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Professional development offerings for the new school year

The key to improving student achievement is to make sure teachers get the professional development they need to be successful.

Ed-tech tools are only as effective as the teachers who are using them—and the real key to improving student achievement is to make sure teachers get the professional development they need to be successful. With that in mind, here’s a roundup of new and noteworthy staff development services for the new school year.

Before districts can deliver staff development that is targeted and highly effective, they must identify each teacher’s areas of need. That requires a sound teacher evaluation system, something the Utah-based company Truenorthlogic knows about.

Truenorthlogic was founded in 2000 as iAssessment, which offered a customizable online program for teachers to self-rate their skills against a technology teaching rubric. The results of this self-assessment generated a recommended path for professional growth tied to teachers’ specific levels of understanding.

“We wanted to create a company that was founded on the idea of helping teachers grow in … their ability to teach in this ever-changing, fast-paced technological environment,” says co-founder Jeanette Haren.

Since then, the company has expanded its focus to include teacher evaluation, mentoring, and professional development management. The company was renamed Truenorthlogic to better reflect its expanded focus.

Truenorthlogic’s Educator Effectiveness Model encompasses a full range of professional services. It includes advising school districts on teacher induction, certification, and licensure; coaching and mentoring; growth planning and teacher assessment; professional learning management; and evaluation and appraisal.

The company recently announced new partnerships with two Arizona districts: the Phoenix Union High School District and Madison Elementary School District 38. The districts have chosen Truenorthlogic to help them deploy a new teacher evaluation system that is based on multiple measures of a teacher’s effectiveness and aligns professional growth for all staff based on these evaluation results.

“The Madison Elementary District embraces technology for both our students and our staff. We are excited to work with Truenorthlogic … in the creation of an online teaching evaluation system that we can integrate into our data warehouse, allowing us to ultimately improve student achievement,” said Superintendent Tim Ham in a press release.

Knowledge Delivery Systems (KDS) sells a software program for helping school administrators record their observations from classroom walkthroughs on a handheld device such as an iPhone, iPad, Pocket PC, or BlackBerry. Called eWalk, the system collects, analyzes, and stores data through web-based forms. Users can record observations using various input elements, and results are uploaded to the web for printing and analysis. eWalk can be used in conjunction with mVal, a staff evaluation and professional growth system that helps administrators complete evaluations quickly with direct input from staff.

KDS also announced that it is developing 13 online professional development courses in conjunction with Solution Tree, a provider of educational strategies and services designed to improve staff and student performance. The courses will combine KDS’ online platform for delivering staff development with the expertise of Solution Tree presenters, such as Dr. Robert Marzano and his team from the Marzano Research Lab.

The 13 new courses include 21st Century Skills, to be co-taught by Ken Kay, a business leader who is former president of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills; Assessment and the Common Core State Standards; Differentiation and the Brain; Elementary Reading Intervention Strategies; Formative Assessment and Standards-Based Grading; Motivating and Engaging Students; and Using Web 2.0 in Teaching & Instruction.

Six additional courses will be completed by the end of 2011, with 12 more scheduled to launch in spring 2012, KDS says.

Another provider of online staff development is Sublime Learning, which provides what it calls eTeachables: a series of three- to five-minute narrated video tutorials that model effective teaching and learning strategies. Each eTeachable module includes customizable templates for putting these strategies to use with hundreds of K-8 lessons. The idea is to offer timely, simple professional development tools that focus on integrating technology into instruction and reaching all learning styles, the company says—including visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.

Sublime Learning recently announced its newest eTeachables library, called Inquiry-Based Learning for Interactive Whiteboards. The state of Virginia will be the first to implement this new product in a statewide pilot for the 2011-12 school year.

“We believe that teachers want to use technology to support higher‐level thinking and problem‐ and project‐based learning in their classrooms. Our Inquiry­Based Learning for Interactive Whiteboards eTeachables library allows districts to better use the interactive whiteboard technology they already own before making additional purchases,” said Kendra Grant, co‐founder of Sublime Learning, in a press release.

The Alabama-based data management company STI has launched a new face-to-face professional development offering. Called i21 Zone, the service is highly customized and focuses on the effective use of technology in instruction.

STI consultants will spend a few days within a school or district, observing classes and assessing needs based on the school’s or district’s current ed-tech inventory and usage. Then, they work with instructors to pass along strategies for improvement. This cycle of assess, teach, and observe typically takes about five to seven days in all, STI says, and is priced per day. The first i21 Zone customer is Alabama’s Tuscaloosa County.

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