Rethinking Professional Learning

Gone are the days of extensively long, sit-and-get, after-school faculty meetings.  My own research has shown, that after a long Monday of teaching and learning the absolute last thing that teachers want to do is have information thrown at them.  My observations are purely observatory: staring blankly, checking email, grading papers, and/or doodling are not typically actions characteristic of engaged, active participants. 

So as any responsive practitioner we needed to meet the needs of our “students.”  We needed to rethink the ways that our “students” are learning.  Now we use our knowledge of adult learners and mirror the expectations we have in the classroom in order to effectively move learning forward.  At Halstead we take the classroom approach and provide professional learning in three ways: whole group, small group, and individualized professional development.

Whole Group

While we maintain that whole group meetings are the least effective mode of professional development there are times when district expectations must be communicated to teachers.  At Halstead we needed to consider a way to disseminate this information in meaningful, engaging ways that will have a lasting effect on teacher practice.  So, we adopted the flipped model.

Through digital means teachers are provided resources (articles, materials, videos) that support the topic.  After viewing the resources, teachers need to synthesize new learning and discuss how their new learning will impact instruction and student achievement.  As a group, teachers create a multi-media project to communicate these new understandings.  They present the information to the staff. 

The benefits of the “flipped” model are varied.  The greatest benefit to teachers is the ability to view the items on their own time.  As we know, teachers are busy.  They spend countless hours planning and preparing for their students.  Additionally, teachers actively collaborate to monitor and revise their own thinking.  Further, teachers are able to explore a new tech tool in order to present their learning. 

Small Group

Each month our leadership team provides a full day of coverage to each grade level.  The purpose of this time is to provide customized professional development.  The topics and activities are based on the needs of the specific grade level. 

The typical components of the grade level meetings are detailed below:

  • Problems Seeking Solutions: Teachers voice their concerns in the form of a question to facilitate group idea sharing.
  • Data Analysis: The team triangulates data and uses the data to formulate small groups to meet the needs of students by customizing instruction.
  • Professional Development: The instructional coach facilitates professional learning activities that meet the needs of that specific grade level.
  • Application and Planning: Teachers apply their new learning to content planning and/or activities in small group.

We have found this time to be extremely beneficial in customizing professional learning to specific content and grade level areas.  Productivity and collaboration are maximized.  We are able to draw on the strengths of specialists in the building including the Reading Specialist, Special Educators, and the Math Resource Teacher.  This provides varied perspectives and in turn sets reflective practice in motion.

Individualized Professional Development

Individualized Professional Development is one of the ­­­greatest initiatives of our district.  To organize this movement in an practical way Halstead adopted the “University Model.”  Teachers begin the year by reflecting on their instructional practices and professional needs using the Charlotte Danielson Framework.  After identifying a goal for the year, teachers create a plan of action in meeting this goal.  They use a menu of options located on Halstead 2.0.  These options are aligned to their goal.  In choosing our learning experience, teachers have adopted the old learning model of read, see, do, and reflect. 

As an example, a fifth grade teacher was interested in examining meaningful ways to integrate technology in her classroom.  So using the “menu” she decided to participate in a book club using the amazing Amplify (Katie Muhtaris & Kristen Zemke, 2015).  During this time teachers were able to move at their own pace, reflect on their practices, and ask each other questions about next practices.  It promoted collaboration and communication between multiple grade levels.  As it turned out, it also prompted the quiet leaders of the building to emerge as vocal trailblazers in embracing the role of facilitator.

The teacher sought out teachers in the building that were emerging as leaders in integrating technology in instruction.  Using peer observation templates the teacher was able to document meaningful practices as they were implemented.  Afterwards the teachers were able to collaboratively reflect on the planning, implementation, and impact on student learning.

Finally, the teacher participated in a lesson study.  The lesson study allows teachers to collaboratively craft lessons in using what they know about pedagogy, student development, and standards.  Each teacher had the opportunity to present the lesson to their class while their peers observed.  After implementation, teachers reflect on the lesson and make necessary changes that maximize student achievement.  This practice truly puts theory into practice.

The university model has built a community of collaborators, fostered reflective practice, and has encouraged teachers to emerge as leaders.  It places value on the individual goals of each professional and sets forth a personalized pathway to reach these goals.

Throughout the implementation and planning of professional learning opportunities, it is critical for the instructional leaders of the building to keep a consistent focus: the needs of the students and teachers. 

Nicole Fiorito, is a STAT Teacher at Halstead Academy, a Title I school located in Baltimore County, Maryland.  Once a failing school, Halstead Academy is now a model for the district. The past year, Halstead served as a "Lighthouse School," which means it piloted the system's 1:1 initiative that provides Intel-based 2 in 1 devices to students in grades 1-3.  The county has named this initiative S.T.A.T (Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow) and its focus has been on transforming teaching and learning. 

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