Saturday, March 22, 2014

How might WE learn?

Educators spend a significant amount of time reflecting on pedagogy to support an engaging student learning experience, and rightfully so.  How much time do school leaders spend planning and preparing to support 21st century professional learning?  How might we enhance the HOWs, WHATs, and WHYs for learning in this digitally connected age?

In the next month I’ll be sharing an interactive Digital Leadership Challenge designed to support HOW we learn.  The Digital Leadership Challenge article will be titled Driven to Collaborate.  It will feature creative mini-challenges submitted by ten connected educators across the country.  The article and accompanying mini-challenges is being published by the Minnesota Elementary Principal Association (#MESPAmn) and shared electronically via multiple sources including this blog.

We’ll be using a tiered system to ensure that regardless of where you are at on your Digital Leadership journey there will be accessible entry-points to learn and grow.  Weve also created a cool point-system with electronic badges that will be awarded based on the challenges you complete.  Im really excited by the inspiring variety of learning opportunities that will be outlined in the article.  Please encourage your colleagues to dial in to this unique, 21st century PD opportunity.

Watch for our the article the 1st week in May.  Special thanks to the amazing educators that collaborated on the Digital Leadership Challenge.

Mini-Challenge Submissions:

Curt Rees, Elementary Principal, WI

@CurtRees on Twitter

Patrick Glynn, Elementary Principal, MN

@GallyGopher on Twitter

Jessica Johnson, Elementary Principal, WI

@PrincipalJ on Twitter

Tony Sinanis, Elementary Lead Learner, NY

Joe Sanfelippo, District Superintendent, WI

@TonySinanis & @Joesanfelippofc on Twitter 

Dwight Carter, HS Principal, OH

@Dwight_Carter on Twitter

Dave Zukor, Integration Specialist, MN

@DZukor on Twitter

Rafranz Davis, Instructional Technology Specialist, TX

@RafranzDavis on Twitter

Daisy Dyer Duerr, PreK – 12 Principal, AR

@DaisyDyerDuerr on Twitter
Terri Eichholz, Teacher of K – 5 Gifted Students, TX

@TerriEichholz on Twitter

Eric Sheninger, High School Principal, NJ



Tuesday, March 4, 2014

PD & SIPs: Feel Like You're Herding Cats? That's OK!

If you're an educational leader, you've no doubt been involved in developing school improvement plans, following those frameworks that suggest our work can roll easily if we just follow the cyclical arrows: collect the data, identify the implementation needs, train the staff, take action, reflect, revise, and so on...

Continuous improvement plans have good intentions.  Making significant changes in teaching and learning means that educators need to speak a common language, have common expectations, and develop expertise in common effective strategies and instructional moves. It makes sense that we would follow an organized plan with timelines and outcomes, including opportunities for professional growth.  Yet, when embedding professional development activities into school improvement planning, the reality sometimes looks more like this:

Feel like you're herding cats?  Fantastic!  When planning for school improvement and professional learning, educator needs, background experiences, and learning styles vary-- just like those of our students.  If we keep our targets in mind, however, we can design plans that allow us to differentiate professional learning opportunities while still addressing the goals of school improvement.

So How do We Round Them Up? 

1.  Identify and communicate the expected targets.  
I worked with a school district in my county to plan professional learning for their K-5 staff.  The SIP team had identified Tier 1 reading instruction as an area where they needed to ensure that teachers were using evidence-based practices, and that students were receiving quality reading experiences in each and every classroom.  At our first session with staff, we shared a framework of balanced reading instruction, and provided explicit descriptions of exemplary practice.  Teachers talked in small groups about which areas they felt most confident, as well as those about which they wanted to learn more. 

2.  Ask teachers to self-assess. 
Professionals are often more willing to participate when they've had the opportunity to reflect and address their learning needs. We then used a survey asking teachers to identify their level of implementation for each component of the framework, using the following levels: 
  • Not Practiced: I do not use this practice and/or I have very little knowledge of this practice.
  • Beginning: I am learning about this practice and am just starting to try some things, but I still feel I have a lot to learn.
  • Progressing: I have been working on this for awhile, and am beginning to feel comfortable in my understanding and practice. I would like to further hone my skills and knowledge.
  • Implementing: I have a deeper understanding of this practice and it has become a part of my instructional routine.  I still have some “fine-tuning” to do.
  • Innovating: This practice has become a regular part of my teaching repertoire, and I am comfortable in adjusting it based on my student needs.  I have a deep enough understanding and expertise level that I could advise others.  

The survey also included a place to prioritize topics for further study, as well as space for open-ended responses.

3.  Provide multiple opportunities for professional growth based on teacher-identified needs. 

One of the most powerful models this district found to support teachers was the creation of small grade-level teams to observe a colleague's classroom, focusing on the instructional strategy or routine they wanted to study based on the survey. Using a lab classroom protocol, teachers identified a focus, saw it in action, and debriefed with colleagues afterwards. In addition to the observation, teacher teams studied relevant articles and books on their focus, and set individual professional goals to try the strategies they were learning. Teachers began to shape their own professional learning in this fashion, and continued collaborating and sharing resources through email, Google-docs, and LiveBinder.
4. Remember that it won't happen in a one-day in-service. Nor a two-day. Not even a three-day.

True growth and change occurs over time, so plan the year (and beyond!) in a way that allows teachers to continue to meet, share practices, resources, share student progress, and self-monitor.

Educators may not be cats, but they aren't cattle, either. They need relevance, engagement, ownership, and an opportunity to interact with colleagues within the context of their work.
We don't want our professional development to look like this: 

I'd rather herd cats.