Saturday, November 10, 2018

When teachers lead their own learning

Professional learning is something I'm very passionate about. As a curious person, I engage in learning for my own personal reasons, but I also try to spark curiosity in others as it relates to professional learning. 

Even though "PD" rolls easily off of the tongue, I really hate the connotations that the term "professional development" (PD) conjures up. 

When I lead professional learning for our teachers, I always try to make it interactive, engaging, and worthwhile. I never want it to feel like a "sit and get," and I model instructional strategies that teachers can use in their classrooms. Even with the intentional actions on my part, it wasn't until recently that I felt like I was able to be a facilitator of teacher learning rather than a content delivery person. 

For our teachers' Professional Learning Plans, they are asked to choose at least one school-wide goal for their plan. We have three school goals this year: Diversity, Assessment, and Technology. A different assistant principal is leading the learning for each goal, and I'm leading the learning for technology goal. This is what the goal states:
"I will explore, identify, and integrate technology enhanced activities into my classroom that will allow me and my students to think creatively and communicate effectively while extending learning opportunities beyond the classroom."

Teachers who chose the technology goal have met three times during the first semester as part of the action plan, and I want to share how the meetings were structured so that you may find inspiration or ideas that you could use in your school. 
For our first meeting, I shared what the goal is NOT. It was not about checking a box or just using technology tools for the sake of using them. (In our 1:1 school, there are still a lot of people in the Substitution phase, and this goal was going to be the impetus to have teachers move beyond it.)

Our school's awesome technology coach, Keith Fulmer, has been helping me and the teachers with the learning all semester. Keith and I also emphasized to teachers that even though we are asking them to step outside of their comfort zone and take risks, we will support them all along their journey. 

Along with asking teachers to trust us and themselves as they venture into possibly unknown territory, we asked them to reflect on their "why." 
  • Why do I want to learn about this?
  • Why choose this goal that requires risk-taking? 
  • Why do I want my students to have this experience?
Additionally, we asked teachers to look through the "consumers vs creators" lens as they were designing the experiences for their students. So often we ask students to simply consume (and there is a place and time for that). We emphasized that we wanted to move the needle towards creation. Information is everywhere, and we want students to be able to do something with the information, such as think critically, evaluate, and problem solve. 

Near the end of our first meeting, teachers were given a hard copy of ideas (tweeting with an expert, Skyping with another class, using virtual reality to take students on virtual field trips, blogging, etc.) where they were asked to literally put "pen to paper" and jot down their own ideas for connecting their students outside their classrooms walls. While the suggestions on the list were not inclusive nor required, they served as a jumping off point for our teachers. Teachers shared ideas with others at their tables and gave ideas to those in and outside their content areas. They were also asked to brainstorm as many ideas as possible until our next meeting, which would be about a month later. 

At our next meeting, the slide above was on the screen as teachers entered the room, and they were asked to again get clear about their "why." 

After everyone completed the top of the planning template, we used a protocol to share ideas at the table. 

How the protocol worked:
  1. One teacher had 3 minutes to share his/her ideas with the group. No one should interrupt or ask questions during the three minutes. 
  2. When time was up, the "table" had 2 minutes to ask clarifying questions and share additional ideas (What if you...?) with the teacher.
  3. It then rotated to the next teacher until everyone had shared. 
  4. One teacher served as the timekeeper of the table. 
After each person shared with the table, we then asked if anyone had any questions or thoughts to share with the room. 

I then asked teachers to narrow down their ideas to 1-3 activities that they would implement in their classrooms. These items would be entered into the planning template, along with instructional outcomes, and the timeline for the activity. Teachers were asked to be specific in their timelines, including in them any learning they would be doing prior to the activities.

Some of the activities that the teachers have planned are 
  • Skype with a geology professor
  • to have their students to blog (The teacher had never blogged before, so she started one in order to be able to model it for her students and help them once they begin.)
  • Connect a Spanish 3 class with a Spanish 3 class in Arkansas via GridPals and learn together
  • Use VR to take students on virtual college tours
  • Create a digital newsletter with articles and videos written and created by ELL students
  • Use Skype or Instagram Live to talk with a nutritionist about healthy eating
  • Create book trailers as podcasts
and more!

On the planning template, teachers were also asked to answer the question, "What do I need to learn to accomplish my goals?" Each teacher shared a copy of their template with me, which I dropped into a Google folder for Keith and I to access. We can read through the plans to make sure that we provide support as needed. 

At our final and third meeting of the semester, I asked the teachers to bring a hard copy of their plans to the meeting. The plans were taped to the walls and teachers did a Gallery Walk around the room. They wrote feedback, ideas, and suggestions on sticky notes. After all of the plans had been read, teachers were then able to ask clarifying questions to the group. 

In past "PD sessions," the learning took place in the room with limited collaboration time. With the way in which I structured the sessions for this goal, the learning takes place outside of the room and our time together is to collaborate and help each other. 

"The smartest person in the room is the room."

The 40 teachers who are participating in this goal are from different content areas and levels, and Keith and I are simply facilitators and encouragers of their learning. We ensure that they have the resources they need to make their plans come to life, and I'm excited to hear about their experiences next semester. 

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