episode 824 witsby

Charting New Territories in PD: The Witsby Story with ASCD

Welcome to a treasure from my ISTE 2023 vault. This is a podcast for all education trailblazers seeking the cutting edge of professional growth. As a teacher committed to improving teaching and improving our professional development, I'm thrilled to share this conversation about how professional development can and is improving.  I've written quite a bit on this topic, including 5 Simple Ways to Improve Teacher Professional Development, and this show hits on many of those topics.

So, today, we're peeling back the curtain on Witsby, a platform launched at ISTE. As educators, there are many new options opening up to us that will help improve our classrooms and make our professional development more accessible and available via our mobile devices.

Whether you're a teacher interested in new strategies or an administrator aiming to improve your team, this conversation can help you see professional development through a new lens.

Whitsby PD

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This week's sponsor

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They can show you have to use technology to unlock deeper student relationships with your students.

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This week's guest

Penny Reinart

Bio from the ASCD Website

Penny Reinart is the former deputy executive director of ASCD and a lifetime educator of 39 years. A two-time Teacher of the Year award winner, she has 18 years of classroom experience working with K–8 students. After moving into the private sector, Penny Reinart led research, design, and development of digital products and professional learning focused on student achievement, educator impact, and organizational growth. She has held several leadership positions with education companies, most recently Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Achieve 3000, Kaplan K12, and Renaissance Learning.

Her contributions include developing literacy implementation and professional development services, leading gold-standard research initiatives, instructional design of a reading intervention program for striving adolescent readers, and an intensive reading intervention program for phonics, phonemic awareness, and fluency development. She has been instrumental in the design of software using artificial intelligence for data-driven decisions in all content areas and the suite of services to facilitate the implementation of those products. Reinart's comprehensive school reform model has been widely recognized. An accomplished public speaker and consultant, she provided numerous keynote addresses for school districts across the United States and consulted Internationally.

She holds a bachelor's degree in child development from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Tx. and an education certification from West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Tx.

Robert Letcher

bio from Robert's online bio at The Org

Robert Letcher has a diverse work experience spanning over three decades. Robert has held various leadership and instructional roles in the field of education, with a focus on online and blended learning.

Robert currently serves as the Managing Director of Learning and Digital Product at ASCD, where they lead teams in integrating curriculum design, learning theory, and educational technologies into various learning programs. Prior to this, they founded their own company called EdGenius.net, where they provided consulting services for organizations looking to improve teaching and learning practices.

In the past, Robert has worked with organizations such as Junior Achievement USA, K12, and the University of California, Irvine Extension. At K12, they held multiple roles, including Senior Director of Teacher Training and Education, where they developed and implemented training resources for teachers nationwide.

Before their career in online education, Robert worked as a teacher and manager in various educational settings, including Job Corps and Berwick Area Middle School.

Overall, Robert Letcher's work experience showcases their expertise in educational technology, curriculum development, teacher training, and instructional design.

Robert Letcher has a solid education background with a focus on instructional and performance technologies. Robert obtained their Master of Science degree in Engineering from Boise State University between 2002 and 2005. Prior to that, they completed their Bachelor of Science degree in Secondary Education – Science at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania from 1990 to 1993.

In addition to their formal education, Robert has pursued further professional development by obtaining certifications. In October 2019, they received a certification in Learning Articulate Storyline 360 from LinkedIn. Furthermore, in May 2013, they obtained a certification in Gamification through Coursera Course Certificates.

These educational experiences and certifications demonstrate Robert's commitment to continuous learning and acquiring knowledge in the fields of instructional and performance technologies.

Show Notes

Hosts, Guests & Featured People:
  • Penny Reinart – [bio] [blog]
  • Robert Letcher [bio]


Hello there, fellow knowledge-seekers! You're about to read a transcript that's been generated by the AI in Adobe Premiere Pro and then proofed by me. I've gone through these lines like a cat chasing a laser pointer. But, all that chasing sometimes wears me out, and I do make mistakes! Spot a mistake in this transcript? Help this teacher out and shoot an email to vicki at coolcatteacher dot com. Thank you for being helpful! – Vicki, your podcast host and friendly fellow classroom teacher.


00:00:00:55 – 00:00:03:49
Welcome to the Ten Minute Teacher podcast with your host, Vicki Davis.

Sponsor Message and Introduction to Today's Topic
00:00:03:49 – 00:00:31:38
Vicki Davis:
Today's sponsor is the Modern Classrooms Project. Are you ready to explore modern pedagogy and center students in your classroom? Join us at coolcatteacher.com/modern now. More details will follow at the end of the show.

Hello, I'm Vicki Davis, and today, we're at ISTE with ASCD experts discussing Witsby, a new PD platform.

Introducing Witsby and Penny Reinart
00:00:31:38 – 00:01:01:45
Vicki Davis:
Witsby is a mobile-based PD platform. Joining us today is Penny Reinart, Deputy Executive Director of ASCD. Penny, a two-time Teacher of the Year and veteran of K-8 education, brings immense credibility to this discussion.

Guest Introduction: Penny Reinart and Robert Letcher
00:01:01:49 – 00:01:14:38
Vicki Davis:
Also with us is Robert Letcher, Managing Director of Digital and Learning Products. Thank you both for joining us today.

00:01:14:38 – 00:01:15:09
Penny Reinart:
Thank you very much.

00:01:15:09 – 00:01:22:24
Vicki Davis:
So, Penny, let's start with you. What is Witsby? What's your vision?

00:01:22:29 – 00:01:54:44
Penny Reinart:
Having taught for 18 years, and then delivering professional development for about 20, I realized some persistent problems. Teachers lack time, face too many initiatives, and it's hard to measure the effectiveness of PD. As a teacher, applying what I learned to my content area or grade level was a challenge.

00:01:54:51 – 00:02:23:40
Penny Reinart:
At ASCD, I worked on various platforms, but none fulfilled all needs. We aimed to build a platform allowing educators to combine their subject matter with our quality content and make it their own. The key is bite-sized information for time-constrained teachers, offering immediate solutions.

00:02:23:45 – 00:02:46:43
Penny Reinart:
The goal is a unified portfolio of professional development, even when moving between districts, ensuring a complete record of growth and learning.

00:02:46:43 – 00:03:10:55
Penny Reinart:
Our vision was to simplify PD for teachers and administrators, ensure its effectiveness, and make it portable and accessible on mobile devices.

00:03:11:00 – 00:03:34:38
Penny Reinart:
It's essential for teachers to easily transfer their PD learning from one district to another without losing their progress.

00:03:34:43 – 00:03:36:16
Penny Reinart:
I don't lose my information.

00:03:36:27 – 00:03:41:48
Vicki Davis:
Rob, you and your team have been the brain trust behind this project.

00:03:41:50 – 00:03:42:26
Rob Letcher:
Oh boy.

00:03:42:28 – 00:03:48:58
Vicki Davis:
I've always admired ASCD's high-quality, research-based content. It's fantastic.

00:03:49:00 – 00:04:14:02
Rob Letcher:
Joining ASCD, the value we bring through our expert practitioners was immediately clear. With a focus on classroom experience, we have an abundance of valuable content. Understanding the vision for Witsby, we aimed to address barriers like time constraints by focusing on actionable insights.

00:04:14:07 – 00:04:33:06
Rob Letcher:
We concentrated on delivering concise, practical content, promoting job-embedded work, and leveraging our extensive resources, including decades of publications.

00:04:33:06 – 00:04:55:59
Rob Letcher:
Our approach was research-driven, looking at what constitutes effective PD specifically for educators and shaping the platform around these best practices.

00:04:55:59 – 00:05:16:26
Rob Letcher:
It's about offering short, applicable learning and facilitating collaboration among educators.

00:05:16:26 – 00:05:25:37
Vicki Davis:
It's shorter, applied, and often collaborative, right? Is there a collaborative component?

00:05:25:37 – 00:05:44:06
Rob Letcher:
Yes, the platform is integrated with our community platform. After watching a video, there are reflection questions for individual or community discussion. This fosters collaboration among educators.

00:05:44:11 – 00:05:46:33
Rob Letcher:
And there's a collaborative aspect too.

00:05:46:44 – 00:05:59:42
Vicki Davis:
Educators often feel isolated in their schools. Finding like-minded colleagues, especially regarding specific interests or methodologies, is crucial.

00:05:59:42 – 00:06:25:11
Rob Letcher:
Schools themselves can be isolated within their districts, focusing on their unique goals. Witsby offers self-choice for educators, with an extensive range of courses and curated content on various topics.

00:06:25:11 – 00:06:52:21
Rob Letcher:
It's an all-access platform, providing an abundance of learning resources, from full courses to curated content on specific topics, making it easy for educators to find what they need quickly.

00:06:52:25 – 00:07:11:51
Vicki Davis:
How does Witsby align with the traditional seat time model, and how can teachers earn professional development credit?

00:07:11:51 – 00:07:20:52
Vicki Davis:
Can teachers apply what they learn in short bursts and receive credit?

00:07:20:59 – 00:07:49:12
Penny Reinart:
We measure the time spent on learning but emphasize reflection. Teachers can reflect on their learnings, record them, and apply instructional strategies in their classrooms. We're also planning to add AI coaching to enhance this process.

00:07:49:17 – 00:08:13:13
Penny Reinart:
Ethics in AI is crucial for us as educators. We aim to provide both AI and personal coaching to assist educators in applying their learning effectively.

00:08:13:27 – 00:08:28:49
Penny Reinart:
Our vision includes a blend of AI and personal coaching to support teachers in applying their learnings effectively.

00:08:28:49 – 00:08:45:01
Vicki Davis:
AI coaching can be a powerful tool for educators, especially when trained with high-quality data. How do you ensure the integrity and effectiveness of such tools?

00:08:45:06 – 00:09:11:32
Vicki Davis:
As AI becomes more prevalent, ensuring its ethical use and integrity in educational settings is critical.

00:09:11:32 – 00:09:20:01
Vicki Davis:
How do we maintain the authenticity of the learning process with AI?

00:09:20:03 – 00:09:37:39
Rob Letcher:
There's a growing market for teacher-facing AI tools. Our concern is ensuring the source of these tools is transparent and that they genuinely aid in creative and effective teaching.

00:09:37:45 – 00:09:59:41
Rob Letcher:
Our focus isn't on automating tasks like lesson planning but on developing an AI instructional coach that offers suggestive, research-based guidance, not doing the work for the teacher.

00:09:59:56 – 00:10:21:53
Rob Letcher:
We aim to develop AI tools that act more as coaches, providing suggestions and guidance based on research, rather than automating tasks for teachers.

00:10:21:58 – 00:10:27:09
Rob Letcher:
It's about guiding, not doing the work for them.

00:10:27:14 – 00:10:47:26
Vicki Davis:
The rapidly evolving technological landscape can be overwhelming. However, by committing to continuous learning, educators can stay ahead and learn alongside their students.

00:10:47:30 – 00:11:09:40
Vicki Davis:
Thank you, Penny and Rob, for sharing insights on Witsby and the innovative approach to PD at ASCD. This isn't an advertisement; it's genuine interest in quality PD and AI training.

Vicki Davis on the Value of Continuous Learning
00:10:47:30 – 00:11:09:40
Vicki Davis:
By committing to continuous learning, we can grow alongside our students. A big thank you to Penny and Rob, and to ASCD for their work on the innovative Witsby tool. This discussion isn't a commercial for Witsby; it's a genuine interest in quality PD.

Highlighting the Importance of High-Quality AI Training in PD
00:11:09:40 – 00:11:31:04
Vicki Davis:
I'm truly fascinated by exceptional PD, particularly those training AI with high-quality data. It's essential to move beyond the ‘spaghetti on the wall' approach to a more refined method of PD. Thank you both for joining us.

Modern Classrooms Project – This podcast's sponsor
00:11:31:04 – 00:11:58:20
Vicki Davis:
The Modern Classrooms Project offers a free online course and community to enhance your teaching. Visit coolcatteacher.com/modern to sign up for their essential course and learn strategies, research, and resources for student-centered, self-directed learning.

Encouraging Technology Use in Education
00:11:58:25 – 00:12:26:20
Vicki Davis:
Modern Classrooms can guide you in using technology to deepen student relationships. In response to AI, we must adapt our teaching practices to research-based best practices, which you'll find in the Modern Classrooms Project.

Conclusion and Sign-Off
00:12:26:24 – 00:12:27:25
Vicki Davis:
You'll be glad you did.

00:12:27:27 – 00:12:39:56
You've been listening to the Ten Minute Teacher podcast. For more from Vicki Davis, follow her on Facebook, X.com, TikTok, Threads, Instagram, Blue Sky, and YouTube at CoolCatTeacher. Thank you for listening.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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