The first thing I wanted to provide was an opportunity for professional development in areas that teachers were interested in. Through conversations with the math team, either through informal talks, PLC discussions, or coaching conversations, I felt I had a pretty good idea of the areas that teachers were interested in improving. Those topics included teaching students how to engage in productive struggle, engagement, differentiating, grading, and improving classroom discussion.
At one of the first math department gatherings, I put those five topics on the board. I asked teachers to rank their interest in these topics (their top three). I then used their rankings to create groups of three or four. For us, I wanted to get teachers working with other grade levels for exposure to different experiences and perspectives on the topic. I also wanted them interacting with teachers they didn't get much of a chance to collaborate with on a daily basis. Most teachers got their first choice, with only a few teachers having to settle for a second choice.
Reflection / Suggestion: In the future, I may look to asking teachers to create their own groups. This might work well for schools where teachers have been working together for a long time and know each other well. I believe when you work with people you enjoy spending time with, you work harder and more productively (for the most part). Or teachers could choose a partner, and pairs of partners could be paired together. Teachers could also be intentionally grouped based around expertise in instructional strategies, which would cut across grades and/or content areas. However, for this first time, I put the groups together for a specific purpose.
From there, teachers needed quality time to dive into each topic and try out ideas. Professional development time was reserved specifically for group work. The groups did research, discussed ideas, and even tried out ideas in their classroom. The productive struggle group collected activities and tried them with their classrooms to see which ones they felt were the most beneficial. The grading (turned feedback) group tried different ideas to provide students with feedback, and then collected student samples to discuss and present to their peers. This was an important part of the process, as it turned our professional development sessions from just learning about an idea to actually applying it in the classroom.
Reflection / Suggestion: Work time needs to be built into any teacher-led professional development. As much as one might want teachers to take on this additional responsibility in their "free time", it's important to remember all the daily demands teachers have on them (lesson plans, parent communication, grading , etc.). However, I did find the deadline of a presentation forced teachers to move from the "research / discussion" phase to the "implementation" phase.
The best part of the whole process was when teachers presented what they had learned about their topics to each other. This was exciting for many reasons. First, the level of engagement when teachers were presenting was much higher than when an outsider or district person presents. Partly, this is because teachers see each other as more credible. They are the ones currently in the classroom working with students, and can speak to what works. Second, teachers had a chance to immerse themselves in professional development from the other side. They brought in hands-on activities, videos, and actual student work to engage their peers in the learning. It was a wonderful learning experience for everyone involved, and the level of engagement and enthusiasm was fantastic.
While this was a wonderful first step, it wasn't perfect and there is plenty of room for improvement. One area that I have discussed professional development lacks is follow through. I want to create a way in which teachers can discuss implementation of ideas discussed, and document how we, as a department, are improving in the areas in these areas. There might be room for additional professional development opportunities based on how implementation is developing, and more specific topics that need to be researched and discussed further. I'd also like to take this concept and improve upon it for next year. Ideas include asking teachers to form their own groups, more specific topics to be addressed, and creating more dynamic presentation opportunities.
Overall, this year of professional development was the best professional development we have implemented in my tenure at this school. I know many districts do similar types of differentiated professional development. If you are engaged in this, I'd love to hear from you - please share your experiences!