Boston Public Schools Re-imagines its Professional Development Program with MusicFirst


Boston Public SchoolsThe visual and performing arts have long been associated with forward-thinking ideas and goals. In that spirit, the Boston Public Schools system has debuted a multi-pronged professional development (PD) plan that aims to incorporate a variety of components such as in-person, online, video and combinations of each, as well as options that fit diverse schedules. As part of the program, they’ve also adopted the MusicFirst Online Classroom learning management system as the delivery system and access point for all modern professional development.

The district is in the initial phase of what is hoped to become a diverse and robust platform for the district’s educators. Anthony Beatrice, the district’s program director for the performing arts, explains the three ways in which the PD program is expanding, “We want to start videoing and archiving our current professional development planned this year so that it will live on for future use. We also want to create blended opportunities for professional development that include live instruction portions followed by online postings that reflect on the live portion.” In addition, the district is beginning to build a database of host videos of courses and of the teachers in action. An upcoming course Beatrice will be teaching is focused on classroom management, which will benefit new teachers by providing solid examples for handling multiple situations and offering various techniques. He notes, “These resources will be especially important for new teachers who need tips on all aspects of teaching, including ways to transition from one activity to another.”

The district, having recognized the benefits of MusicFirst for the classroom, also collaborated with MusicFirst to make it available to their teachers on their site as part their forward-thinking platform. Dawn Benski, the visual arts content specialists for K-12, shares, “Here in the Boston Public Schools’ Visual and Performing Arts Department (BPS Arts), we have 120+ visual and media arts teachers for whom I work to provide and coordinate professional development opportunities. So, it’s safe to say it’s been a challenge to navigate how to do this for a fairly large district with high demands and varied needs.”

Before adopting the MusicFirst Online Classroom as the space where the BPS Arts PD lives, Benski notes it was impossible to move everyone in the BPS Arts department forward on the same level and to the same standards, in part because they weren’t able to accommodate everyone in the same room simultaneously for optional PD opportunities.

Since distance learning is an area that post-secondary institutions have made the new norm in education, Benski says that moving PD from solely in-person to also having online integration was a no-brainer. “Through the MusicFirst platform, our capacity for PD is infinite now,” she enthuses. “PD no longer has to be a one-time, get-it-now-or-it’s-gone-forever opportunity. Using flipped and hybrid (blended) learning such as video archives, or online assignments and assessments for our PD needs, educators can now take advantage of opportunities that work better with their individual schedules, and engage with content at their own pace. It’s a game-changer!”

One example is an online PD curriculum Benski designed two school years ago that was unable to exist as a stand-alone, self-paced module because other outside platforms lacked the required features. The user-friendly and feature-dense MusicFirst Online Classroom has enabled her curriculum to become a reality for the district’s educators.

Anthony Beatrice sums up the goals and opportunities the new PD site is bringing to the Boston Schools educators, “The reality is that our teachers are busy. Many of them work in extended schools until after 4pm. Our new PD platform is giving us more impact in shorter amounts of time. It’s a really exciting time for arts education; the more we can share best practices, hear about innovative new ways of teaching, and have a safe communal location for peer online reflection, the better experience our students will have interacting with the arts.”

And as for MusicFirst’s incorporation, Dawn Benski concludes, “MusicFirst has really breathed new life into our thinking here; it’s an invaluable tool to strategically execute our initiatives, feeding into the big picture for the long-term. MusicFirst has instantly and profoundly given wings to professional learning in the Boston Public Schools’ Visual and Performing Arts; we are so proud to partner with this trailblazing organization!”