Education – Teaching, Leading, Learning

Archive for October, 2013

Rethinking Staff PD – #SAVMP

Lately, in my province, we are in a process of evaluating our teaching practice.  Each school district creates a committee of a variety of personnel (teachers, coordinators, superintendent, school board member) to collect information on what the current reality is for teachers in a school, as well as suggestions for improvement.  The underlying component is to reduce teacher workload so that teachers can focus on the main task of teaching our students.  In our school, we have spent some time answering questions and then discussing the realities.  Of course one area that comes up is Professional Development.

So I thought I would use the data I received as well as sum up my feelings as a teacher for 20 years to help me create what I believe is the most beneficial PD that translates to the best learning in the classroom.

Meaningful PD needs to involve collaboration, conversations, observations, presentations, and time.

The number one type of PD that teachers want is collaboration.  They want time to get together to learn about, discuss, implement, and revise best practices.  Teachers have so much to offer each other.  Just like we remind the students that they all have strengths and need to use them, the same goes for teachers.  When teachers collectively share the focus, visions, and goals of the school…given time to collaborate, they will be very resourceful in building ideas and practices that are often very sustainable and realistic to their specific school.

Meaningful PD involves observations.  I recall some of my best PD days were the times I had the opportunity to watch other teachers.  Instead of just listening to theories and ideas, you get to be immersed in the program.  With this of course, you need time to have conversations.  It’s so important to discuss steps these teachers have taken, resources they needed, obstacles they had to overcome, and successes that drove them forward.

There is still a place for PD involving presentations, especially when it involves experts in certain areas/fields.  I think we need to get away from the thinking that this is the number one way to achieve PD.  It is so much easier to connect with experts using social media now.  Teachers can build PLN’s (Personal Learning Networks) that are very specific to their interests and they can have greater control of when and how they choose to connect.

To tie it all together, teachers need TIME.  They need time to collaborate, time to observe, time to present, time to connect, and time to reflect. We have to be understanding of the time that is needed to create meaningful PD.  We can’t keep throwing new ideas/programs at teachers when they haven’t had time to practice and revise existing ideas/programs.  It is so important to create as much of this PD time built in to a regular teaching day, we can’t keep expecting our teachers to always use their personal time for PD, they use enough of that to stay on top of the regular tasks of teaching.

We keep moving forward in our ways of teaching our students to become a 21st Century learner, we need to move our PD in that direction too!

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Promoting Critical Conversations #SAVMP

Promoting critical conversations is an area that seems very delicate yet extremely important to keep creativity, innovation, and growth alive in a school.  Personally, it is an area that I know I have to grow in.

Being on the other side of administration for 20 years, I appreciated leaders that would listen to my concerns. I wanted to have a voice in our school that helped cultivate the culture we had created and I felt that most of my leaders let me do this. Were all of our conversations ones of agreement? No – sometimes we had to agree to disagree, but there was still a mutual respect.

So how do I, now as a leader, continue to promote this in our school? LISTEN! I need to make myself available and approachable so that staff feel comfortable having these conversations. Relationships and trust needs to be developed.  I need to ask important questions to create conversations. Then, I need to listen to what people have to say.

I will need to accept the feedback I receive and then respond to it.  This will be a tough area for me, I am a “people pleaser” and will need to learn to not see this as a personal attack.  I will need to remind myself how I appreciated the ability of my earlier leaders to accept my comments. These conversations will create reflection that should then guide the course we follow. This could mean completely changing a program, a goal, a strategy, or a way of doing business. But, then, I need to make sure to get out and listen to what people have to say again. It should be a cyclical process.

Having critical conversations can be very delicate. Sometimes emotions get tied into conversations and people react in a more negative way. Feedback is immensely important to a school’s growth, but it needs to be given in a respectful way. Leaders need to be able to model this. If emotions are too high, conversations may need to be postponed to a later time, but they should never be dropped.

The only way to keep a school moving forward is to have these critical conversations. Teachers need a voice. No one wants to work in a place that uses a top down approach. I know I sure didn’t.

Roads to Innovation #SAVMP

I have been extremely lucky to work in a school that is very innovative. We have a staff that is always open to trying new things with the ultimate goal of helping all of our students experience success.

Many years ago we were part of a group of schools in Alberta that began the 1:1 laptop program. We introduced over 120 laptops to our grades 5 and 6 students. Recently we became part of an iPad program for Alberta schools where our Grade 3’s have their own iPads and ECS – Grade 2 have enough to create literacy centers in each of their classrooms. We have also been part of many division initiatives, willing to test drive different programs to evaluate their value and help pave the way for other schools. Our latest innovative idea revolves around improving reading comprehension by creating a blocked time during each day where small groups of children read and interact with an adult.

So what makes our school willing to try innovative ideas? The main reason would be that every staff member is committed to helping every student succeed. This means more than just the academics. It means providing whatever a child needs so that they feel safe and secure and are ready and willing to learn. It makes us look at barriers that our students face and what we need to do to help them overcome them.  Therefore we have a staff that is always looking for new or different ways to do things (thinking outside the box).  It also means finding creative ways to challenge students so that we are always pushing their learning.  Having a dedicated, passionate staff that feels they can take chances, is a very important factor.

How do we know our innovations are making a difference and how do we revisit them?  We look at data.  We analyze trends, areas of strength, and areas of need.  We collaborate, in grade level teams, division level teams, and whole staff teams.  We meet regularly to discuss how programs are working and what steps we need to take to see continued growth.  We evaluate the effectiveness of an innovative idea and make sure that it fits our school and students.

Of course this means that there will be things that don’t work or need to be changed.  However,we are always willing to learn from our experiences and are not afraid to make mistakes.  But, those are the things that help keep the road open to pave the way for innovation.