Thursday, April 17, 2014

CLARITY in Professional Development

Often times professional development misses the mark. You know the drill, teachers crammed in rooms that are either too hot or arctic cold with sit and get presentations and little time for collaboration or creation.  This brings to mind the professor from Ferris Bueller's Day Off, "Any one? Any one? Any one know what this says?....Any one seen this before? Any one? Any one?" 

You would think that with these types of PD experiences that we (the teachers) would be more cognizant of not recreating this same kind of boredom for our students.  However, if we practice what is preached then it's know wonder sit and get lessons still live strong in many classrooms.

So what can we do to transform the professional development experience? What is missing? 

"I have always had this view of the modern education system; we pay attention to brain development, but the development of warmheartedness we take for granted." ~Dalai Lama

If the foundation for student growth is building relationships; then the same must hold true for teacher growth. The Dalai Lama brings CLARITY to what is missing in most professional development sessions:

Create Community
It seems most PD days begin and end with some sort of "all faculty" meeting   Have you ever looked around at your colleagues during this time? I have and this is what I've seen:  foot or finger tapping, grading papers, checking email, online activity, texting and the list goes on. Let's face it! Teachers usually work in silos with little opportunity to connect with other teachers.  The last thing we want to do is get in a room and not be able to talk!  Let us choose to stand, sit, walk about, mingle or participate in team building activities.  Notice I said "choose" as not all faculty want to "play games" and not all faculty want to sit.  Differentiate opening and closing activities with the intent of having a common theme/objective in mind. 
Light Fires
Community and collaboration is contagious. Professional development must ignite our senses!  It must touch both the head and the heart. Fanning the flames of learning allows the flames to wick out and join other fires to create the ultimate bonfire. Once the flame is seen by all, it can be felt by all!
Acknowledge Abilities
PD must embrace a passion for sharing and learning by show casing what each person can bring to the table. PD must also allow for teacher choice in order to differentiate for the learning needs of each educator.  By abandoning the one size fits all model, we then honor each educator's level of readiness.  EdCamps or Un-conference PD platforms are great ways to offer a variety of sessions.  These platforms serve a dual purpose: 1) you get to pop in and out of sessions that appeal most to you and 2) it places the "ball in your own court"...if there is not a session you like then you can lead your own session
Refine Practices
Regardless of teacher choice, all sessions must reflect, refine and/or reestablish best practices in order to better meet the needs of 21st century learners.  
Inspire Instruction
Through community, collaboration, teacher choice and reflection of practices teachers should leave PD days feeling inspired and excited to try new ideas in the classroom.
Transform Student Learning
These new ideas/practices should be implemented with the intent of creating an atmosphere that promotes learning forward for each student's level of readiness.  In order to create opportunities for learning forward, professional development must spiral the emphasis of relationships throughout all sessions.  Every session offered should be able to link content to building teacher student relationships.
Yield Results
The biggest complaint I hear from teachers is that they never have time to work with what they learn in PD sessions.  I think integrating Genius Hour into PD days would be a HUGE hit with teachers! Allowing time for collaboration and creation would ultimately yield positive results in student learning. 

If you are seeking a little more clarity from your professional development sessions, pass this along to your PD planning team for them to brainstorm new ways to embrace both the head and the heart.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

There’s Gold in These Here Chats

I am comfortably and happily non-discerning in the twitter chats that I will engage in.  If I am connected and looking to learn, I am equally likely to join a chat about administration, education in Georgia, and independent school (all of which are fitting to my current role and location) as I am to join a student led chat on history, a district led chat on PD, or a state/national chat, so long as I feel I have information to learn or share.  Thus, December 17th seemed like any other such opportunity as I logged in and saw a group of educators that I admire (@jcordery, @michlampien, @alcp, @barrrykid1, @bhuntermusic & @ jannetemelee) discussing blogging.

Why should teachers’ blog?

Blogging is an inherently reflective activity that forces the author to examine their actions and emotions as they relate to events or ideas.  As teachers we need to be engaged in and model reflective practice so as to best meet the needs of all of our students.  Blogging allows us to share our thoughts, our challenges, and our successes with a global audience.  It offers transparency in to our humanity and fallibility, and it enables the potential for meaningful connection both internally with the community we serve and externally in to a larger community to we which we can both offer and receive support.

Being late in December and in the heart of resolution season, the discussion stemmed on the admiration for the consistency of blogging from other members of our PLN and the desire to contribute more regularly. 

And in the midst of the admiration, and idea was formed.

And it resonated…


Within a few days we had a weebly, google doc of participants, hashtag, and growing anticipation that #blogamonth would provide the “edu-couragement” we all needed to blog and comment each month.    We quickly decided that we should also add a monthly suggested topic so as to further help each participant battle the inertia of not writing due to the myriad of other tasks that stood in the way of our creative and reflective output.  


There are currently 73 educators who participate in the monthly challenge to both post and comment on each other’s post.  This amazingly diverse PLN is made up of superintendents, principals, integration specialists, music teachers, rabbis, substitute teachers, librarians, college professors, and more.  The diversity of geography, role, and thought contributes to the amazing diversity of sharing. 

My own personal PD

For me there is no greater professional development than the PLN of connected educators I engage with on a daily basis via twitter and blogs.  That I am afforded the opportunity to engage in and learn with the incredible community of passionate educators and thought provocateurs of #blogamonth, and that I am “obligated” to contribute to each of their learning on a monthly basis through my own reflection and blogging is truly a rare gift (or maybe even gold nugget).

(Want to join in the Edu-couragement? Join the group for monthly topics and tons of support!