How do we help students develop college-ready academic skills and at the same time address their skills gaps?

Students must leave CCTA with the academic skills needed to succeed in college. To that end, all teachers use the Common Instructional Framework, a set of instructional strategies that build students’ skills as they prepare for state tests.

Professional development is a priority at the College, Career & Technology Academy. CCTA puts a strong emphasis on instructional rigor and instructional coherence to ensure that students are college ready. To do so, CCTA implements an approach to instruction known as the Common Instruction Framework and provides teachers with all the professional development supports they need to implement the six CIF strategies with fidelity. Standardized professional development around the CIF includes professional learning communities, observation of colleagues’ classes, and highly structured feedback from colleagues in addition to a coach supplied by the district. As the instructional leader, the principal not only ensures that teachers receive the professional development necessary to implement the CIF, but she also participates in it herself. In addition, the district supplies an instructional coach.

The Professional Development Planning Tool and Strategies for Creating Professional Learning Communities enable schools interested in implementing a similar proces to create an action plan.


Key Principles for professional development at CCTA


At CCTA,  

  • Teachers know what the instruction they are endeavoring to deliver looks like and why it is important to provide it.
  • The staff recognize and value the investments being made in them.
  • Being provided with the tools needed to do the job makes teachers feel valued and increases their motivation to improve their craft. For example, CCTA received a grant that enabled it to provide each teacher with an iPad to use to film classroom visits.
  • The principal not only “talks the talk”-talking constantly about the Common Instructional Framework; she also “walks the walk”-she uses the strategies when she leads meetings and professional development activities.



  • The principal invests time talking about building teachers’ capacity for instruction.
  • The principal visits classrooms every day and provides regular feedback to the visited teachers.
  • Teachers feel safe taking risks as they master the six instructional strategies of the CIF.
  • Students see that learning is a lifelong endeavor as they watch their teachers visit one another’s classes and learn new teaching techniques.



            • The principal chooses professional development activities that will further the school's vision and disregards those that do not.
            • The principal writes SMART Goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) that operationalize the vision and create an action plan to meet those goals.
            • The principal creates professional learning communities that meet on a regular basis (every third Wednesday). Some other steps she has taken include:
  1. Breaking teachers into professional learning communities of approximately four teachers each
  2. Creating a monthly book group that immerses teachers, the principal, and the assistant principal in the study of a book relevant to the CIF, such as Rigor is NOT a Four Letter Word by Barbara R. Blackburn.
  3. Holding a mini-professional development activity as a whole staff every three weeks. At these sessions, staff address topics chosen by the principal based on school-wide data generated by the implementation of the CIF instructional strategies. During the two weeks that follow the activity, school leaders gather data based on the topic that was addressed in the mini-professional development activity. If there’s no change in instruction by the teachers, the school revisits the topic.  For example, after a session on questioning, the principal visited classrooms and recorded the questions that teachers and students were asking. In the following workshop, she shared the questions with the teachers, who organized them according to Bloom’s Taxonomy. The teachers observed for themselves that their questions were not as high level as they had thought them to be.
  4. Making sure that the professional development activity itself models the CIF instructional strategies
  5. Providing teachers with the opportunity to showcase their own skills.  After identifying a teacher’s strong practice, the principal asks that teacher to run a mini-professional development session on it.
  • The school has established classroom visits: This is a teacher-led activity, in which teachers observe others for the visiting teacher’s edification.
  1. Visits occur during common planning time (when all math teachers plan together, for example). Therefore, they are always across content areas, eliminating the need to fund for substitutes for teachers engaging in classroom visits.
  2. Since all teachers are using the same instructional strategies, a math teacher can visit an English teacher, for example, to see how the English teacher is using the CIF strategy of Questioning.
  3. Each teacher visits someone else’s classroom at least once a week. This both breaks down the walls between teachers and provides teachers with good ideas.
  • The school conducts instructional rounds: Rounds are when one teacher observes another teacher to be a second set of “eyes and ears” in the visited teacher’s classroom. They follow a strict protocol:

The visited teacher establishes a question s/he would like answered and shares that with the visitors before the class, using a rounds form.

The visitor observes that class and gathers data on the question provided by the visited teacher.

Afterwards, the visitor shares his/her observations with the visited teacher, following a strictly nonjudgmental protocol.

  • To enable teachers to conduct rounds effectively, the school and the district coach held a series of professional development sessions on how to do pre-rounds, how to host a round, and how to do post-rounds. Teachers are expected to do rounds at least once a month.
  • CCTA has an external coach from Educate Texas who specializes in the CIF.  He works with three teachers, one day a week for three weeks, then switches to one day a week for three weeks with three different teachers. CCTA also trained one if its own teachers to coach her fellow teachers as an internal coach. This builds the skills of the teachers she visits on rounds, and she builds her skills at the same time.
  • CCTA only sends staff to external professional development activities that support the school's vision.

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