Nine years ago, my district was mired in paperwork. We spent countless hours tracking the
professional learning of all staff with
paper and pencil, and that got us
wondering if there was an easier and
more efficient way to plan, manage,
and evaluate the effects of all the
professional learning opportunities
we were working so hard to facilitate.
We learned that professional development management systems (PDMS)
could support our district’s learning
journey by not only tracking our
learning activities, including approvals, registration, hours, and credits,
but also creating a seamless system
to align our district, school, educator,
and student goals and outcomes.
I found about five or six systems that
had extensive tools and possibilities for
customization. We wanted a tool with
comprehensive features, customization
capability, and a complete set of student impact assessment tools. We also
wanted a system that would allow us to
grow and customize our professional
learning and appraisal process as we
became more skilled users.
Most systems are licensed according
to the needs of the district and its size,
and many provide several layers of
service with licensing. We chose a system called MyLearningPlan. Pricing
for this system consisted of a one-time
configuration fee and a $10 annual
licensing fee per user. (For details,
In previous years as a teacher,
counselor, and administrator, I was
confused about reporting my PD
hours when moving from one position
to another and from one district to
another. When I was required to send
in my hours to receive my license or
to renew it, I had to follow a cumbersome process that involved collecting
all the forms, making copies, and then
ensuring they had the right signatures.
We found that a good PDMS helped
us manage this process more easily.
One of the larger shifts in education
is evaluating our knowledge acquisition
to determine if it is effectively changing the way we learn, teach, and bring
about student improvement. In our effort to do this, we were spending much
of our time on administrative duties,
such as documenting what classes or
workshops we had taken, and this often
took time away from more important
tasks, such as capturing what individual
learning occurred and how we applied
that learning in the classroom.
Features and Customization
What we needed was a system that
offered features that went beyond simply managing enrollment in our PD
program. I found that a robust PDMS
would allow us to plan, manage, and
evaluate the impact of a district’s internal and external professional learning
experiences and more.
With a high-quality PDMS, you can
plan professional learning with online
surveys for needs assessments; create
mentor, professional learning community, school, and district learning
plans; and align specific experiences
to those plans to assist with reporting.
In addition to planning, a PDMS can
manage your initiatives by posting
professional learning offerings in an
online catalog, so educators can enroll, track hours and credits, and log
action plans and outcomes through
mentor and professional learning
interactions. Having an online collaboration feature within the PDMS
supports team-based threaded discussions and file sharing between or in
place of face-to-face sessions.
The system should easily manage both
in-district and out-of-district professional learning experiences. The PDMS
should be highly customizable, manage
site-based learning, and include a suite
of tools for evaluating effectiveness.
MyLearningPlan did not charge us for
customization, but be aware that other
providers may assess a fee.
It is important to remember that our
professional learning can only affect
student learning in the classroom if
we evaluate it in terms of changes in
teacher practice and student outcomes.
A high-quality PDMS allows you to
create and customize evaluation/reflec-tion and application forms to capture
teachers’ intent to change their practice
based on applying new learning in the
classroom as well as the actual results.
This is how PD programs create new
learning and help us apply new skills.
As in all new learning, sometimes the
first step feels a little awkward as we
facilitate and model new processes and
techniques, but a PDMS can shorten
that learning curve.
The user interface must be comprehensive and user friendly. As you
begin to explore different PDMS options, first determine your must-have
criteria. Ask PDMS vendors how
long they’ve been providing service
to school districts, ask about their
upgrade policies, and get details about
customer support. Remember, tech
support is just as important in the
long term as it is during the rollout.
You must make certain the system
will help you evaluate the effect of
PD in addition to tracking hours and
credits. Be sure to speak with other
districts or connect with educator list-servs to learn about vendors that others use and how they would rate the
quality of customer service and support. From those questions, identify
user groups in your area that use the
same PDMS to pick up tips and tricks
about similar systems.
After you’ve made your selection,
enlist stakeholders from across departments to help develop a shared
understanding of what a PDMS does
and how it will help the district. For
example, you must make collaborative
determinations about how you will incorporate historical data. You will need