CommonLit Schools & Districts CommonLit 360 Pender County’s Success with CommonLit’s Professional Development

In-person professional development sets the stage for success.

When Pender County Schools in North Carolina was searching for a new English Language Arts curriculum for their middle schools, they knew they wanted a curriculum that would improve outcomes for students while increasing instructional alignment for teachers. 

They ultimately chose CommonLit 360, a full-year standards-based ELA curriculum that received an all-green rating on EdReports for grades 6-8, because they felt that CommonLit could deliver everything they needed. Nearly a year later, not only is Pender County excited about the results of the new curriculum, they are also excited about finding a partner who provides helpful professional development coupled with ongoing and comprehensive support. 

Starting the school year off strong 

Pender adopted the CommonLit 360 materials for three years, and their vision for a successful adoption included beginning the year with in-person professional development. Angela Szakasits, Secondary Instructional Coach for ELA in Pender County states, “When we were thinking about what we wanted our professional development to look like, we knew it had to be in-person. We knew we needed to get the teachers bought in.” She added that this “...just couldn’t be a company with people who you didn't know; we needed to have a person to come in.”

The Pender district staff worked closely with Monica Duckles, their CommonLit Account Manager to make that in-person PD a reality with Foundations Jumpstart Days, a new training offering from CommonLit that gives teachers a firm foundation in best practices for implementing CommonLit 360. Jumpstart sessions, offered for one or two days, provide teachers with an overview of CommonLit 360, tips on how to optimize the reading and writing lessons in each unit, and training on how to leverage the discussion, Related Media Exploration, and vocabulary offerings. 

Emily Morris, Director of Professional Development at CommonLit explains, “Our CommonLit 360 Jumpstart Foundation Days set teams up for success. These sessions are hands-on and accelerate teachers’ readiness to facilitate CommonLit 360 lessons effectively right from the start.” 

In addition to this hands-on training that gives teachers beneficial information on CommonLit 360, there is structured planning time for teachers to discuss the curriculum and engage with one another. Morris adds, “The Foundations Jumpstart Days allow teams to norm on a vision for success and level the playing field around teachers’ knowledge and skill with the curriculum. It really sets the stage for strong collaboration across the year.”

Angela Szakasits picture and quote, reading "CommonLit has been a game changer. We've had a lot more buy-in and success than we ever envisioned."

CommonLit: a supportive and experienced partner

Staffed with many former educators, CommonLit brings real-world classroom experience with Account Managers like Duckles who work closely with their partnering schools and districts to foster personal relationships and provide ongoing support. Creating and nurturing that personal relationship was important to Szakastis when it came to the new curriculum adoption in Pender County. Szakastis says, “We wanted a person who was here to help and support along the way. So that, I think, has been a big piece of our success as well; the relationship that we've had with Monica.” 

Duckles delivered the in-person trainings for Pender County at the start of the year and has worked closely with them throughout the school year providing additional training. This consistent presence has created a relationship filled with trust and buy-in from teachers. Szakatis remarks, “I would say the investment for in-person PD has paid off for our team because I think it cinched the relationship with Monica.”  

CommonLit not only provides instructional support, the company also offers timely technical and customer support to teachers that ensures a smooth user experience. That support is appreciated in Pender as Szatkait notes, “We have a very small technology staff, so having the ability to have that really personal relationship with our digital learning person who's working with you guys and making sure that all of our syncing and integration is working very nicely together”

Engaging and useful professional development  

Duckles knows that not all PD is created equally. Her goal, and the goal of all PD facilitators at CommonLit, is to ensure that teachers and administrators leave these learning sessions with tangible information that can be easily implemented. Says Duckles, “My goal for PD facilitation is for teachers to leave my sessions recognizing how CommonLit 360 can make their lives a little easier and their classrooms a little more joyful. I want educators leaving CommonLit PD sessions feeling like their time with me has been well spent!”

Finding long-term success with CommonLit

Pender County wanted to keep the momentum of the new adoption going through the entire school year as they’ve seen other adoptions falter after unit one. Consistent and personalized PD has helped Pender stay on track, and they are closing out the year strong with successful implementation of the CommonLit 360 curriculum throughout the entire school year. Szakasits says, “CommonLit has been a game changer. It's provided a common language for the teachers and for the students to know what they are going to learn, and that what they are learning has a purpose. We've had a lot more buy-in and success than we ever envisioned.”

By providing teachers with inclusive and flexible high-quality resources, valuable planning time has been freed up to focus on other things like data analysis. Speaking to the benefit of CommonLit 360 as an instructional resource, Szakatis says, “I think for them [teachers], it's been nice to not have to find everything on their own.” Instead, Szakatis believes they’ve had extra time to “really hone their craft.” 

Jumpstart your school’s professional development 

Pender County has found everything they were looking for in their partnership with CommonLit. Their in-person Foundations Jumpstart Days set them up for success, and their ongoing relationship with CommonLit has brought about a successful first year of implementing the CommonLit 360 curriculum. 

Want to find out how to bring in-person professional development from CommonLit to your school or district and jumpstart your school year?