Skip Navigation or Skip to Content
Photos by Scott Buschman

Quality professional development helps teachers feel supported, connected and able to continue growing in their profession, leading to higher rates of retention. Research, however, shows that providing professional development can be a challenge for rural districts. Several CTA members interviewed for our feature story “True Grit” agreed that rural schools often lack professional development opportunities available at their urban counterparts.


Instructional Leadership Corps’ rural cohort trainer Susan Wolters teaches colleagues about a standards-aligned online resource that offers free K-8 math, language and reading curriculum.

Cost is a factor. Rural schools have fewer students and less funding, so resources allocated to other areas may leave educators to learn about new standards or technology on their own. Attending a conference may require hours of driving time and a hotel room, which districts may be hesitant to pay for — in addition to the cost of a substitute teacher.

The Instructional Leadership Corps (ILC), a partnership of CTA, the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, and the National Board Resource Center at Stanford University, was launched in 2014 so educators can take charge of their own professional development, based on teachers teaching teachers. So far, ILC has served close to 84,000 educators in more than 2,000 California public schools in at least 465 districts.


ILC educator and trainer Jade Long at a professional development day for Calaveras Unified Educators Association.

As part of the project’s Phase 2 that is now under way, ILC is providing professional development opportunities in rural and geographically isolated areas.

Several of ILC’s Rural Cohort teams have offered training to colleagues already. When Calaveras Unified Educators Association (CUEA) members attended a professional development day at San Andreas Elementary School recently, presenters included Susan Wolters and Jade Long, ILC Rural Cohort members from Calaveras Unified School District.

And in early March, the Lakeport ILC team provided a full day of professional development for Lakeport Unified School District educators. Eventually, these teams and other cohort members will present workshops in other rural areas.


The ILC Rural Cohort team from Lakeport includes (back row) Jessica Libbee, Elsa Pratter, Kristi Tripp, staff Vernon Gettone and Aaron Carter, and (front row) Anna Cross and Ana Gof.

“We are looking at different ways to provide professional development in hard-to-reach areas and are considering blended and online formats,” says CTA President Eric Heins. “We hope that by adding teachers from rural areas, we will develop their capacity to lead professional development in their respective learning communities.”

The Calaveras professional development event offered educators opportunities to learn about a variety of programs, teaching tools and tech tricks. Educators chose workshops that best fit their needs.

Rural_MBoitano SH

CUEA member Michelle Boitano talks about SIPPS, a program for struggling readers.

Long offered a few sessions on teaching Newsela — a database of current events and stories created for classroom use. Indexed by broad theme (war and peace, arts, science, health, law, money), stories are student-friendly and can be accessed in different formats by reading level.

Wolters taught colleagues about managing student use of MobyMax, an online resource that offers free K-8 math, language and reading curriculum that’s aligned to the new standards.

Presenters also included CUEA members Michelle Boitano on SIPPS (Systematic Instruction in Phonological Awareness, Phonics, and Sight Words), a program that helps new and struggling readers build the skills and confidence they need to gain reading fluency and comprehension; and Mikaela Koppers on Google Apps.


CUEA member Mikaela Koppers helps colleagues with Google apps.

“Before this, we had outside professional development that wasn’t aimed toward our needs,” says Long, an English and social studies teacher at Toyon Middle School in Valley Springs. “Now teachers are considering what their colleagues want and focusing on that.”

“We were on strike for four days in October, and folks in our district were frustrated that we don’t have a curriculum department and haven’t had much training,” says Wolters, a third-grade teacher at San Andreas. “Having meaningful and appropriate professional development from local educators that meshes with the needs of teachers is definitely part of our post-strike healing process.”

At the Lakeport event, educators could choose from five different sessions:

  1. Student-centered learning.
  2. Mindfulness in the classroom.
  3. Growth mindset/resilience.
  4. Understanding our student population and learning.
  5. Conflict resolution and de-escalation.

ILC member Phe Bach presents the Lakeport session on mindfulness.

At the end of each session, instructors set aside time so teachers could create a plan to implement something new they had learned into their classrooms within the next few weeks. The groups will reconvene in April to collaborate on what they learned in the sessions, how they applied what they learned, and to build on and improve through the collaborative process.

In May the groups will report out at their school sites, and from that, the Lakeport ILC team will solicit a new list of professional development needs from staff to drive summer sessions and sessions for the upcoming school year.

“The ILC team is proud to help build and facilitate professional development that is teacher-driven and determined,” said Kristi Tripp, a team member and English teacher at Clear Lake High School.