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Bear Creek Middle School: Professional Learning for Effective 1:1 Implementation


Bear Creek Middle School—located just south of Atlanta, Georgia, in the Fulton County School District—just completed the 2nd year of its 1:1 device initiative, which provides over 1,100 students with new electronic digital devices.

In December 2014, as the result of a Fulton County district readiness assessment, Bear Creek Middle School was selected as part of the first cohort to pilot Fulton County, Georgia’s 1:1 personalized learning initiative. Determined to embrace the challenge, principal Dr. Anthony Newbold tasked Darren Clay, Assistant Principal at Bear Creek Middle School, with leading the core team that would guide the school through its 1:1 implementation plan. The team set out with two goals (1) to develop a strategy aligned to the school’s mission, and (2) to create a paperless school model that could maximize student opportunities to use digital learning tools that would support and represent their learning.

In order to ensure that the outcome was not solely dependent on devices, the team decided to use personalized learning instructional principles to build a strong foundation. Assistant Principal Darren Clay, and the core instructional team knew that they could not do this alone and sought out local and national partnerships that would support them in developing and implementing an instructional plan and model. During the summer of 2015, the team worked diligently to create action plans that could yield a personalized learning experience enhanced by technology.

Putting the Plan to Action

The primary focus of the plan was to ensure that teachers felt equipped to navigate in virtual learning environments. Therefore, in partnership with Kennesaw State University (KSU), they strategically designed a professional development plan to be implemented in two phases. During phase one, the ‘Pre-Deployment’ phase, the core team took their time developing an instructional framework that was supported by what they believed to be the essential “7 instructional principles” for personalized learning. Once this framework was developed, the team collected baseline data from teachers through teacher perception surveys and observational surveys in order to place teachers into an appropriate professional development group. Clay and the rest of the core team designed instructional simulations in order to help the school’s teachers bridge the abstract understanding of the 7 principles with concrete experiences of teaching in alignment with the 7 principles that leveraged their challenges, strengths, and expertise.

Later in the school year, students received the devices and then the devices were naturally embedded into classroom instructional practices. The philosophy at Bear Creek Middle School was that the device was a “resource” and it wasn’t going to replace the teacher or instruction. Mr. Clay emphasized that the device in itself is not personalized learning but rather a tool to facilitate personalized learning at an optimal level. School leaders applied a tiered approach to professional development by gradually releasing responsibility to other teachers to lead their fellow staff members in professional learning opportunities. Teachers were able to share best practices for teaching effectively with technology and provided with the flexibility they needed to create or adapt new protocols or procedures. In an effort to ensure that educators and students were empowered to make smart, ethical, and safe decisions while using their devices, Bear Creek Middle School became a Common Sense Media Digitally Certified School. Every adult and student in the building were enrolled, trained, and certified in Common Sense Media’s Digital Citizenship Program. Furthermore, all parents received training about device capability during a device deployment orientation.

In the second phase of implementation, Bear Creek Middle shifted to focusing on selecting the tools and software platform the school would use and determining what effective use of that tool would look like. The school enrolled in the Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) program to prepare teachers to use the selected tools and software in their classrooms with ongoing and instructionally embedded performance-based professional learning provided throughout the school year. Mr. Clay and the instructional team used the program-created performance tasks for educators and administered quizzes in order to probe teachers for the next tool that they would learn in the next session. As they built their capacity as a staff, they started providing opportunities for staff members to take the lead on certain PD sessions with the support of KSU partners to lead this initiative and drive change with the technology integration. Bear Creek Middle School leaders wanted to be proactive and ensure that the teachers felt empowered and supported. By partnering with KSU, teachers have been able to receive job-embedded professional development or technology coaching to support them with the transition.

Reflection and Next Steps

As coaches, KSU collaborates with teachers, models best practices, and continues to support the core leadership team. When asked about their partnership with Bear Creek, Kali Alford – a KSU Project Lead said, “none of our efforts would have been effective if we didn’t aim to become a part of the school culture and fabric first.” Prior to jumping in and implementing a professional development model, KSU sought to understand the vision for the school and collaborated to determine what coaching had taken place before and focus on building relationships in order to establish trust and buy-in. The team focused their efforts to ensure that every member of the staff saw them as a committed and approachable in-house resource. Coaches and administrators then started modeling, co-planning and teaching alongside the faculty. This strategy fostered dialogues around best practices for technology integration as well as blended and personalized learning. After school differentiated PD was offered for teachers to figure out what support they needed beyond previously offered professional development. According to Alex Larson, a KSU Instructional Coach, “there was some resistance based on time, preference of teaching, use of tools. For one of our reluctant teachers, our strategy was to start with a simple tech tool and provide small challenges, and the teacher soon came to love it! Next year we are looking to integrate the SAMR model and move beyond substitution to challenge the educators who are ready to move to the next step. Another strategy is to familiarize our students with particular tools and once students become engaged, some teachers are more likely to acquire an interest in those tools in order to meet their student’s needs. We don’t want teachers to feel that paper is out. We want to focus on blended learning and ensure that there is still interest.”

Additional Resources

From Bear Creek Middle School in Fulton County, GA:

Points of Contact

Darren Clay
Technology Assistance Principal

Additional Authors: Dr. Anthony Newbold (Principal), Kali Alford (KSU iTeach Instructional Technology Specialist) and Alexandra Larson (KSU iTeach Instructional Technology Specialist)