Los Angeles Unified School District Instructional Technology Initiative Director Sophia Mendoza knew her future path as an educator when she was a 5-year-old kindergarten student.
“The only other Latinas I saw growing up in the district were either working in the cafeteria or on the playground,” Mendoza recalled. “I wanted students to be able to see themselves [in their teachers].”
One way the former principal and district leader is now supporting educator growth in LAUSD is through a comprehensive professional development program designed to encourage and expand effective instruction and technology use in the classroom.
This need was particularly highlighted after LAUSD launched a massive iPad rollout in the 2013-14 school year that saw teachers left without specific guidance.
“One of the big criticisms was that [the district was] distributing technology without any kind of pedagogy, without any kind of impact on the instructional program, and without an understanding of what it means,” recalled Themy Sparangis, senior director of the district’s Information Technology division.
After what she described as a “noticeable shift” in instruction that saw more teachers across the board “tinkering” with tools like electronic grade books and tech for English learners, Mendoza joined the central office in 2015 to “give the perspective of what’s happening at the school sites.”
“I was determined that if we wanted to make shifts in terms of equity and access, we needed to lead with instruction,” Mendoza said. “Technology itself was not going to make the impact — we needed to couple our technology with rigorous, relevant instructional practice.”
By the numbers
At a time when much of the professional learning was vendor led, Mendoza stepped in to balance what was previously “one-sided PD” and began by asking herself, “What is professional development going to look like that leverages technology for student success?”
The answer came in the form of a change management strategy called “ADKAR,” short for:
- awareness (understanding the importance of adopting a certain change)
- desire (wanting the outcome of the change)
- knowledge (building networks to share information and best practices)
- ability (certification in digital citizenship)
- reinforcement (becoming a practitioner school)
The pathway model now serves as a continuum of sorts for teachers and schools pursuing PD.
Once schools reach the end of the spectrum, they have the opportunity to become a practitioner school and serve as a model for others in the district. Every spring, schools apply for a chance to become a practitioner, and those chosen are provided with on-site instructional coaches to support ongoing instructional tech development.
Embedded throughout the continuum are International Society for Technology Education (ISTE) standards, applied through a “triple track” approach:
- How strategies can help educators in their learning.
- How strategies can aid other adult learners.
- How strategies can support student learning in classrooms.
The triple track approach and ADKAR model combined has helped Mendoza with “scalability,” considering that the second-largest district in the country employs thousands of educators. These blended models are a result of shunning a one-size-fits-all approach to professional learning.
“There was nothing like this out there,” Mendoza said. “We knew we were on the right track when we were getting feedback from principals and teachers who were just stepping into this arena and were [already] comfortable and confident that they could take some of their knowledge back [to the classroom] in a meaningful way.”
In an attempt to make the large-scale PD project coherent throughout such a large district, one of the many challenges she faced, Mendoza has ensured a rotational schedule for every PD session offered in multiple locations and times throughout the school year.
As a result, Sparangis said, he has noticed more teacher familiarity with technology in the classroom and a pervasive quality to the tools used. The district has adopted site-based tech support to ensure schools remain connected because “now it has become a necessity rather than an add-on.”
A LAUSD teacher for over 20 years, Renata Keller agrees, saying technology is "no longer an option" in her instruction, but "necessary" for her students to thrive. She says she successfully adjusted to this need in the past few years, after Mendoza spearheaded PD efforts as part of the ITI team.
"It's totally changed the way I teach in my classroom," Keller said. "Whatever I receive and I learn through the PD, I bring it right back in the classroom and for me, it's like magic. It changed the whole game for me."