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Branching Growth: A Progressive and Differentiated Approach to Professional Learning

November 3
1:00 PM - 1:50 PM
Leadership/Professional Development
Administrators, Instructional Coaches

Hardly a day goes by without a teacher posting on social media or writing a blog post about how utterly pointless professional development is. Phrases such as “sit and get,” “one size fits all,” and “this meeting could have been an email” are pervasive and with just cause: far too many PD sessions are simply opportunities for staff to sit passively as a speaker lectures from the front of the room, telling them information that could have been a word document or a Google Slide, while the PE teachers sit in the back wondering why they should care about guided reading, the kindergarten teachers sit in the middle wondering what guided reading has to do with children who still don’t know how to spell their own names, and the 20-year veteran who has literally written a book on the subject is wondering when their work will be referenced.

Surely there is a better way to provide adult learners with actual learning!

This is the question that the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at Freeport School District #145 sought to answer that ultimately led to the development of a differentiated and progressive model of professional learning called Branching Growth. Branching Growth divides professional learning into four progressions: Essential Learning, such as blood-borne pathogens and medical issues, Structured, such as district institutes, Guided, such as book studies and inquiry groups, and Independent, such as Twitter chats hosted by other organisations. Within each structure, learning opportunities are further subdivided based on the level of experience of participants. While it is true that everyone still has to go through blood-borne pathogen training in the same way, it is now offered as a self-paced webinar so that staff can choose when to do it and how much time to spend.

As a result of this model, FSD 145 saw a marked improvement in attendance during district institute days, positive feedback related to sessions, and consistent participation of nearly 25% of all teachers in a voluntary four-day summer learning institute!

Julie Cloat
Julie Cloat
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction, Freeport School District #145

Dr. Julia Cloat spent a combined total of 22 years working in Kaneland CUSD #302 and Huntley CSD #158, where she served in roles including Literacy Specialist, Assistant Principal, RtI/MTSS Coordinator, and Curriculum Director before accepting her position as Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction at Freeport SD 145 in 2020. Dr. Cloat holds a Doctor of Education degree from Northern Illinois University (2014). She also holds a Master of Teaching degree from Aurora University (2001) and a Bachelor of Science degree from Northern IL University (1991). Dr. Cloat currently teaches as an adjunct professor at Northern Illinois University. Dr. Cloat lives in Sycamore, Illinois with her husband, Max, and two children, Olivia and Alexander. In addition to teaching/learning and her family, Julia is passionate about the outdoors. She can be found hiking and camping year-round.