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How one district used incentives to increase PD program engagement

Mooresville Graded School District increased educator capacity and built long-term buy-in – all while navigating staffing shortages and the growing need for better multilingual learner support.

The challenge: Limited and overwhelmed staff

Mooresville Graded School District, located about 30 miles north of Charlotte, NC, is a district that has seen an increasingly diverse student population in recent years.  As the number of newcomer English learners (ELs) in their district has grown, they were faced with a challenge – with teacher turnover and shortages post-COVID, they had many new staff members who had not worked with ELs before and needed support to meet their student's unique needs. 

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“We are not a large enough district to have a newcomer school or to have some of those resources that larger districts have,” explains Tracey Waid, the Director of Secondary Instruction & Title III Coordinator in the district. “Like everyone, we're struggling with retention and finding teachers who are able and qualified to teach, especially EL teachers. So it's really frustrating for our teachers to know that their students aren't being served the way they deserve.”

The shortage of qualified EL teachers has limited their EL team’s ability to provide support to classroom teachers with their language learners. Kristin DaSilva, an EL teacher at a high school in Mooresville who was responsible for supporting over 90 students, shared the following: “Teachers would come to me looking for activities to do with their ELs, especially newcomers. I found myself creating a number of resources that we were lacking, which was really time-consuming." 

EL teachers were also up against another challenge – the accommodation plans and strategies they shared were often overlooked by teachers who were already struggling with a long list of competing priorities. 

Waid knew that they needed a solution that could reduce the workload for their EL teaching staff while equipping them with the tools they needed to help their ELs succeed.

Stipends result in high PD completion

Ellevation Strategies stood out to Tracey Waid and her team from other professional development (PD) options as a solution that was designed to stick: “I was looking for what I call ‘grip’ - where I can see that the professional development is still being implemented in the classroom after the training ends.” The learn-teach-reflect model guides teachers to apply the learning through a structured activity and reflection process, increasing the likelihood that educators see the benefits of adding the strategies to their instruction and continue to embed them. Another benefit: the variety of topics covered meant the district could direct teachers to a focused resource for supporting newcomers and long-term ELs, two of the biggest asks from classroom teachers.

After choosing Ellevation Strategies as their professional learning solution, they decided to do an incremental rollout of the ready-made, research-based modules and follow an opt-in model. By providing teachers with these options, they avoided overwhelming them while building interest and buy-in. They onboarded the EL teachers who were already excited about the PD program and offered training to additional staff by integrating the modules into their existing PD systems. They then offered training during their early release days to administrators and instructional coaches, who own instructional outcomes across the district.

When they were ready to roll it out to all remaining classroom teachers and staff, Waid knew she wanted to provide compensation as an incentive using their Title III budget. "The stipend that we settled on was $25 per module, which is roughly equivalent to an hour. You couldn't just do one module and get $25; we only pay the stipend in sets of three. I was hopeful that at the end of three modules, teachers would see the value and would want to continue.” 

Waid shared that this rollout was the most effective PD for supporting ELs that they have been able to offer teachers. Their approach proves an important point that can be used by districts across the country: when teachers are rewarded for their time - through stipends, PD/PDP credits, or other incentives - buy-in with a new professional learning program will significantly increase. The teachers in Mooresville have certainly found grip with Ellevation, responding enthusiastically to the opt-in professional learning opportunity. 

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“We turned it off for the summer, and I got lots of emails saying, ‘When are you going to turn it back on? When are you going to turn it back on?’ We even have several teachers who have done every single module that is available in Ellevation. When y'all added more over the summer, they went and did those this fall too.”

Waid has been overwhelmingly pleased with the response to Strategies and the way they chose to implement it across the district, and teachers are excited to have a resource to support them particularly when working with newcomers and long-term ELs.

Increased confidence for teachers and their ELs

Now that they are in their second school year using Ellevation Strategies, the impact can already be felt.

“It built empathy all around for the work that multilingual learner teachers do, as well as for our multilingual students,” said Waid. "It has helped teachers realize that some small tweaks in their instruction could really make a big difference in outcomes for these students –and it does so much of the work for them. For a teacher, I just see this burden kind of lifts off their shoulders when they have that resource to go to when they don't know how to solve a problem. It makes a world of difference because it's empowering to them.”

Beyond this, teachers are able to see the impact of their efforts in the classroom.

“It's differentiated by language level, so it really helps them to perform to their maximum capability and they are able to show what they know through the activities. I have seen them feel more comfortable participating because they’re asked to do what they’re capable of doing - it’s setting them up for success,” adds EL Teacher Kristin DaSilva.

In a district whose mission is to ensure that every student can reach their full potential, having this resource that empowers all teachers to better support their multilingual learners has become indispensable.

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"Ellevation is so integral and so necessary to our jobs and for us to be able to provide our services - I can't imagine not having it."