Righting the Ship

For years now, it has been recognized in the educational sector that professional development (PD) needs to change. Whether we focus on the unhappy and unfulfilled teachers, the principals who do not see the desired change in their staff, or the lackluster results from high-quality studies done on PD… one thing is very clear – we need to right the ship.  I sought to explore the question: What does research say about planning effective and meaningful professional development? While this question is too broad to come up with one succinct answer, I did uncover some thoughts to consider when planning your next PD session.  Choosing Less and Diving Deeper Schmoker (2015) argues that we choose topics for PD that have no empirical evidence to back it up as true “best practices” (p. 2). Instead, schools choose PD that follow current whims and fads, such as educational technology or differentiation (Schmoker, 2015, p. 2). In contrast, schools and districts should conduct a far more “methodical, painstaking study of any practice or program before they adopt it” (Schmoker, 2015, p. 3). Teachers should be given a say as well and leaders should be able to explain, with evidence, why those topics have been chosen for PD and how they will improve students learning. Another problem with our current professional development is that we choose way too many topics for PD and have limited, if any, follow up with teachers to coach them through until mastery. And then the next year we pile new initiatives atop the half-mastered ones. Schmoker explains “…we must direct all professional-development time and personnel, and teacher collaboration, to a severely reduced number of powerful and proven practices” (2015, p. 3). Otherwise, we overwhelm our staff with the onset of new initiatives and make very little progress in any of them. Agency and Collaboration Teachers want a say in their professional development. Classrooms around the nation are very diverse- in curriculums, supplies, and students’ needs. So naturally, teachers should participate in continuing ed on the topics that connect with their classrooms. On top of that, teachers’ have a huge range of backgrounds, training, and experiences, and need personalized training to fit where they are at professionally. Therefore, we should give teachers choice in their PD and make sure it is relevant to them. In a survey done by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2014, teachers expressed that their ideal PD would be personalized, interactive, and sustained over time (p. 4). Likewise, McGrath (2020) encourages trainers to give teachers time to process, practice, and transfer new knowledge. A good rule of thumb is to spend about a third of the session on new information and the other two thirds on reflection and implementation (McGrath, 2020). Give teachers agency and the opportunity for hands-on learning, applying their learning to their specific classroom, and the opportunity to collaborate with others. Check out Elena Aguilar’s Principles of Adult Learning to gather other ideas of how to meet your adult learner’s needs.  Implementation and Coaching Another problem with our current formats of PD is the lack of support for teachers during implementation. It’s like giving them a map on how to get to point b or mastery and then helping them on their personal voyages. Valerie Strauss (2014) gave a powerful analogy as she compared implementation in the classroom to riding a bike. Would we show a picture of a bicycle, explain the theory behind the mechanism, and then just release teachers to try riding a new bike in the parking lot on their own time? No. Strauss states: “In the same way that riding a bike is more difficult than learning about riding a bike, employing a teaching strategy in the classroom is more difficult than learning the strategy itself” (2014, p. 1). In fact, studies show that it takes an average of 20 practice attempts before a teacher can master a new skill (Strauss, 2014, p. 1). Therefore, a goal of PD time should be to choose powerful practices to study and then support teachers as they practice, tinker, and improve their craft. Schmoker argues “mastery born of repeated practice and ongoing guidance must become the new goal of professional development” (2015, p. 3). Furthermore, teachers have indicated that they want sustained time to learn (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2014, p. 4). During implementation, teachers would benefit from time collaborating with peers and receiving additional support from coaches. If implemented well, coaches can come alongside teachers and help with the implementation process by co-planning, co-teaching, modeling new instructional practices, or observing and giving feedback.  While it is always hard to right the ship, implement change, and break away from how things have traditionally been done, think of the benefit professional development can have on teaching and learning if done right. It would be like unlocking a vast treasure trove of skills, ideas, knowledge, and pedagogies that can transform education. For now, let’s begin by choosing just a few evidence-based practices for PD, giving teachers agency and hands-on learning opportunities, and supporting them through the learning process to mastery.  In your opinion, what is vital to consider when planning effective and meaningful professional development? I would love to hear from your experience participating and leading PD.  Works Cited  Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (2014, December). Teachers Know Best: Teachers’ Views on Professional Development. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5W5P9bQJ6q0SUlzb19fX0lpaXM/view Bright Morning (n.d.). The Principles of Adult Learning. Retrieved from https://brightmorningteam.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Principles-of-Adult-Learning.pdf McGrath, Shannon. (2020, May 7). 3 Tips for Creating Effective PD. Eduptopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/3-tips-creating-effective-pd Schmoker, Mike. (2015, Oct. 20th). It’s Time to Restructure Teacher Professional Development. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/opinion-its-time-to-restructure-teacher-professional-development/2015/10  Strauss, Valerie. (2014, March 1). Why Most Professional Development For Teachers is Useless. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2014/03/01/why-most-professional-development-for-teachers-is-useless/ 

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Reflections on Peer Coaching

My Take Aways

This quarter has been very formative and has expanded my thoughts about coaching. Here are some of my big take-aways: 

First and foremost, take time to develop relationships. Just like in a classroom, you won’t make much headwa…

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Resources for Meaningful Tech Integration

The Problem Okay, let’s be honest from one educator to another. When it comes to technology, have you ever felt like once you learn something new the educational world is already moving on to the next and greatest? Or have you ever just shrugged off the current technology trend and chosen to stick with what is familiar and comfortable when it comes to teaching? Perhaps you are trying to use different forms of technology, but feel like the technology is more of an expensive toy than actually enhancing and redefining the learning experiences? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you are not alone. “New, often more effective technology is created so quickly that teachers don’t feel like they can keep up with the onslaught” (Foltos, 2013, p. 134). Teachers also confess to having “stepped to the side” to avoid the steamroller of education and technology. A study was done by the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers that concluded only half of teachers felt adequately prepared to integrate technology into instruction and 1/3 of teachers asked students to use technology in problem-solving and research a few times a week (National Education Association, 2008, p. 17-18). And for those who are attempting to integrate technology, sometimes we end up doing basic substitution for other tools. The technology is not actually transforming learning, merely supporting traditional teaching methods. Where Do We Go From Here? Let’s start by redefining the term technology integration. Les Foltos (2013) proposes a new definition for technology integration in his book Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration: “Technology supports and enhances 21st-century pedagogy and content” (p. 146). So what should our focus really be on? Pedagogy, content, and student learning. The teacher’s first job is to design learning activities that feature solid content and effective pedagogy (Foltos, 2013, p. 146). After the learning activity is created THEN teacher and/or students can help choose the technology that will best help them accomplish the task. “Too often, teachers still plan their lessons around technology instead of putting learning first” (Foltos, 2013, p. 136). Annie Tremonte, a digital learning coach in Renton, Washington uses this analogy when working with teachers to highlight how we can become overly focused on technology: “No one ever said ‘Wow, Elmer’s glue is amazing. How can I design a whole lesson just around Elmer’s glue?’ Yet oftentimes we start with the technology we want to use and try to build a lesson around that. Why?” Coaches can help teachers focus first on student learning, and then choose the technology that helps students achieve those goals. A key question to consider is how can technology enhance or accelerate learning? Another way we can push for meaningful tech integration is by collaborating with coaches to develop relevant techno-fluency skills. Coaches can assist teachers in choosing the right type of technology by first asking them to define the task students will be doing, or the 21st-century skills the students will be working on, such as communication or collaboration. This will help you narrow your search for different types of technology to use. Coaches can then help research, model, or collaborate with the teacher to learn the new piece of technology. Teachers can also involve students when choosing appropriate technology (Foltos, 2013, p. 135). By having more proverbial “tech tools” in their toolbox, teachers can integrate tech in a more meaningful way. There are various tools and resources educators can use to keep technology-integration conversations focused on pedagogy and content when redesigning lessons. SAMR Technology is not this magic fix-all. If you employ technology, but are still teaching traditionally, nothing will change.  As Foltos (2013) put it: “Adding technology hasn’t changed traditional teaching and learning, but it has made poor pedagogy more expensive” (p. 143). Here’s how the SAMR continuum can help teachers avoid this pitfall. The SAMR model was created in 2010 by Ruben Puentedura and outlines four levels of technology integration. Substitution – replacing traditional activities and materials with digital versions. In other words, there is no change to the content, just the way it is delivered. Augmentation – substitution with some functional improvement. So the content stays the same, but teachers can enhance the lesson with various forms of technology like comments, hyperlinks, and embedded multimedia. Other examples of augmentation are gamifying your quizzes with Socrative and Kahoot or using virtual bulletin boards, like Padlet, for student collaboration (Terada, 2020). Modification – the technology significantly alters the task. Redefinition – learning is transformed by offering students opportunities that were impossible before. Some examples include global pen-pals, virtual field trips, or connecting with an expert for an interview, or getting feedback on your work. Teachers often focus on the first two levels, especially now during distance learning. Teachers replace traditional materials with digital ones: converting lessons and worksheets to PDFs and posting online, or recording lectures and videos for asynchronous learning (Terada, 2020). And this is good practice. We cannot be at the Redefinition level all the time. “It’s tempting to think of SAMR as a mountain to be summited. But good technology integration isn’t about living at the top of the SAMR model; it’s about being aware of the range of options and picking the right strategy—or strategies—for the lesson at hand” (Terada, 2020). TPACK The TPACK model focuses on three forms of knowledge: Content (CK), Pedagogy (PK), and Technology (TK). All three are essential in teaching. A highly effective teacher has a deep understanding of the subject matter being taught, is well versed in various methods of teaching and learning, and also has experience working with technology and knows how to apply it in order to enrich students’ learning. These three types of knowledge should be interwoven in the 21st-Century Classroom. While there is a natural overlap between the different types of knowledge, the goal is to be in the middle, where a teacher is effectively employing content, pedagogical, and technology knowledge all at once. This video does a great job explaining TPACK more in-depth and provides some real-world examples. Lesson Design Matrix If your school hasn’t gone through the process of establishing norms of effective instruction, check out the Learning Design Matrix. It was created by Les Foltos with the help of various educational leaders, coaches, and teachers. The goal is to create a mutual understanding between staff on what effective instruction looks like. The Learning Design Matrix can be used as a checklist that coaches and teachers can refer to when designing lessons. The bottom right box outlines the qualities of effective instruction when it comes to technology integration. I appreciate this resource because it can be a helpful tool and doesn’t focus on the technology itself, but how the technology can be used to collaborate, create, and empower students. Coaches can use this resource when working with teachers to design new curriculum or improve existing lessons regarding technology. ISTE Student Standards Lastly, educators can utilize the ISTE Student standards to keep technology focused on developing 21st-Century Skills. The ISTE standards “are all aimed at integrating technology to help students develop critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and problem-solving skills, as well as developing creativity and innovation” (Foltos, 2013, p. 143). These are exactly the kinds of skills our students need to be successful in the real world and should be at the center of the target when it comes to integrating technology. Summary While technology can become a powerful part of the learning journey – it should not be the focus. Pedagogy and student learning should always come first. Les Foltos says it beautifully: “Coaches must understand that best practices in technology integration are really best practices in 21st-century learning. Technology integration is all about the interrelationship of pedagogy, content, and technology. And technology is the least important of the three elements in this equation” (2013, p. 151-152). Whether teachers are feeling overwhelmed with keeping up, simply avoiding it, or poorly using technology, coaches can help. By redefining technology integration, collaborating with teachers to build capacity, and then using existing tools and resources, coaches can guide teachers in how to effectively use technology to transform student learning. Works Cited Common Sense. (n.d.). Introduction to the TPACK Model [Video]. Common Sense Education. https://www.commonsense.org/education/videos/introduction-to-the-tpack-model Edutopia. (2007, November 5). What Is Successful Technology Integration? Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/technology-integration-guide-description Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin. Foltos, L. (2018). Learning Design Matrix. Peer-Ed, Mill Creek  Mkoehler. (2012, September 24). TPACK Explained. TPACK.ORG http://www.tpack.org/ Spencer, John. (2015, Nov. 3) What is the SAMR Model and what does it look like in schools? [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SC5ARwUkVQg Terada, Youki. (2020, May 4). A Powerful Model for Understanding Good Tech Integration. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/powerful-model-understanding-good-tech-integration Header photo by Good Studio, Adobe Stock

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Developing a Shared Vision and Culture That Embraces Technology

The Foundation Having both a clear vision and a healthy school culture are essential foundations before adopting new and innovative practices. According to ASCD, school culture is the way “teachers and other staff members work together and the set of beliefs, values, and assumptions they share.” These beliefs and values have a huge impact on instructional decisions and student learning. So if a school is adopting a new technology initiative, school leaders should take the time to create a shared vision and culture for using technology. If teachers believe in the positive influence technology can have on student learning, then there will be forward momentum by staff working towards a common goal. Likewise, a school should have a strong and prevalent mission and vision statement. Aguilar (2015) argues that a school mission and vision help educators to feel that they are on the same page and that it offers direction when decisions need to be made. A shared mission statement and vision “motivates, unifies, and guides all stakeholders in their day-to-day operations” and comes “alive in the hearts and hands of those doing the work” (Aguilar, 2015). Creating a Shared Vision and Culture How do coaches inspire educators and create a shared vision and culture for using technology? How can principals, teacher leaders, and coaches ensure staff buy-in? Below are some helpful tips to consider when working with your school’s staff. Laugh. Try and include humor in your staff meetings – look up comic strips regarding teaching and/or technology. There are a lot out there. It is a great way to break the ice and create a more laid-back and comfortable environment. Ask for opinions. Asking teachers what they think creates buy-in. If teachers get to help create the school’s technology vision and culture, they will take more ownership. Communicate that every voice counts. When creating a shared vision, make sure to give everyone an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings. “When more students are involved in the class, their confidence increases, and they will drive their learning proactively rather than passively letting the teacher own the experience” (Piotinsky, 2019). While this statement was talking about students, I think it can apply to adult learners as well. Here is one activity you can do with your staff to allow them to express their ideas. Chalk Talk (Foltos, 2013, p. 106-109) There is only one rule: no talking. Participants discuss their ideas using chalk, whiteboard markers, pens, digital devices, etc. This keeps the conversation from being dominated by a small minority of outgoing teachers. Teachers can draw lines to link ideas, highlight or add stars for emphasis, or include follow up questions on certain ideas. This is a great way to flush out ideas and give everyone a space to contribute. Emphasize growth. The school vision regarding technology should encourage staff members to try new things and be risk-takers. Educators need to move out of our comfort zones to grow. However, this can be hard when there is the “added pressure of high-stakes testing and emerging models of teacher evaluations” (Marcinek, 2014). Principals need to encourage teachers that they are looking for small baby-steps. Nothing crazy. They can assure teachers that it is okay if the wifi drops, or the lesson doesn’t go as planned during an observation. The focus should be on the process toward the learning goals or objectives (Marcinek, 2014). Coaches can also support a risk-taking environment by being upfront about their own mistakes in the classroom or by being vulnerable during staff meetings and professional development. We all are on a never-ended continuum of learning and perfecting our craft. Without mistakes, we won’t get better. #failforward Personalize professional growth plans. Once the vision statement has been created collectively, teachers should be empowered to pursue tech-related goals that are interesting to them. Perhaps that is using technology to make learning activities more engaging, collaborate with students and experts outside of their schools, or create tech-infused performance tasks that demonstrate their learning. Choice and agency is a powerful way to increase ownership and engagement. Dedicate time. Once the school’s technology mission statement and vision are created, staff should spend time collaborating and reflecting on how they are working towards the shared vision. By dedicating and protecting this time, you communicate to staff that it is a priority. If there is never a time and place to do this work, the school’s tech mission and vision will be lost. Carrying It Out…  How do you carry out the shared vision? How do you define 21st-century learning and evaluate lessons for effectiveness? Once you have a technology mission statement and vision, it is helpful to give teachers and staff the practical tools on how to carry out that vision for 21st-century learning. Les Foltos (2013) outlines a helpful process coaches can use with their staff in order to establish a “norm” of effective learning. Start by having your staff collectively create a portrait of a graduate and discuss what skills students need when they leave your school. This will give your staff an idea of what the ultimate goal is. Next, discuss what are the traits of effective instruction. In other words, what do we (the teachers) need to do in order to equip students with the 21-century skills they need to be successful. Some items that may be on your list are: Help students develop communication and collaboration skills Work through a problem-solving process Encourage student agency and give choices Have students analyze and synthesize information After a list has been written by the staff, connect those traits of effective instruction back to research. This is an important step so that teachers’ and coaches’ thoughts on traits can be grounded and justified (Foltos, 2013, p. 109-110). This list can be turned into a checklist that coaches and teachers can refer to when planning new lessons or evaluating existing lessons for effectiveness. That way everyone is on the same page and knows what the norm is. “The norm for effective instruction is a road map that describes what teachers need to do to improve their practice and specifics on how to shape teaching and learning activities to reach their goals” (Foltos, 2013, p. 105). With the help of educational leaders, coaches, and teachers, Les Foltos created the “Learning Design Matrix” that provides a shortlist of the various qualities of effective instruction. Your checklist of effective instruction can become a powerful tool, but only if teachers are given the dedicated time and space to collaborate with coaches or other teachers to develop these instructional skills. The checklist may also be overwhelming for teachers, but coaches can work with them to choose small, specific goals that are more manageable. For example, amplifying student voice with the use of technology or have students engage in active learning. Creating a shared vision and staff culture for embracing technology is a big feat. However, it is paramount to ensure staff buy-in. Once teachers share in the vision, pedagogy and instructional practices will begin to shift which will have a direct impact on whether our students are ready for an ever-moving, fast paced, digital society.  Works Cited Aguilar, E. (2015, July 16). Cultivating Healthy Teams in Schools. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/cultivating-healthy-teams-schools-elena-aguilar ASCD (n.d.). School Culture and Climate. http://www.ascd.org/research-a-topic/school-culture-and-climate-resources.aspx Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin. Foltos, L. (2018). Learning Design Matrix. Peer-Ed, Mill Creek  ISTE Standards for Coaches (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches Marcinek, A. (2014, May 20). Tech Integration and School Culture. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/tech-integration-and-school-culture-andrew-marcinek Plotinsky, M. (2019, October 10). Creating a Classroom Culture of Shared Ownership. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/creating-classroom-culture-shared-ownership

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Practical Communication Skills to Help Your Coaching Get Off The Ground

Communication is at the crux of our society. And while it is such an important part of our daily life we stop explicitly teaching it as our kids get older. Right now I have a baby and toddler at home and we spend a large part of our time teaching …

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The Roles and Responsibilities of Successful Coaching-Teacher Relationships

Coaching is a powerful practice schools can adopt in order to provide support for their staff and encourage continuous professional growth. Like the quote states above, school leaders should aim to create a learning community for teachers that are focused on trust, collaboration, and growth. Too often teachers chat in the halls but carry out their work in the silos of their classrooms. Coaches can help remedy this situation. They play an integral part because they can come alongside teachers and meet them where they are at. Just like we wouldn’t impose a one-size-fits-all curriculum for our students, we should recognize that our teachers have varying needs, skill levels, and interests. And while PD time may provide new ideas for teachers, coaching can help transfer that knowledge back into the classroom and put it to action (Wang, 2017, p. 23). Many people struggle to define coaching in an educational setting. That is largely due to the fact that coaching roles and responsibilities vary from school to school. There are peer coaches, instructional coaches, or coaches who work in a certain subject such as math or literacy. “…coaches’ functions are as varied as the students and teachers they serve.” Wolpert-Gawron, 2016 So what are the key roles and responsibilities coaches and teachers assume when working together? Let’s first start with coaches. Coaches can wear many hats….. instructor, facilitator, cheerleader, curriculum designer, analyst…..  And while the list can be quite extensive, I found some reoccurring ideas when researching. Coaching Roles: Facilitator One part of facilitating is planning and leading professional development for both large and small groups. However, the role of the facilitator can also be used in one-on-one sessions with teachers. One of the coach’s most important skills is the ability to guide the teacher through the coaching cycle and to ask meaningful questions that help a teacher reason, reflect, and refine their instructional practices.  Expert Coaches cannot be experts at every grade level’s standards and curriculum, but they should be skilled communicators who are experienced at lesson design, best practices, and tech integration and be able to interweave all of these components when helping teachers design curriculum and assessment (Mraz et al., 2016). Sometimes being an expert involves model teaching or observing a teacher to provide helpful feedback. In order to stay an expert, coaches must also be researchers and curators. They need dedicated time to learn new and innovative instructional practices so that they can then share with other interested staff members (Wolpert-Gawron, 2016). Collaborator Coaches come alongside teachers to help them “plan, implement, and evaluate activities” (Foltos). To take it a step farther, they could team teach the lesson. This can be a powerful practice so that the educator can see what strong teaching looks like. This usually involves pre-teaching meetings to discuss what the goal of the lesson is, and then again afterward to reflect on what occurred, how the collaborating teacher might adopt these ideas, and what kind of support the teacher might need moving forward (Foltos, 2013, p. 5). However, the coach needs to be wary of taking on the brunt of the work and encouraging learned helplessness. The goal of the coach should always be to help the teacher build capacity. Les Foltos (2013), said it best: “Ensuring that the learner is taking responsibility for learning is a key strategy coaches use to help their peers develop the capacity to improve their teaching practices. In other words, the coach’s role is to facilitate learning” (p. 15). Catalyst This could also be called change agent or empowerer. Coaches help “teachers reflect on and improve their practice by using question strategies and skills that assist colleagues to become effective instructional decision-makers.” (Foltos).  Heather Wolpert-Gawron (2017) comments that coaches have a powerful position of influence since they can establish partnerships based on trust and respect. Teachers usually feel more comfortable opening up to a coach or TOSA (teachers on special assignment) compared to their principal, and can see best practices modeled in ways teachers can relate to. Coaches can empower teachers to try new things and help the school embrace new pedagogies and practices, such as culturally responsive teaching. However, coaches are just one piece of the puzzle. Progress could not be accomplished without their partners, the teachers. Teachers also have specific roles and responsibilities in a successful coaching-teacher relationship. Roles for the teacher: Expert Teachers should be experienced with their grade-level standards and curriculum. Reflective Learner Teachers should be open-minded and willing to learn new things and grow. Having a growth mindset will enable them to tackle innovative practices and problem solve issues in their own classrooms. They understand that being a life-long learner is essential to meeting the diverse needs of their students and that collaboration with a coach can help them achieve their goals. Risk-taker Be okay with “failing forward” and trying new things. No one learned how to ride a bike overnight or was able to sit down at the piano and play Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 on their first try. Teachers too need time to perfect their craft of teaching. Like it is for all of us – learning something new takes time. This can be uncomfortable for teachers to be so vulnerable with a coach and have their “failures” visible. That is why trust is essential in the coaching-teacher relationship and teachers need to be confident in the fact that the work they do with the coach is private. Coaches can come alongside the teacher, empathize, and be their cheerleader reminding them that we really only grow when we take risks, make mistakes, and are able to learn from them. Going back to the quote at the beginning, school leaders should try their best to create a learning community that encourages risk-taking and innovative practices. Teachers need to know their administrators have their backs before they try and branch out.  “Improving instruction is a long-term, iterative process” (Foltos, 2013, p. 12). And one that we should not try to undertake alone. Our diversity and range of experience can only make us stronger if we are willing to meet at the table, have open and honest conversations, and try new things.  Works Cited Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin. Foltos, L. (2018). Coaching Roles. Peer-Ed, Mill Creek  Mraz,  M., Salas, S., Mercado, L., & Dikotla, M. (2016). Teaching Better, Together: Literacy Coaching as Collaborative Professional Development. English Teaching Forum, Vol. 54 n4, p24-31. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1123196 Wang, S. (2017). “Teacher Centered Coaching”: An Instructional Coaching Model. Mid-Western Educational Researcher, Vol. 29, (1). https://www.mwera.org/MWER/volumes/v29/issue1/V29n1-Wang-VOICES-FROM-THE-CLASSROOM.pdf Wolpert-Gawron, H. (2016, June). The Many Roles of an Instructional Coach. ASCD. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/jun16/vol73/num09/The-Many-Roles-of-an-Instructional-Coach.aspx

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Service-Learning IGNITE Talk

Combatting Apathy With Empathy: A Focus on Technology and Service-Learning

Two years ago I sat down with the fourth-grade teachers at our school to co-write a persuasive writing unit for ELA. We wanted to use project-based learning (PBL) to gi…

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A Roadmap for Choosing New Technology

A long long time ago in a galaxy far far away…. wait, wrong story. 

A long long time ago in a classroom far far away there were students dreaming of one to one devices and teachers advocating for interactive whiteboards and student-adaptive te…

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Shaking Up PD

Redesigning your professional development to be effective, meaningful, and powerful. What is the problem with PD?  Imagine plopping down into a seat at 3:30 pm. You look up at the clock and pray that this professional development session goes by quickly. You pull a snack out of your bag or perhaps you begin to sip your second cup of coffee as your brain shifts to thinking about the stack of papers you have to grade and the lesson you need to finish preparing for tomorrow. Your principal emailed details about today’s training, but it didn’t spark your interest and you’re not sure how it will relate to your teaching.  Ever been there? Surveys show that very few teachers (29%) are highly satisfied with current professional development offerings (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2014). A study was done by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (2014) also revealed that a large majority of teachers do not believe “that professional development is helping them prepare for the changing nature of their jobs, including using technology and digital learning tools, analyzing student data to differentiate instruction, and implementing the Common Core State Standards and other standards” (p. 3). And unfortunately, many teachers surveyed shared that they viewed professional development (PD) more as a compliance exercise than a learning activity- and one over which they had limited, if any, choice (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2014, p. 10). What do teachers want? Relevant – teachers want PD that is personalized to their needs and classroom Interactive – teachers want to be able to participate and do “hands-on” learning activities  Teacher-Led – teachers want to learn from their peers Sustained Over Time – teachers want time to put what they learned into practice over the course of a semester or a school year  Professional – teachers want to be treated like adults, rather than children Possible Solutions: 1. Individualized PD Carla Meyrink, founder and director of The Community of Learning in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, bravely moved her teachers to an individualized professional development approach back in 2016. Through past PD experiences, the leadership team had learned that teachers wanted to be in charge of their own learning – choosing when to learn and what to learn. Meyrink (2016) shared, “We constantly tried to model good teaching techniques for our educators, but we were failing miserably when it came to individualizing. How could we ask our teachers to differentiate and meet the needs of their students, if we couldn’t find a way to do it for them?” So they set off determined to develop individualized PD for their staff. Soon they realized that it would be helpful to have a framework for teachers to use when setting their own learning paths.  The Framework for Individualized Professional Development:  Setting Learning Targets  First, they shared with the teachers the leadership’s desired learning outcomes for all staff (i.e. I can check for understanding and use the information to improve my teaching and individualize instruction). At the first PD session of the year, the staff brainstormed smaller objectives for each large learning target. It was a great way to discuss different ways a teacher could be meeting that large learning target in their classroom. From that discussion, a self-evaluation was created that listed the large learning targets with smaller objectives underneath and asked teachers to self assess themselves with B (beginning), D (developing), or S (secure) on each of the targets (see picture below). Courses in Google Classroom  After teachers had evaluated themselves, they chose two areas they’d like to focus on. The leadership team took that information and started to design mini-courses for each of the targets teachers wanted to do. They posted the course work in Google Classroom. However, they also wanted to empower teachers during PD so at the beginning of each Friday session, a different teacher presented on one of their strengths from their self-evaluation. After the teacher presentation, teachers choose a course to take from Google Classroom, and either worked independently or collaboratively. At the end of the PD time, teachers were asked to reflect on their growth and add it to a portfolio.  Portfolio Documentation  To help facilitate reflection, teachers were asked to provide documentation for those learning targets they identified they were “secure” in. They could choose to do a digital or paper portfolio and collected samples of: pictures of students working lesson plans videos of their teaching feedback from their coordinators quotes from students examples of student work Benefits:  Depending on their preference, teachers could work independently at their own pace or collaboratively. This PD format also showcased different teachers and their areas of expertise, removing the top-down approach to professional development. Individualized PD allowed teachers from different grades and subject areas to connect. Cross-curricular projects were being developed as teachers learned from each other.  Teachers could pursue a goal that matched their interests, ability level, and classroom needs. That way leadership could support new teachers as they developed their craft, while also challenging veteran teachers.  Teachers were more engaged as they had a say in what they learned and could do “hands-on” self-paced work.  It was easier to incorporate small group book studies around professional books that interested teachers. This form of PD could work for large school districts since Google Classroom courses can be easily shared with large groups of people.  Teacher portfolios are a good way to assess if the PD was successful  Concerns:  The amount of time it would take for school leadership to design courses for each of the learning objectives, especially if the topics changed yearly.   Another concern I have about this PD format is time. The Community of Learning met every Friday from 12:30-2:30 pm, but a lot of schools do not have a dedicated time each week for PD. What if your school only has PD one whole day every couple of months?  2. Inquiry-Based PD  Wouldn’t it be awesome if teachers could pursue their own interests and questions during professional development time? That is exactly what Inquiry-Based PD does. After doing Individualized PD with her staff for a handful of years, Carla Meyrink wanted to try another approach.  In 2020 The Community of Learning had two growth goals for the year: student engagement and differentiation. However, the teachers’ interests varied within those two topics and the school’s leadership team wanted to give teachers choice (Meyrink, 2020). Therefore, they decided to try out an Inquiry-Based PD system. “Teachers would have the opportunity to focus on their own inquiry by coming up with questions that interest them, researching ideas and strategies, trying them out in their classes, reflecting on the effectiveness, and beginning the cycle over again” (Meyrink, 2020). They also thought it would be good for teachers to experience inquiry-based learning first hand since they wanted teachers to use it in their classrooms.  Step 1: Teacher Survey They began by sending out a survey at the beginning of December 2019 asking teachers to let them know their needs and interests in the areas of engagement or differentiation. The leadership team then gathered their answers and grouped their ideas into 8 categories (4 on engagement and 4 on differentiation). They then gathered books, podcasts, blog posts, webinars, articles, videos, etc. for each category that teachers could use when researching their inquiry question.  Step 2: Give Teachers Choice  For the first PD session in 2020 they set up 8 tables. On each table they placed the resources they found for that category. They took the time to print quotes, graphics, and QR codes to help spark interest and get teachers quick access to more information. Teachers then browsed and chose an area they would like to study and formed a team with other people with similar interests. Step 3: Driving Questions  During the 2nd PD session, they introduced the teachers to the idea of inquiry. In small groups they decided on a question to pursue.  Step 4: Start the Inquiry Cycle  Do research about their question(s). Decide on a plan of action to try out in their classroom. Reflect on how it went. Tweak and make changes if necessary. Begin the whole cycle over again with a new question. Step 5: Research and Discussion  Three sessions in a row were dedicated to research time. Teachers kept adding their findings to the group Wakelet page that helped curate artifacts and then they discussed what they discovered. Teachers then devised their own action plans.  Step 6: Experimentation and Reflection Teachers put their action plans to work and reflected on whether or not they had been successful. If they weren’t successful they would tweak things or drop it and try something else. As a group, they shared their experiences, supported one another, and learned together.  Benefits: Teacher-directed learning. PD is personalized for each individual teacher giving them voice and choice in their learning. Promotes curiosity, critical thinking, and inquiry. Gives teachers a dedicated time for research and discussion on bettering their craft. Reflection time is built-in and an important part of the process.  A great way to focus on district or leadership’s goals, but also allows teachers to choose topics that are interesting, relevant, and applicable to their classes and also match where they are in regards to their own professional learning journey. The inquiry-based model allows teachers to work collaboratively and learn from each other. Concerns: Once again, you need built-in work time regularly for teachers to work together. If you do not have weekly PD sessions, how could you still use this inquiry-based model but not lose momentum between the meetings?  Another concern is that teachers come up with a plan to try in their classroom but never follow through. There needs to be accountability built into the inquiry-based format. Perhaps this would be a great place for coaches to come alongside teachers one-on-one and support them during implementation and help teachers reflect on how it went.  3. EdCamp PD A third way you can shake up your PD sessions is by trying out an EdCamp. Edcamps are free informal professional development sessions that are focused on learning from other teachers. There are no predetermined topics or presenters, no sage on the stage. Just a group of educators sharing experiences and ideas (Meyrink, 2016). Teachers come the morning of and offer suggestions on topics they would like to discuss. This is usually done by attendees writing questions or topics on sticky notes and posting them on a blank schedule. Teachers then choose which sessions they would like to attend. I love this model because it empowers teachers to be the learners and experts, and places significance on collaboration and being a community. Benefits:   Individualized PD for teachers  A great way for teachers to collaborate with other educators outside of their building or district Free “unconference” model makes it more accessible for people to attend  Conclusion Well, I hope these ideas have started turning the gears in your brain. Research clearly shows that there is a disconnect between what school leadership intends for PD and what teachers actually experience. PD can be more powerful if we can personalize it for individual teachers and provide them relevant, interactive, peer-led training, and the opportunity to reflect on their craft. I’d love to hear about your favorite PD experiences. What was the format and what made it a meaningful experience for you? Check out my Wakelet on new ideas for professional development. Wakelet is a collaborative curation tool that allows you to save pdfs, websites, videos, tweets, FlipGrid videos, etc.  Resources Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (2014, December). Teachers Know Best: Teachers’ Views on Professional Development. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5W5P9bQJ6q0SUlzb19fX0lpaXM/view Edcamp Foundation. (2018, December 2). Edcamp: Empowering Educators Worldwide [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=31&v=rgIqaduELP0&feature=emb_logo Meyrink, C. (2016, August 8). Common Professional Development Challenges. The Teaching Experiment. http://teachingexperiment.com/2016/08/2017/ Meyrink, C. (2020, February 15). How To Set Up Inquiry-Based Professional Development For Teachers. The Teaching Experiment. http://teachingexperiment.com/2020/02/how-to-set-up-inquiry-based-professional-development-for-teachers/ Meyrink, C. (2016, April 10). EdCamp For Professional Development. The Teaching Experiment. http://teachingexperiment.com/2016/04/1900edcamp/ Meyrink, C. (2016, August 15). Individualized…

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Culturally Responsive Classrooms: Where to Start

As people have taken to the streets lately to demand equality, I have watched, reflected, and dialogued with loved ones asking the question, “How am I advocating for equity in my own spheres of influence?” Educators are in such a special a…

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