Sunday, December 15, 2013

Meaningful Professional Development

Inspired by our school’s 2012 edcamp, we organized a group of teacher leaders last spring to create our School Improvement Planning Team.

In prior years, we offered little in terms of true professional development. Our PD lacked focus. When it had focus, it didn’t directly relate to instructional goals. Like many educators, despite 20 years of experience at 4 different schools, I can count one hand the number of quality PD sessions I’ve participated in. In my third year as an administrator, I’d done little to create quality PD within our school.

It was time for a change!

With a dedicated group of a dozen educators who formed our School Improvement Team, we set out to create professional development that was:
1.     Teacher-led

2.     Student-driven

3.     Research-based

After an initial brainstorming session, members of the School Improvement Team took to the classrooms, hallways and break rooms, and asked their peers, “What do we want to focus on for the 2013-2014 year?”

After whittling down the list, we decided to narrow our focus to ensuring instructional engagement for the entire class period (90 minutes).

We set out to equip teachers with an arsenal of resources, something that each educator will be able to use immediately. At the very least, we want to move our school in a unified direction by developing a common vocabulary and clear expectations. Ultimately, we wanted each of us to challenge ourselves to become an even better educator.

Our Process

We broke our faculty into 6 heterogeneous teams. Each team consists of approximately 15 teachers from a variety of disciplines, varied expertise and, of course, their own experiences. At least two members from the School Improvement Team were on each committee. Administrators would rotate between the six sessions.

With the ever-changing monthly focus (September’s focus was on beginning and ending class, November’s was on cooperative learning), we’ve sought volunteer teachers to serve as facilitators for the monthly sessions. For example, for our Cooperative Learning sessions, we sought out expert teachers volunteered to lead this session.

Each teacher is to take away at least one method from each of the monthly meetings to use it in his/her classroom. We’ve developed reflection sheets for purpose. At the beginning of each monthly meeting, teachers will be asked to reflect and share their experiences.

So how’s it worked?

The good
1.     We don’t need to pay high-priced presenters. Our teachers understand our students, our strengths and our problems and are experts.
2.     It’s grown teacher leadership. 
3.     It’s sparked collaboration and communication between teachers.
4.     It’s not the same-old-same-old lecture to the teachers format.
5.     The meetings themselves include solid instructional strategies that teachers can implement and use in their classes

If professional development intends to improve ALL teachers’ instruction, we must tweak our current process. Improvements include: 
1.     We must develop, measurable objectives for each meeting. These objectives must clearly define, “At the end of this session, each teacher will be able to…”
2.     Our focus must be on instructional strategies that will have the biggest bang for their buck.  PD sessions must focus on areas that will improve student learning.
3.     We must encourage further teacher reflection and projection.
4.     We must make sure that our PD goes beyond simple conversations. Talk is cheap. We must make sure it genuinely changes classroom practice.
5.     Individualize and differentiate future PD.

Even with room for improvement, our current approach to PD has produced exciting results. The first step in achieving this success: entrusting our teachers to develop, organize, and lead our professional development meetings. 

Looking forward, our dedicated members of the School Improvement Team will continue to push the envelope to ensure our professional development is meaningful and ensures improved teaching and learning. 

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