A Systematic Approach to Professional Learning in Miami-Dade County Public Schools

In February, Impact Florida held its fifth and final Learning Walk of the inaugural Districts for Impact cadre, hosted by Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS). Cadre leaders came together to learn how the district has developed a systematic approach for the professional learning of its teachers and leaders – one of Impact Florida’s Five Conditions That Support Great Teaching – to improve student outcomes and enhance the student experience.

With 435 schools serving more than 348,000 students and 53,000 employees, Miami-Dade is the fourth largest school district in the country and the largest among this Districts for Impact cadre. The cadre and I were eager to learn about the “secret sauce” behind a professional learning system that has enabled the district to maintain an “A” rating for the last three years and an average graduation rate of 89.2% for all district-operated schools.

The biggest takeaway from this walk, for me, was being able to see the intentionality and care with which the district addresses professional learning from all angles. They’ve employed a variety of top-down, bottom-up, and peer-to-peer professional development models to truly meet adult learners where they are, and to create capacity for penetration across such a large system.

Incorporating the Student Voice

In the morning of our visit, the cadre learned about how the district has been able to leverage user-centered design to improve its middle schools. In 2016, M-DCPS came to the realization that solutions not directly tied to the needs of the end user had been largely unsuccessful in the past. With this in mind, the district began to focus on understanding the middle school experience through the eyes and voices of their students by shadowing and interviewing students.

Dr. Ilia Molina, Director of Middle School Redesign, gave the cadre a crash course in Design Thinking that enabled us to experience how the district leveraged the collective and creative problem-solving approach to better serve the needs of students. We learned that the key to this approach to professional learning is engaging the varying levels of end users – both teachers and students – in the solution development process.

Lead By Example

In the afternoon, we joined a cohort of Miami-Dade assistant principals on their Instructional Rounds to reflect and calibrate on the components of effective instruction as outlined in the districts’ Framework of Effective Instruction. The primary purpose of these instructional rounds is to develop a shared understanding among administrators of what great instruction looks like, as well as to build the skills and confidence of principals and assistant principals as instructional leaders to ultimately improve student outcomes.

The Power of Choice and Voice

If there’s one phrase that resonates with me the most from this walk, it would be “the power of choice and voice.” District leaders have been intentional in giving adult learners ownership through choice and curating content to better meet their needs to improve engagement and effectiveness of professional learning, just as they’ve done for students through Middle School Redesign. This experience has made me realize that all of us, as adult learners, really aren’t that different from the students we serve after all.

Learnings from Miami-Dade County will be captured and shared in a “Case for Impact” in the coming months.

You can learn more about the learning walks at impactfl.org/districts-for-impact.

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