEAP leaders asked for clarification on several different aspects of the program that did not have clear answers. For example, one teacher brought up the fact that the weekly 90-minute LEAP meetings, though considered a part of the 225 minutes allotted for lesson planning, might not leave teachers enough time to develop full lesson plans.

Another wanted more details on the weekly 15-minute observations, noting that it is highly likely that since the visit is unannounced, the observer would not get to see the teacher put the weekly session’s topic into action. The LEAP coordinator suggested that the leader should then be on the lookout for that topic in the next week’s observation, and the debrief on that particular issue would just be pushed back to a later date. But yet, the teachers argued, what’s to say that the topic doesn’t show up in the next month, or maybe even in the next year? Questions like these were pushed to the “parking lot"—a collection of larger questions that took too much time to discuss in conversation, or were simply write-in comments from the teachers on other parts of the session. Many of the more substantive issues raised by the teachers revolved around the finer details of implementation, and how certain aspects would work on the ground. By the end of the session, there were several questions of this nature.

Overall, I was impressed with the scope and the vision of the program. The focus on fluid, informal feedback struck me as a great opportunity for teacher development, and it will be exciting to see how this innovative new structure plays out. Though there are still some details that need ironing out, the LEAP initiative offers a chance dig in to the collaborative nature of teaching and support teachers in their ever-important work. I’ll certainly be keeping my eyes and ears open for any new news on LEAP this year!

Many thanks to Rick for letting me take the blogging hot-seat this week, to DCPS for having me sit in on a training session, and to those who stopped by this week to check out the posts. Enjoy the long Labor Day weekend!

--Kelsey Hamilton

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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