I cringed, big-time when I realized that part of my role as LA’s BEST Director of Staff Development was to develop an online learning and resource hub for our 2,000+ staff. Based on my previous experiences, I knew we were up against a lot—creating ‘that thing’ for compliance or ‘that thing’ we have to use online. It’s not easy to make an online learning platform engaging and relevant. Our internal Learning Management System (LMS) was mostly PowerPoint presentations with recorded voice-overs, used for the annual web-based trainings that are conditions of employment.
However, we became more and more excited as we began to think of our LMS as one of the many amazing professional development resources and opportunities we make available, and one that could easily build upon and link to the various face-to-face opportunities.
In developing this system, we also found that it is important to focus on certain things. This goes for our LMS, but also any other online resource aimed at supporting educators and community leaders. To be effective, it must be (1) values-driven, (2) designed with the user in mind, and (3) done inclusively and collaboratively.
We were fortunate to secure a grant through AmeriCorps Vista to have a Training and Content Development Fellow to help us expand and improve our LMS. Melissa Fisher is the incredible first-year fellow who just completed her service a little over a week ago. As part of Melissa’s orientation, we shared our organizational values in detail in a bunch of ways: meetings, staff interviews, trainings, site-visits, and more. We also stressed the importance of collaboration and being inclusive of the many stakeholders—including students, families, and site and school staff. She wholeheartedly embraced our organizational values – such as “Nothing we do is more important than the effect it has on a child,” and “When we listen for understanding, everyone learns – children and adults alike.”
Melissa went on to design and facilitate staff focus groups and surveys to explore what our staff wanted to be included in LMS, what would support their day-to-day responsibilities. Feedback included creating more videos specific to programs and strategies, including those that can be watched by both students and staff to learn together. One of the most frequent responses from staff was to add a way for staff to post questions and receive thoughtful responses from their peers. As you can imagine, being part of LAUSD (second largest public school system in the nation) requires that we adhere to strict policies and procedures when posting online content.
Since obtaining the feedback from focus groups and surveys, we produced some ‘how to’ videos on our Speedometry and Ultimate programs that were designed for students and staff to watch together, and the feedback has been positive. Melissa also rose above district policy limitations and led efforts to create S.H.A.R.E. (Support, Hear, Ask, Respond, Engage), a page for our frontline staff to post their individual questions with the opportunity for other staff, in the same position, to post responses. After the first wave of collecting staff questions, we received well over 400 responses. This high level of engagement happened because Melissa embraced our organizational values and designed a resource specific to the expressed needs and included multiple stakeholders in the process. Not only has the S.H.A.R.E. page created a new access point for staff on the frontline, but this program has brought a whole new level of awareness to our central operations teams, which are responsible for developing programming and technical assistance based on staff and students’ needs and interests.
I would be remiss if I did not also mention the importance of setting and maintaining tone. This is something that we do, very intentionally, with every staff development effort. Melissa brought to life the potential of LMS at large staff meetings and trainings. She took advantage of all face-to-face opportunities, formal and informal. Word of mouth is always the most powerful vehicle to share a message, and the word got out! We still have a long way to go to create access and engagement with our LMS across all 198 schools, 2,000+ staff, and 25,000 students—but we are off to a solid start.
By staying true to our values, working inclusively and collaboratively, and designing our system with its users in mind, Melissa has helped us change our LMS, and we are blazing a path to a first-class, comprehensive system.
For breakfast, I had a fried egg and kale chips.