Like many state education agencies, the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) must frequently leverage small teams to advance large-scale initiatives, which is why MDE is taking a systems approach to supporting educators in using the Mississippi Educator and Administrator Professional Growth System (PGS) to improve practice. As a core objective for achieving Goal 4 of the State Strategic Plan—Every School Has Effective Teachers and Leaders—the PGS aims to support teachers and administrators by:
- Providing meaningful coaching, actionable feedback, and targeted professional learning;
- Enabling school and district leaders to assess performance and identify priorities for individual and school-wide professional development; and
- Supporting the use of effectiveness data in decision-making by school and district leaders.
Successful completion of the PGS Combined Rubric Training is required of all Mississippi personnel who serve as observers of teachers and administrators for the PGS. In response to COVID-19, the Mississippi State Board of Education suspended the requirement for districts to submit annual employee performance data for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years. Leaders in the Office of Teaching and Leading took this opportunity to improve and expand training for PGS observers in an effort to support the continued growth of educators throughout the pandemic.
With technical assistance from the Region 7 Comprehensive Center (R7CC), MDE expanded its reach to serve educators across the state by developing virtual synchronous and asynchronous training courses to certify school and district personnel’s completion of an MDE-approved PGS training as required by the Mississippi Public School Accountability Standards, 2022. To meet the demand for both virtual and in-person training, MDE then needed to build capacity to provide high-quality PGS training beyond the Educator Effectiveness team’s current reach. MDE’s strategy was to re-engage the Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) to build their capacity to provide high-quality, in-person training for those charged with conducting observations for the PGS. MDE’s senior leaders met this need by championing the work and approving the use of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to contract with the RESAs to hire trainers who would be trained as facilitators of face-to-face training in their respective regions.
Even as MDE engaged in these efforts, members of the State Implementation and Leadership Teams partnered with R7CC to develop FAQs and explicit guidance for PGS data submission as required by the Mississippi Public School Accountability Standards, 2022. With the support of MDE’s senior leaders on the State Leadership Team, members of the State Implementation Team worked collaboratively to develop cohesive PGS data quality communications and professional development supports for Mississippi educators and administrators alike.
MDE and R7CC then developed a comprehensive set of resources and supports for RESAs with the goal of providing consistent, high-quality training statewide. These resources included 1) guidance for recruiting and selecting trainers, 2) a facilitators guidebook for training the trainers, 3) tools for assessing the quality and fidelity of training, and 4) a dedicated website for RESAs to access shared training resources, calendars, and more. This process goes beyond a “train-the-trainer” model because it seeks to establish a sustainable training system that can withstand turnover and use training data for continuous improvement of the PGS by building RESA capacity. Southwest Mississippi Education Consortium (SMEC) Director, Carolyn Mack, highlighted her support for the approach by stating, “The Professional Growth System Combined Rubric training presents a new and great model of collaborating and engaging as a team (principal/teacher). This process will show growth in teaching and learning and provide feedback from participants that will provide students with the tools to be successful.”
By deliberately crafting a training process involving an array of organizations, MDE is striving to create a self-sustaining system resistant to staff turnover. PGS district data submission rates exceeded pre-COVID levels at 95% as a result of MDE’s continued commitment to systematic PGS training, data quality, and professional development efforts. Hence, MDE’s approach to championing and supporting a high-quality PGS through enhanced statewide capacity is noteworthy. Reflecting on the process, Interim State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Kim Benton, shared, “Together, MDE and Mississippi RESAs ensured a rigorous PGS trainer selection and onboarding process in order to offer a clear, consistent vision of educator and administrator effectiveness statewide.”
Keys to Success: Listening, Leveraging, and Re-engaging
- Listening: MDE staff spent time listening to educators and administrators, including ongoing and extended office hours where MDE staff was present and available to problem solve both small (how do I log in) to large (help us understand this component) issues in data submission and training.
- Leveraging: MDE leveraged ESSER funds to create the RESA trainer onboarding process, which is well suited to have ongoing success beyond the initial rollout. This will not be a one-and-done effort. Rather, the team has built the system to last, given the extensive buy-in from stakeholders, trainers, and RESA leadership.
- Re-engaging: MDE was willing to step back and reimagine how support could be provided and re-engage its RESAs to ensure the move back to in-person training would be locally relevant and of high quality.
Mississippi Department of Education: Courtney Van Cleve (State Director, Educator Talent Acquisition and Effectiveness), Mary Alex Thigpen (Coordinator of Educator Effectiveness)
Region 7 Comprehensive Center: Jason LaTurner, Carol Keirstead, Kathleen Ryan Jackson, Lauren Matlach, Archie Hill