Monday, September 26, 2016

Rethinking Professional Development - Friday Focus

If how we deliver content to students is constantly evolving than how we offer professional development to our teachers needs to continue to evolve as well. And the good news for many of us in the field of education, it is doing just that. Professional Development (PD) is on the move. It is better, smarter, more efficient and personalized. Educators are moving PD in the right direction. Just as powerful is the fact that there is an amazing number of exemplars in the field of how we can and should offer PD to and for our colleagues. Equally as powerful is that educators are and need to continue to find platforms to share what is and what is not working in relation to teaching and learning. And, for those of us that are connected, there are countless members in our #PLN that make us better at this very task.

When it comes to your own learning in how to become a more impactful educator, most teachers and administrators in the field of education value the need to continually grow themselves in all aspects of their jobs. Like growth mindset, professional development centers around the notion that we each strive to increase our abilities as educators by constantly growing our depth of knowledge. In an attempt to be relative to our audience, we must challenge our way of instructing them. When it comes to teaching and learning we must model our own growth if we expect those around us to embrace the same expectation.

When it comes to the delivery of professional development with my teachers, the truth is that I am no genius when it comes to best practices. I know very little theory in the matter. The reality is that my approach to professional development for my teachers, and the training I have, is in large part to what I have observed from those around me, including you. Simple observation has been most greatest tool. Application of what is best and removal of the ineffective has been my greatest asset. Instead of just doing, I do with purpose. I model what I observe.

Think about the best PD you have experienced. The following characteristics should be present:

  • collaborative
  • shared ownership
  • an environment that fosters the idea that the collective whole is greater than any one common presence
  • open communication
  • each participant feels valued and respected
  • meaningful and relevant content
  • applicable to your role and those you serve
  • student-centered
  • interactive
With this list of characteristics (and more that you could add) think ahead to your next opportunity to learn with others. If you are the leader of this PD then I encourage you to think about the ways, platforms, tools and resources to ensure the needs of the audience are met. If you are on the receiving end of the professional development than make sure that your school leaders embrace these common threads of PD.

Here is an example of how I am rethinking PD that supports each of the bulleted items above. This is just ONE of many forms of ongoing embedded growth. Please feel free to use this idea in your work with your colleagues.
This week my assistant principal and I continue our Friday Focus (link that explains what it is with questions) series in which we invite staff to our innovative Media Center as we discuss our next topic. This week we discuss Parent Engagement in the Learning Process as we prepare for the end of the first quarter. On Monday (going in to the Friday Focus) we share out questions to consider so that staff members can be reflecting on it throughout the week. Then, on Friday, we simply facilitate the conversation allowing our teachers to share out best practices, ideas and suggestions for the weekly topic. Teachers come to the Media Center during their plan period. Conversations can last anywhere from 10 minutes to the end of the period (50 minutes). Teachers can come and go as they please and it is NOT required and we do NOT take attendance. Each semester we have four of these "Focus" conversations. Next semester our staff will determine the topics by using a Google Form to submit ideas.  So far, so good. Great feedback from our staff.
As you continue with your year in learning and growing as an educator, continue to embrace how you offer and how you learn when it comes to professional development. You do not need a title to offer rich, meaningful and intentional content to those around you. You need a passion for growth and a willingness to learn.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

What I Have Learned So Far This Year

This week will mark the one-month moment in our school year. Hard to believe that a little over 30 days ago we were in our final stages of preparing for students and staff to return. The excitement, anticipation and eagerness is still with us today as it was just a few short weeks ago.

Putting time into perspective, it is hard to believe that one-ninth of the year has passed. You heard that correctly. Thirty days of teaching and learning have concluded. There is no "do-over" for the days and weeks that have passed. How have you made the most of your first month with students and staff? For me, it was full of learning and in many cases, reaffirming all that I believe when it comes to education. With that, it is time to reflect on what those 30 days have taught me. And, in 30 more days I will do the same.

Here is what I have learned so far this year:

1. It is All About Relationships. We were purposeful in how we welcomed our students back. We were intentional in how we established our school culture. And in the end we must sustain those relationships and come back to them each and every day. Our #1st3Days must be in existence all 180 school days of the year. It is how we are intertwined with each other that will set a tone for the direction we will go. (Resources - Sean Gaillard and Bethany Hill)

2. Personalized Learning and Blended Learning are Everywhere. What spent much of last year as a buzz term in education, personalization of teaching and learning for all students is truly taking form as we get into the second month of school. Both administrators and teachers are embracing the craft of ensuring each students academic experience is aligned with their style of how they are taught and how they best demonstrate mastery. Personalization is best practice and has rightfully taken its place in our schools. (Resources - Randall Sampson and Marcia Kish)

3. Homework is Out. Whether a social media revolution or Hattie's work has finally made it into mainstream academia, teachers are realizing that piling up hours of evening work for their students has very little value and in fact is as archaic as rows of desks in classrooms. For those that are well versed in the research, we know we need to move homework out of the students after school experience and instead focus on more impactful practices. We as educators who believe in this shift need to continue to share with your colleagues. (Resources - Connie Hamilton, Starr Sackstein, Samantha Althouse)

4. Space Matters. Three years ago I took on the task of revamping our Media Center in the middle school in which I serve. Having been furnished in the mid 90's, it was time to re-think the space that I considered the hub of our school. Seeking the input of our community, doing some research on higher educational settings and listening to professionals talk about their evolvement of their spaces, we completely overhauled the focal point of our building. Now, students and teachers clammer to head to a location that is open and inviting. With comfortable seating and a mindset of 21st century best practices, our teachers are also rethinking how the space in which they serve students needs to evolve as well. (Resources - Dwight Carter)

5. Instructional Feedback is Essential. This past week I found myself in a couple of tough conversations. I had stepped into a classroom and decided to stay for a while in an attempt to learn a little bit more about the co-teaching delivery that was taking place. While knowing the teachers had good intentions, I found myself a bit frustrated in what I was observing. I took some mental notes, reviewed the time I was in the room for 24 hours and then decided the next day that the teacher(s) and I would need to have a pretty straight forward conversation about best practices. It was time for some intentional feedback. In the end, there is work to be done. The positive is that the teachers are receptive to my involvement and are learners themselves. With this relationship, and an establish growth mindset, students will benefit. Even though it will take some time, I look forward to all parties growing through this purposeful conversations over time. (Resources- Neil Gupta and Jennifer Hogan.)

As you work through your year, make sure to take time and do some intentional reflection on the progress you are making in your own teaching and learning. Having taken some time off from blogging to start the year, I am re-energized to get back at it and tell our schools story in growing as leaders and learners.