Fontana Unified School District

"When we began this transition we focused on getting teachers comfortable so they could get students comfortable. Now that we’ve laid that foundation, we’re honing in on instructional practice."

Adele Thomas

Director of Professional Learning and Teacher Support, Fontana Unified School District

Fontana Unified: Preparing for uncertainty with a strong foundation

As COVID-19 began shuttering school districts across the country, Fontana Unified School District had just started rolling out its 1:1 technology program. The new tools have given the district’s 36 thousand students greater access than ever before to distance learning — but the district had to figure out how to handle the transition.

“It happens all the time in education — we’re trying to fly the plane and fix the plane and gear up the plane at the same time,” says Adele Thomas, Director of Professional Development and Teacher Support. “We just were starting with the rollout, getting teachers more comfortable with a digital learning environment, when it all happened. We’re working with KickUp to get data on where the teachers are at now so we can design the right PD for the fall.”

Using KickUp’s educator check-in tool, Fontana uncovered needs assessment data from the district’s 1600+ educators — and now Thomas is putting it to work.

Promising first signs

“When we began this transition we focused on getting teachers comfortable so they could get students comfortable,” says Thomas. “Now that we’ve laid that foundation, we’re honing in on instructional practice.”

And it paid off — teachers reported higher-than-expected satisfaction with the adjustment process, particularly those in grades who had started 1:1 technology in previous years.

"We’ve definitely hit on something that’s near and dear to educators’ hearts right now."

Adele Thomas

Director of Professional Learning and Teacher Support, Fontana Unified School District

Leveraging educators’ interests and strengths

“It’s almost like we’ve got two extremes,” says Thomas. “We’ve got some teachers who have embraced it, who feel like they have a new freedom. One of our middle school teachers has started a YouTube channel and converted her kitchen into a whole science lab. She clearly knew how to use those tools already, and also had a mindset of ‘How do I do the best with this and connect with my students, make it meaningful.’ Not all teachers have that level of understanding — but I want to encourage them to think about ‘what tools do I know that I could use?’”

The data revealed one specific tech tool that, while not formally adopted by the district, proved popular and easy enough that teachers had adopted on their own. 

The value of community

Fontana’s early data was clear on one thing: the value of community. Open-response questions consistently cited teachers’ most valuable resources as “each other.” Educators were highly satisfied with administrative support and the opportunities to collaborate through PLCs as a way to learn from each other. This qualitative data allowed the Fontana team to both hear the nuances of teacher voice and quickly pull out trends from the data set.

Starting with appreciation leads to greater engagement

“I was happily surprised at the number of responses,” says Thomas. “When we typically use post-PD surveys, it can be like pulling teeth to get inputs. We’ve definitely hit on something that’s near and dear to educators’ hearts right now. And the anonymity is so helpful, because they know they can speak their heart and mind.”

The initial needs assessment was distributed via Fontana’s Associate Superintendent. The message started with appreciation and thanks for swift transition, acknowledging the great work they’ve been doing, and directly stating the survey’s purpose: linking their inputs to create a strong plan for next school year.

Preparing layers of support to meet needs efficiently

Fontana has two kinds of staff that provide direct teacher support: teachers on assignment (TOAs), and instructional technology specialists (ITSs). TOAs are teacher-leaders who take on administrative tasks, while ITSs are specialized support personnel.

Using KickUp, Thomas and her team were able to track which groups and for which subjects teachers were approaching ITSs versus TOAs for tech issues and requests. To free up ITS time for higher-level troubleshooting and new updates, an emerging priority then became identifying and getting TOAs trained on the most common day-to-day support questions.

Looking to the future

The first step will be making individual school reports available to principals for their own building-level summer PD.

Thomson is also busy translating the results into action plans for instructional technology specialists, using the insights to organize ITS team activities and provide individual supports around digital curriculum, lesson delivery, and alternative access/content for diverse learners like special education students and ELLs.

From the blog