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.
Research has shown that we learn more from when we make mistakes than from our successes. This learning has been incorporated into teaching and classroom instruction through the use of growth mindset and the productive struggle. In the classroom, we want our students to struggle with tasks. We want them to try solutions, assess their progress, and try something new when necessary. Not only does it lead to their improved understanding of concepts, but they are developing the personality traits, such as perseverance, that will help them succeed in life. But what about us, as educators? Do we expect the same from ourselves?
A friend of mine and fellow educator wrote a blog post about what she learned from a lesson that failed. She writes, “When an assignment or activity doesn’t work quite right, it is important that we model the reflection process with our students as well. Including them in the reflection not only provides us as teachers with a different perspective, but also teaches students that mistakes are great, but reflecting and improving is even better!”. Her words and ideas were running through my head when I went through my own moment of epic fail.
My junior year English teacher taught me the value of an important question: So what? At the conclusion of another essay draft, I would find her writing scrawled out: “So what?” When I was pitching my junior year thesis, she kept repeating, “So what?” Obnoxious at the time, but it pushed me to think about my work in a new way. It reminded me there always needs to be a purpose, a larger significance, to what I do.
So what? Why is this important?
I had the benefit of taking time this summer to read great books, peruse interesting blogs, and connect with other wonderful educators. But with the school year just days away, I have to ask myself the question: So what? What does all this summer learning mean?
Recently, I wrote an article published on Edutopia about differentiating professional development for teachers. Professional development has become one of my big interests, because I think in many places it is being done poorly, and I think we (as education professionals) are losing out on valuable opportunities.
Since I moved out of the classroom, I am often involved in conversations at the district level about school improvement and improving classroom instruction. When the topic comes up about teachers not implementing quality instructional techniques, the knee-jerk response is often “Well they’ve had professional development on that.” The blame is laid squarely on the shoulders of the teachers, with no reflection to the quality of the professional development given, or the support provided afterwards.
I always like to bring it back to the classroom. If all of the students in the class fail a test, is it acceptable to blame the students, because obviously they didn’t try hard enough to learn the material? Or, would it seem like the logical conclusion to assess the teaching of the material, and figure out where the breakdown came on the instructional end, instead of blame the learners?
I’ve watched too many hours of the DIY Network than I’d like to admit, but there is no way you want me anywhere near construction tools. My husband likes watching cooking shows, but he’s not capable of cooking a Cornish game hen without lots of support. Why do administrators think that just by giving teachers a one-time training on a strategy or tool, that somehow they are then equipped to implement it perfectly?
I heard a someone speak once who put it perfectly. Teachers are often long on professional development, but short on practice.
This post originally appeared on Edutopia.
As I prepare for another afternoon of district-provided professional development activities, I always make sure that I bring plenty of work to do (papers to grade, lesson planning, etc.). This isn't because I have a bad attitude and hate professional development (PD). A great PD event can really energize me to improve my classroom instruction. However, the sad fact is that the majority of PDs I attend are repetitive, simplistic, or downright boring. I bring other work to do so that I don't get irritated when I feel that my time is being so carelessly wasted.
I am not alone. According to the Center for Public Education's Teaching the Teachers report (PDF), almost all teachers participate in PD throughout the year. However, a majority of those teachers find the PD in which they participate ineffective.
Thinking about this in the car on the way home after another wasted opportunity made me angry. Why is so much of the teacher professional development that I attend such a waste of time? Because, as Teaching the Teachers reports, a majority of PD is provided in a workshop model. And workshop models are inherently ineffective. It amounts to giving everyone the same information, regardless of their prior knowledge, skills, experience, and leaving it up to them to determine how (or if) it is implemented.
With the new year approaching (having already happened by the time I post this), it is natural for people to take stock in the year that was, assess how well we did on our goals, and create new “resolutions” for the upcoming year. However, as teachers, our “year” usually runs from August - June. This means, as I reflect, professionally I’m really doing a “mid-year” review. This past summer, I set three professional goals for myself for this school year. With the holiday break coming to a close, I’m giving myself my own “progress report” - reviewing how well I’m progressing towards my goals, and giving myself time to make any changes that I need to make.
I was afforded the amazing opportunity to attend the 2015 Teaching - Learning - Coaching Conference in Denver these past few days. To say I enjoyed the conference is an understatement. As I sit here in the Denver airport (flight delayed, of course), I am reflecting upon all the amazing speakers I saw and information I took in. I wanted to write this blog for two reasons: 1) to encourage others who might be thinking of attending this conference in the future to do so, and 2) to synthesize the mass amount of information I put in my brain. There was A LOT more information than what I have written about. I'm just choosing to put down some of the major ideas that resonated with me.
Recently I began reading 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, and have been energized by the idea of improving my own time management. Step one of the book is to keep a time log and analyze how you are currently spending your time. My book group partner and I decided that we should do this step once the school year is underway and we will have a more realistic snapshot of where our time goes. However, in my obsessive nature, while waiting to do this I’ve decided to explore some of Vanderkam’s other books on time management.
Book One (and it’s really a mini-book) is What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Breakfast for short). This came into my life at just the right time. I had recently begun getting up at 5 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. This originally started because I was being woken up by my infant son, but when he started sleeping later, I continued getting up at the same time. By getting up at 5 a.m., I have at least an hour (usually more) to myself before either of my children get up, and this made my final mornings over the summer so much calmer. So when I began reading Breakfast and the first thing she suggested was waking up early, I knew I was on the right track. After reading the guide, I am using her ideas to revolutionize my mornings now that I'm back at school in the following ways (and you can too):
This book is the second in my reading about coaching, and I recommend Student-Centered Coaching as a great read for anyone moving into coaching. Where The Art of Coaching is a great foundation, providing the theory behind coaching and general information on how to begin coaching, Student-Centered Coaching provides more concrete examples from what your schedule should look like to the forms you can use and more.
From my perspective, the differentiation of student-centered coaching vs. teacher-centered coaching is important, especially as I anticipate trying to work with teachers who are going to be very resistant to coaching. Teacher-centered coaching focuses on what the teacher is doing, and some teachers can find this insulting or get defensive over the idea of having someone come in to tell them what to do. (Although in Aguilar's book she does a nice job of differentiating between the types of questions to ask teachers that are "facilitative" instead of "directive", meaning you're facilitating the teacher's own ideas and growth instead of directing them in what to do). Student-centered coaching centers around data and student work to help make decisions to drive instruction. In this way, teachers who are resistant may be convinced because it is about setting goals for the students and not for them.
For anyone who has taught special education, like myself, the idea of data and progress monitoring set out in this book will be very familiar. The cycle for student-centered coaching includes determining a goal, preassessing students to see where they are at for this goal (sometimes this can be done first when trying to figure out the goal), implementing instruction tied to improving that goal area, and then reassessing students to determine how they've moved towards that goal. (It sounds a little like a class IEP.)
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.