Professional Development; The Next Step

cc licensed flickr photo by U-g-g-B-o-y-(-Photograph-World-Sense-): http://flickr.com/photos/uggboy/4881735073/

Yesterday at Forest Green School, we had a fantastic professional development session. It started with a 30-minute open session where staff were just able to take the time and write a blog post. As this is a new school wide initiative that will be trickling down to our students in the next month, I wanted to ensure that I gave them an opportunity to just spend some time writing a post and seeing what others wrote as well. It was a great opportunity for our staff to develop their own learning in this initiative and give them dedicated time to write. (We used this document to inspire some ideas)

After we came together and looked at each other's posts, we then dived into the rest of our morning. As we are working on our second year of our teacher-led professional development plan, I talked with our staff about the importance of focusing on directly impacting student learning through our vision. I thought directly about the following quote:

“The challenge for school leaders, then, is to move their teachers beyond Hft – The Fastest Solution To Fix Slow Muscle Growth!

www.bjpconsulting.com/spectrum.html”>what Bernajean Porter calls adapting uses and into transforming uses. ” Scott McLeod, Dangerously Irrelevant

As we move forward, it is essential that our goals focus directly on how the impact and improve student learning. There is definitely a time where we need to focus on building staff capacity in new initiatives, but any successful professional development will shift this capacity from teacher to student to ensure we are “transforming” the way learning happens.

For example, as our staff continues to develop their capacity for blogging, how will we shift this practice from being simply a way of communicating with parents, students, and teachers, to a medium that positively impacts student learning? It is imperative not only for our students that we use blogging as a way to open up conversations and learn from each other, but it is also essential that all of our staff see the opportunities that blogging creates in our learning community. This cannot come without a certain amount of understanding of the technology (how to write a post, hyperlink, etc.), but we must continuously look on how it will impact learning and why we are using this in the first place.

As an instructional leader within a school, it is essential that I help to first build staff capacity, but the vision MUST positively impact student learning. This should be the goal of all professional development plans. Leaders must not only have this vision, but the patience to see it through.

Question: Is there ever a time when professional development should only focus on teachers and not students?  Does this ever happen in schools?  And if it does, why would it?

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17 Comments

  1. Justin Tarte said:

    George,

    I am an aspiring administrator, as well as the PD rep. at my high school. I did a PD session about a month ago on social media and technology integration, ( http://bit.ly/bAkxeo ) and I love the idea of giving teachers hands on experience using a blog…I was thinking how I could approach my building principal with this idea, and I was hoping I could bounce an idea off of you. Step 1 – create a blog for my high school… Step 2 – attach it as a link to our district page… Step 3 – send teachers the link… Step 4 – have teachers write for 30 minutes on something they feel we can do / should do to improve education at our high school… Step 5 – encourage teachers to read what others have written… Step 6 – building administrators comb through the information and design an activity for our next faculty meeting…?

    I really would love more educators to discover the power of blogging (even if they are only reading, not writing). I started a blog with my German students this year, and I have absolutely loved using this as a source of professional growth and development .

    Great post…if you have time let me know what you think! Thank you.

    October 9, 2010
    • I think that is a fantastic idea! It would be great to see the different perspectives of teachers.

      For set up though, I think that it is essential that there are some guidelines. For example, if teachers are new to blogging, it is important they know that this information can be seen worldwide so that there are not any ethical implications. It would be great to have some type of resource on “what makes an effective blog post”. If you created something like that for this activity, it would be great for you to share it!

      October 9, 2010
      • Numerous teachers who use blogs have created evaluation guidelines and acceptable content guidelines as well. Those could be used with teachers who have not blogged before and have not considered the shoulds and the should nots. I know there are such resources available on English Companion Ning if you become a registered member (for free).

        October 9, 2010
  2. Hey George,

    Hope you’re doing well.

    As I read this, I was struck by one niggling thought. Is there a difference, do you think, between an emphasis on “improving student learning” and “improving student learners”? Does the former compel us to measure our success in fairly traditional ways, to see “learning” as in content knowledge? What if our emphasis was to improve students [as] learners? How would our curriculum and assessment change? Would they?

    Might be just a passing distinction in my brain that after sitting with it for awhile may not seem worth the discussion. Wondering what you think.

    Best,

    Will

    October 9, 2010
    • @will
      Does one not lead to the other? improving student learners should technically result in improved student learning? So, focusing on what will impact them long term does make more sense – how to learn opposed to a specific content which rarely sticks for the long haul unless used over and over. But… I see them as completely interrelated? In Ontario we have learning skills that are underlying all courses (K-12). These are reported on, but not with a mark. Are you hinting towards combining the two? So, instead of a course expectation reading “solve problems involving proportional reasoning” it would be more around demonstrating an ability to learn how to solve problems involving proportional reasoning? Assessment would be more anecdotal opposed to %? Interesting. Maybe I misunderstood?

      October 9, 2010
      • Depends. We down here in the states hear a lot about “higher student achievement” which, translated, means better test scores. Given the tests that we have, that means more content knowledge since we don’t really assess a student on his or her ability to learn. What good does it do to identify the skills and then not assess them?

        So, in answer to your question, I’m not sure that “improving student learning” necessarily leads to “improving student learners.” I would argue, however, that the reverse would be more apt to be true, just the way you phrased it above. And as a parent, I would much rather the emphasis be on the learner rather than the learning.

        Make sense?

        October 9, 2010
      • Yes. Makes sense. How do you propose assessing learning skills?

        In Ontario the learning skills are reported on at each report card and assessed throughout the year. They are reported on as “needs improvement, satisfactory, good, excellent”. There is no standard for grade 3 or grade 7 – it is relative to the child’s progress. My concern is that this is vague and so the learning skills are often seen as an add-on or silly thing to wing at report card time, instead of the basis of all learning. This view that the learning skills are unimportant is shared by both parents and educators unfortunately. Everyone automatically looks at the mark. We even determine who is “at-risk” by using course marks most often (with the goal of offering support).

        Our board improvement plans and school improvement plans all quote standardized testing scores (in addition to specific literacy and numeracy goals – like “choosing appropriate tools, analyzing text, etc.”), yet we never include a desire to improve the learning skills reports.

        It’s a tough culture to change, but important. Like you said – as a parent what is more important in the big picture – that your child can learn for life or that they’re a master in the Linnaean System of Taxonomy?

        October 9, 2010
      • I agree with you Will. The “learner” should be focused on first as opposed to the “learning”. My hope for what we are doing is that students will learn to have a more self directed, innovative approach to their own learning and it will be based upon their passions. This does not necessarily, for us, lead to better test scores, nor is that the focus. I am hoping that our number one measure is student engagement in their learning (better learners lead to better learning) and we will see this through student projects, innovation, and projects. I know we are accountable to our form of standardized tests, but these are just one measure of our school, even to our school division office (not just our school). Parent satisfaction surveys, student surveys, and opportunities provided to our kids are also measured. My belief though, if we have a system that gives students the opportunity to develop their own process of learning, which will create authentic and meaningful learning opportunities, the “test” scores will also go up.

        One of the issues though, that many of us are having, including governments, how do we measure creativity, passion, and innovation? It is easy (and cheaper) to measure based on multiple choice tests, but the other is a lot different. My vision, is that I continuously am able to share the stories of our school and how students are impacting the learning through quantitative data. This is one of the reasons we are not giving any type of grade or measurement to art or music this year. How is that measured? If it is measured, does it promote or kill learning?

        Long answer short, the focus would be on student learners first. 🙂

        October 9, 2010
  3. George – I say that we always have to ask ourselves how is the PD going to impact students. If it doesn’t impact students then we should put our energy elsewhere. The beauty of your model was that you allowed teachers the time to explore something that they will eventually help students to explore. I have seen a lot of PD sessions where teachers listened passively and did not the hands-on experience that your morning allowed.

    When we set up our days so that our teachers can explore and reflect, we model the same learning environment that we want out teachers to establish for our students. In my mind, it doesn’t get any better than that. To add on to what Will said above, I think when we are encouraging our teachers to be better learners that this allows them to encourage students to be better learners as well.

    October 9, 2010
    • Absolutely Patrick. This self-directed learning has been fantastic and engaging for our staff and I hope that more of these opportunities are now being presented in our classroom. Thanks for your comment buddy!

      October 9, 2010
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