Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Through the eyes of a teacher.

Today due to some scheduling conflicts I was in the classroom teaching 8th grade social studies.  I was reminded immediately the difficulties of teaching.  It brought me back to four years ago before I made the jump to be a high school principal, and now superintendent.

Teaching is hard! 
Had I been more prepared I would have felt more comfortable.  My first instinct was to grab the text book (the wealth of knowledge), and find an assignment that they were working on. I found myself making students do what we've always done for the last 150 years - regurgitate knowledge.  Which is completely against the way I taught and how I think.  Preparation is much more than following along in the text, the activities cause a disconnect with the students.  

Relevancy and Engagement
Here I was trying to relate the importance of Morse code to students that really were not interested.  
I thought to myself as I looked through the lesson plan about how hard it is to remain relevant with kids.  Why do these students care about the North's economy from 1830 - 1860?  I thought to myself as I read the section.  The better question, how could I have made this relevant to them?  If I am relevant to students then they will be engaged.  Using only the textbooks and the activities included in the text will not create relevancy and engagement only compliance.  

We have to get away from the idea that content is king, and think about engagement.  How can I make something that occurred 200 years ago relevant to them?  Should I even cover this, is it important?  Should all students know and be able to do this concept?  This has caused me to think, and thanks for the impromptu experience, it has reminded me that teaching is the hardest profession in the world.  

I am reminded that I need to get out of the office and put myself into classrooms even as superintendent.  A good friend of mine once said after I moved into the principalship, "don't forget about what it is like to be a teacher." This rings true today.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Seven themes about what works best in PD

Lately my focus has been on reviewing how we have traditionally provided professional development.  Helen Timperly found that there are seven themes about what works best in professional development.
"The outcomes of professional development seem to be more about changes in teachers, and not the impact of professional development on student outcomes." 
This is a great quote and important to remember.  What is the goal of PD and how does that align to student outcomes?  PD should be about student outcomes, not teacher outcomes.

1. Learning opportunities occur over an extended period of time. 

Professional development cannot be one and done - we need follow up and feedback to continue throughout the year.

2. Involvement of external experts was more related to success than within-schools initiatives.

One of my colleagues has said, if the presenter doesn't come from at least 90 miles away no one will listen.  Maybe there is some truth there.  This thought is really unfair for our local experts and not to mention very expensive for districts.

3. Engage the teachers sufficiently during the learning process to deepen their knowledge and extend their skills in ways that improve student outcomes. 

Engagement is no different for teachers.  We must remind ourselves that good instructional methods for kids are good methods for adults.  In the words of @tomwhitby "We know SIT & GIT doesn't work for students. Why would we think it will work for teachers.We are educators RIGHT? " Engage your teachers!

4. Provide professional development that challenges the teachers' prevailing discourse and conceptions about learning.  

For us to improve ourselves we need to be challenged.  This goes back to something I wrote about previously regarding the fixed mindset.  As educators we need to be able to see and understand that what we may be doing could be ineffective.  This is very difficult for some, but very important for growth.  Simply put; "When the facts change, I change my mind." John Maynard Keynes.

5. Talk to teachers about teaching.

How often does our professional development actually talk about teaching? If the PD at your school does, that is awesome!  I would assume that most PD rarely gets to student outcomes like instruction, we care more about things that have very  little impact on student achievement.  Example; Curriculum mapping, love and logic, and etc) Get the right focus and align your PD to student outcomes.

6. Professional development was more effective when the school leadership supported opportunities to learn and provided time to process new information and reflect. 

School leaders should take an active role in PD sessions.  Walking out of the room after you present the speaker makes teachers feel like it is not important.  They make statements like, "If the principal isn't here then it must not be important."  Leaders lets learn along side our teachers! Just like kids we need to provide opportunities for reflection and FOLLOW UP.  If PD is important then we should come back to it throughout the year.

7.  Funding, release time and whether involvement was voluntary or compulsory did not influence student outcome.  

Typically when budgets are cut the first things that are pulled out are PD funds.  Good PD planning takes time and should not be one-size-fits-all. As I look toward the future of PD I see a long road of planning that needs to take place along side teachers.

Friday, March 1, 2013

How professional learning should be...

What is the easiest way for a district to provide professional development?

Create a one-size-fits-all approach.  

What is the most effective way to provide professional development?  

Individualize, provide follow up, keep it on target, differentiate, and reflect. 

I am asking our district to make a dramatic change to how we approach professional development.  In his book Unmistakable Impact, Jim Knight talks about narrowing your focus on the target.  Most everything we do in terms of professional development should be focused on improving instruction.

Eliminating the one-size-fits-all approach is difficult.  You don't want everyone going in different directions - this could prove to be detrimental as well.  There will need to be some structure as we go forward.  Careful planning and input from teachers will be valuable.  We need to look at PD dramatically differently.  It should be something that is done with teachers and not to them.

What is your district doing to differentiate PD for teachers?