Reaching Rural and Remote Schools: A Lesson From Montana

Apr. 7, 2016

Supporting professional learning is essential to effective implementation of the Montana Common Core Standards (MTCCS). Since 2014, the Northwest Comprehensive Center (NWCC) has worked with the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) to design, deliver, and model professional development on how to make the MTCCS come alive in the classroom, particularly in implementing the mathematical practice standards at the secondary level.

Like much of the Northwest region, Montana’s vastness makes it challenging to effectively reach local education agencies with state-level initiatives like this. To ensure that teachers across the state receive consistently high-quality professional development, we helped OPI establish a cadre of teacher leaders who could provide professional development and peer support in different regions. We also helped OPI collect data from rural teachers about professional learning needed to implement new standards; then collaborated to design and deliver workshops focused on how the new math standards impacted curriculum and instruction. Workshops were held in four regions across the state, with locations chosen because they had high concentrations of schools that typically did not receive supports and lower than average student performance.

The four workshop sites maximized accessibility for educators in high-need schools and in remote locations
The four workshop sites maximized accessibility for educators in high-need schools and in remote locations. The green dots represent teachers from the 2015 series of workshops and the blue dots represent teachers who attended in 2016.

Lessons Learned

One lesson other states may find valuable when reaching out to rural schools is this: Location and day matter. Delivering professional development in the remote region and on a non-school day has been key to meeting the goals of this project. There are time demands and lack of access to substitute teachers that are unique to rural schools. While getting out of the classroom for a day and going to the city may seem like a treat, it means more time on the road and may require coverage resources that are burdensome (or impossible). Additionally, teachers from small, rural schools are hungry to collaborate with other teachers from similar contexts (e.g., educators from one-room schoolhouses), as they share a common understanding of the unique demands of such an environment. By hosting the conferences on a Saturday and situating them within the region, teachers were able to participate and network with other teachers from small districts in the area.

Outcomes and Next Steps

Montana is committed to sustaining this project as it has led to major benefits, including:

  • A cadre of math teacher leaders who are now prepared to deliver professional development to schools in their region and to serve as leaders of instructional change in their schools
  • A professional learning community of math teachers who support and learn from each other
  • A framework for building instructional capacity statewide

NWCC is now helping OPI design professional development modules that will build administrators’ capacity to provide effective feedback to staff regarding math standards implementation.

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