I’ve had the pleasure of being on both sides of the professional development (PD) table, both as a receiver and planner of PD. I have been one of traditional PD’s strongest critics. The more my career has led me towards designing and facilitating PD, I try to plan with my critical teacher self in mind and to constantly improve engagement. This means differentiating as much as possible, giving time to reflect, process, and plan, providing takeaways usable immediately, and including activities to add movement and collaboration just to name a few strategies. However, this doesn’t mean I always succeed. I recently reflected on two different PD sessions that I facilitated, and stumbled upon a concept that I believe drives meaningful professional learning. But first, some background...
It happens about every few months. I get in an argument with someone over the validity of timed math tests. By now, I’ve heard all the arguments in their favor…
However, more recently I was challenged in a way that stopped and made me think deeper about the subject (and since I reflect through writing, it became the subject of this post). I found myself in a conversation with my special education department lead on the subject of timing for math facts. She was curious about my position, and specifically connected it to her role in special education. She noted that often students have math goals on their Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) written about and benchmarked by their scores on timed tests. She compared the process to reading fluency, which is a common reading IEP goal.
When you envision what an excellent classroom looks like, you often picture students working in collaborative groups. Group work not only keeps students more engaged, but also builds those real world skills that they need to be successful after high school - collaboration, communication, problem solving, etc. However, as a teacher, I can attest to the fact that getting students to engage in quality group work is much harder to accomplish than it sounds. Now, as a coach and an administrator, I can see this when I am in classrooms. My own observations agree with the research finding that while students may be seated in groups almost 60% of their class time, 80% of class time they are engaged in individual work.
I love setting goals. I love everything about self improvement - the process of setting goals and making tangible plans to become a better person in any area (career, relationships, health, personal habits, etc.). That’s why, as I’ve written about in this blog, I love the new year (both calendar and school) because it’s an opportunity for fresh starts, setting new goals, and I’m filled with the energy to go farther and be better.
Last year I engaged in setting 17 goals for 2017, inspired by what I had seen on Twitter from Adam Dovico. It was an epic fail. Of my 17 goals, I accomplished 5 of them. Even chalking some of it up to changing jobs and writing way too vague/grand goals, my progress is pathetic.
The reason I loved the idea of the 17 goals (and I still love his 18 for 2018) is that I have shiny object syndrome. There is so much that I want to learn about and do! Unfortunately, it usually means I try to take on too much, and in the end I accomplish little.
I can’t believe you are now an assistant principal. Remember two years ago, when you thought that principal sounded like the worst job in the world, and assistant principal was even worse? Guess you’re eating your words now.
But seriously, a lot has changed in the past few years, and I know you are excited for this new role. I also now how important it is to you to become a successful leader. Therefore, as teacher-you, I want to give you a little advice to keep in mind as you become removed from daily classroom life. I want to remind you of the things you wished your administrators did. I want you to remember what you appreciated, and what you wish they had done differently, so that it can help guide your actions. Therefore, the following is my advice of what I would want from you if you were my principal.
Everyone wants to be appreciated. I work hard day in and day out to create engaging lessons, support challenging students, provide feedback, contact parents, meet with teams, etc. Yes, you have a lot to do as a building administrator. But really, us teachers are the ones who make the school run successfully. We just want to know that you appreciate our hard work, and you think we’re doing a good job. Don’t patronize, don’t dismiss our concerns, and don’t forget how hard it is to meet the needs of all the students in the classroom. Say thank you, give a compliment, write a quick email. It means a lot.
Be in classrooms often
I want a principal who is in my room often enough that they see the good work I do on a daily basis. Then if you pop in and a student is having a bad day, or I’m at my desk while students are testing, you can put that moment in the context of all the other amazing lessons and classes you have seen. I don’t want the only times I see you to be formal evaluations. Be visible and around often. Know the great things that go on in classrooms every day, not just during a formal evaluation.
Build leadership and be transparent
Teachers in the building want a say in how the school operates and the decisions that get made. Provide me with many opportunities for leadership, even outside of the formal titles. If I don’t get department chair, can I help plan professional development sessions, can I coordinate committees, can I support scheduling or testing? Share the leadership and let us take ownership in our building.
Likewise, I recognize that not everyone can always get their way. But please be transparent in your decision making. We may not always agree with the decisions you always make, but help us understand the factors and reasoning behind the decisions. This way we know that our opinions have been heard, it can help us better support the decision, and we can feel more like team members.
In conclusion, you’ve got a lot of learning ahead of you. You won’t always be perfect, and you’re going to have to accept that. But knowing you like I do, I think you’ll be great. Good luck.
In the early years of my teaching career, I gave little thought to the role of homework. I did what all the teachers around me did and what teachers before me had done. Homework held a small percentage in the grade book (10-15%), it was given daily, and graded for “effort”. It was important practice, so it needed to be graded to hold students accountable. But since it was practice, it would be graded for effort not to punish the students who struggled. (This was, of course, back in the more direct instruction time of mathematics teaching, where homework was an extension of the “You Do” part of the gradual release of responsibility).
Then things changed for me in ways that forced me to rethink my choices. I moved from an affluent school district to a school district that served primarily low-income students. It was no longer a given that most of my students would complete their homework. Now, only about ⅓ of the students would routinely turn in homework and was tanking my students’ grades. My role within the school changed as well. I began taking on more leadership, which meant talking to other teachers about issues they were facing, including the homework conundrum. I began reading more research and questioning the routine of homework in the typical math classroom.
I saw Pedro Noguera speak at a conference, and he spoke about homework as an equity issue. His comments spoke to me, and pushed me to view homework through a new lens. Often, he said, teachers confuse hours on homework with rigor. We also make a number of assumptions when we assign homework.
A while back, I wrote a piece on Edutopia asking why we don't differentiate professional development like we ask teachers to differentiate their classrooms. Since then, I've moved from the classroom to a coach position, and have been put in charge of ongoing professional development for the middle school math department. This has given me a chance to put my money where my mouth is, as they say. Specifically, this current school year provided me with the opportunity to try a more differentiated approach to our monthly department professional development sessions. As the year is ending, I am reflecting on how this plan worked for us, and providing some ideas if others are interested in trying something similar in their own school or district.
I’m just going to say it - planning professional development (PD) that is engaging and useful to a diverse group of teachers is hard. (If someone says otherwise, their PD probably isn’t that good). In our district, we have early release days once a week that are used for staff meetings and PD. Twice a month, our middle school math teachers come together during this time. Consistently planning short but meaningful PD for this time has been a challenge. All of our teachers are good at what they do, there are no new initiatives to present, and grade level teams already meet weekly in PLCs.
Additionally, I am an advocate for getting rid of the “sit and get” style of PD. Neither adults nor students want to be talked at for an hour straight. Questioning is a perfect example of this. Questioning is an area that we all could improve upon (myself included). However, we have all attended generic questioning PDs where we get a list of Bloom’s Taxonomy verbs and review Depth of Knowledge, and leave really no better than we came in.
When discussing the idea of questioning as a topic for a Tuesday PD, the math coordinator and I saw this as an opportunity to step up our game when it came to PD.
One of my favorite parts of using Twitter has been the exposure to a number of great resources. To me, finding a new resource is exciting. However, it can also be overwhelming, from the sheer number of options that are out there to determining the quality. (This has been especially tough for me since I left the classroom and don’t have my own group of students to experiment with new resources. However, I am lucky to have a team of teachers who are open to broadening their own horizons, and let me join along in the process.) Recently, I had my first experience with an Open Middle problem, and it is one of my new favorite math tasks!
As mentioned, determining what resources to use in your classroom can feel overwhelming. Hopefully, by sharing my experience I can convince a few more people to try an Open Middle problem in their own classroom.
If you haven’t used or seen an Open Middle (OM) problem, they are described on the website in this way:
Through my Twitter feed, I came across a great blog post by Adam Dovico challenging teachers to 17 things to put on their bucket list for 2017. The ideas were wonderful, and inspired me to reflect on my own goals for the year. If I had to think of 17 challenges I wanted to accomplish this year, what would they be?
At first I was overwhelmed by the idea. 17 goals, that’s a lot. But when I got to thinking about it, I realized that not all of these bucket list items had to be major goals. The beauty of the “bucket list” is that is contains many smaller items that are easier to accomplish. In psychological terms, this allows for the “snowball effect”. Accomplish a few smaller items, which gives you the psychological motivation and sense of accomplishment to achieve larger ones.
So with that said, here is my 17 for 2017 bucket list, organized by theme (instructional coaches version):
Many of my best ideas I have borrowed from other fabulous educators. This blog is a place for me to share what I have done, in the hopes that someone else can find it useful in their own practice. In addition, I use it as a space to reflect on the issues important to those of us in the education field.