Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A New Twist on a Old Favorite: PD

As differentiated instruction has pushed to the forefront of education, so too has DI within professional development. Quality educators see the need to keep up on the newest research through reading professional literature, sharing ideas with other content-alike educators, collaborate with colleagues across the district, state, country, and throughout the world. As South Hamilton continues with a 1:1 initiative, we are realizing that learning takes place outside scheduled designated times. Given these recent changes in education, teaching, and learning, shouldn’t it be logical that our PD also takes on similar changes? We are pushed to change teaching to meet the needs of our students, but how much have we really changed in the past number of decades to meet the professional needs of our staff – yes all staff?

Here are some of my proposals for taking a fresh look on our PD.

1. DIPD [differentiated instructional professional development]

Just as we have Professional Growth Goal Plans that we write each year, this could expand to include other options. Teachers also need choice for buy-in. They can choose one or more, depending on how in-depth they approach it.

1a. Professional literature – read Drive by Daniel Pink, or some other professional book, have a book discussion with colleagues. These colleagues could be in the district or outside.

1b. MISIC – we are officially going to this so let’s give time to work on it.

1c. PLC – create own PLC for topic(s) of choosing. Some examples may include technology in the classroom, flipping classes, Moodle, early childhood reading strategies, collaboration projects, twitter, skype, etc.

1d. Regional Curriculum Work – some courses being added each year; we currently have about 5 courses actively creating and collaborating across 2 counties.

1e. Conferences, Workshops, and Conventions – attend 1-2 annually related to a district goal or an individual classroom-related goal.

1f. Peer Observation – The opportunity to reflect on one’s own teaching and gain insight from other quality educators is a characteristic of a highly effective teacher. Likewise, there are certified administrators with the New Evaluator’s License. Putting this to work would be a win-win for everyone.

1g. In-house mentors – Have teachers sign up to be mentors for the staff. Want to know more about Smart boards? Go see teacher X. Moodle? Flipped classroom? Web 2.0 tools? Effective classroom management techniques? Each teacher need would have a peer as a go-to person when needed. This list would be publicized so that it would be easy to find and locate the mentoring teacher. Again, the list is endless.

2. Fed-Ex Days & 20% time

Google and other companies are learning that creativity and production are most prominent when workers are left to themselves to work on projects of their choosing. Google has a 20% time. One day out of five is regarded as a pet-project day. Products such as Google docs, Google calendar, Google sites, and other amazing products are a result of this 20% time. They were not paid to create these products, just allowed the freedom to think outside the box for a short time on the clock.

Another major company has, what they term, “fed-ex” days. For example, they work all day Thursday researching new ideas and then have to “deliver [an idea] overnight” and present it to the group the next day. Again, the idea of free, open creativity is at work to produce new thinking and ideas.

Taking this idea, bringing it into the schools to creatively brainstorm ideas on major issues may be the solution to many frustrations. Likewise, we learn best from our peers who are a wealth of information and resource for creative problem-solving. What if we have a fed-ex day for improving D/F list? alternative uses of ppt, garageband, twitter, skype, etc? ways to use web 2.0 tools in the classroom? strategies to help struggling readers? The possibilities are endless!

These could be presented a la “speed-dating” style. Bring your ideas to share. You have five min to share your idea and move to the next person. Imagine the ideas you could get in 30 minutes, an hour.

3. The Schedule

FACTS: We currently have 191.5 contracted days. Five of these are holidays, 180 are student contact days, leaving six and a half days for PD. Likewise, an additional PD day is gained through teachers writing and logging an additional 8 hours of work toward professional development goals. Currently these are scheduled between back-to-school in service days, full days throughout the year, and two-hour late starts. Teachers are always looking for more days with students and the district is always wanting more time for teachers to develop professionally while working toward district goals. Both of these can be accomplished through some creative thinking.

Hold on to your hat! Here we go…

NEW THINKING: The student contact year will be 187 days, leaving 4.5 days for whole district meetings and instructional time. The remaining 187 days will be earmarked as student contact days. While the law only stipulates 180 days, this would give seven snow days already built in that wouldn’t have to be made up! This would also be a better argument for teams going to state championships, Spring Fling, and other activities that interrupt the school week. Teachers would individually take their seven PD days wherever and whenever they wanted.

For example, the Early Childhood Reading Strategies PLC wants to meet for 2 hours to discuss a new piece of research and how that will impact the classroom strategies used for student learning. Those teachers take their own 2-hr late start or some chunk of time during the day to discuss this issue. The time is logged, reflections documented, and they go back to class at the prearranged time.

The required seven days of PD will still be enforced, but it is taken at a time that works for the teachers in that group. If a teacher didn’t want to give up the extra seven instructional days or plan for a sub, these hours could be completed outside of the contract time, thus the “whenever and wherever” component.

How we think about professional development should be as refreshing and changing as our classroom. We are life-long learners. How are we supporting this effort in our PD model? How can we make PD more meaningful to the participants? What did you learn today that you didn’t know yesterday? How are you a better teacher today than you were yesterday? last week? last month? last year? Are you a first-year teacher with 10 years experience or a tenth-year teacher with one year experience (repeated ten times)? Is your PD really professional development or professional stagnation? What are you doing to change that?