I love the challenge of planning professional development (PD) for 90 teachers. As a Principal, I see my role as an instructional leader and coach. Knowing that not ALL teachers need the same thing or want to learn the same thing, I rubbed my hands together, buckled down for hours upon hours and collaborated with a great colleague to “pony up” to this challenge. These PD sessions would not be “sit and get” sessions. They would be hands-on sessions with the teachers engaging with content and colleagues with choice in what to learn and how to learn. We also explicitly planned to allow for varied access points for teachers based on their own background knowledge and skills.
I was told by the administration that the push for the school is to do more PBL (Problem/Project Based Learning). Side note- Previously the teachers were directed to write a “golden unit” using Backward Design that ended with doing a project…Ta-Da! They are done and doing PBL…WRONG. What was observed was that many teachers wrote one unit, did it and checked the PBL box as done. The admin realized that teachers needed support in the teaching practices of the PBL approach. We chose three aspects to focus on over three sessions of PD during early release time allowing for a total of 6 hours to learn together. We focused on the Teaching Practices from PLB Works (green/blue circle above): scaffolding student learning, assessing, and engaging and coaching.
During the PD, teachers made choices in their learning, discussed with their colleagues, read articles, watched videos, reflected on their learning, set goals for application in the classroom, received feedback and were provided with a resource site for reference.
We decided to take the PBL PD in the direction of lifting the level of teaching practice across the curriculum in every classroom PreK-12 in each moment rather than during just a unit. We designed a series of three PDs (6 hours total over three weeks) that were grounded in research based. When PD is grounded in research, it models that teaching and learning should be grounded in research this alone pushes most teachers to their next level.
We also modeled differentiated teaching providing for choice and interest. The final common thread to each session was to ensure that we shared the “why” behind the choices we were making in our teaching. Teachers have so many choices and the more intentional with them, the better. We have conducted three of the six sessions so far and will do the next sessions second semester.
The first PD was focused on student discussion…the goal was to shift teachers from monologue to dialogue as John Hattie writes in 10 Midframes for Visible Learning. Teachers who already valued and used student discussion could pick up and new strategy and teacher who were not using student discussion could learn why we should and how to do it. The differentiated approach we used could met teachers where they were at.
The second PD was focused on assessment and feedback. The teachers had previously defined learning as a community as, “Learning is acquiring new knowledge, skills and behaviors.” So, we needed to look at what teachers need to understand what is knowledge, skills and behaviors. Then we preselected five articles ranging from what is assessment to how to do an authentic assessment of learning. Teachers chose an article to read and then we led a jigsaw (a highly effective strategy according to John Hattie’s work). We then concluded with focusing on feedback as John Hattie outlines it in his book referenced above. We hoped that this PD was at a high level so that beginners could gain something and experienced teachers could also push their practice to the next level.
The third session was on differentiation. This HUGE topic is difficult to lead a group of 90 teachers in building their skills. We had pre-assessed their understanding of differentiation on an exit ticket the week before. No one had written or expressed all the elements Carol Tomlinson defines in her work. So, we knew we could push teachers who already differentiate and those that are new to it. But again, the struggle in HOW to do that in a room of 90 teachers. We approached this session recognizing everyone is on a continuum, asking the teachers to recognize where they are at and where they can go for themselves through reflection.
During these PDs, I realized the immense challenge of leading 90 teachers in lifting their practice when they are at 90 different places. However, I do think the PDs were successful! One indicator was that we didn’t see teachers looking at their watches or ducking out of sessions. We modeled differentiation in each of the three PDs with varied approaches to content, process and product as well as understood the varied readiness to access new ideas.
We walk around the school now and hear students having more dialogue in the classrooms and teachers are having more rich conversations in planning meetings. Finally, I believe the PD gave a common language and focus for the year setting teachers up for rich dialogue with their peers.
Thanks for reading!! If you are interested in the slides or resources we used, leave a comment and your email. We are happy to share!
*My partner in planning was/is Susan Cole, Assistant Principal. Her knowledge of PBL and the teachers was such an important part of the success of these PDs. Also, her undying awareness off too many words on slides was essential!
Carol Tomlinson’s video- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01798frimeQ (November 2019)
Buck Institute for Education- PBL Works- https://www.pblworks.org/what-is-pbl/gold-standard-project-design (November 2019).
Hattie, J., & Zierer, K. (2018). 10 Mindframes for visible learning: teaching for success. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
Being an elementary teacher who has moved to administration, the one question I am asked the most is, "Don't you miss the kids?" The short answer is yes. The long answer is more complicated. What it seems that I have given up has actually amplified. Instead of having 18 students, I now share 331. Instead of working with a team of 7 other adults, I work directly with 52 adults and even more adults school-wide. I used to get many hugs a day from children, now I get hugs from adults that are less frequent and full of emotions.
I was also asked recently what I have learned as a new administrator. Combining the two questions: Do I miss the kids and what I have learned; I came up with a list of 6 changes I have experienced. These changes have provided great fodder for lessons as a new administrator.
1. Community Building- Every classroom teacher is concerned with their learning community being healthy. I was! Every year I put a lot of energy into building and sustaining a fabulous community of learners. As an administrator, now I put a lot of energy into building a community of educators. If the teachers are happy and supported, student learning will be happy and supported. My daily goal is to make a teacher smile - whether it is bringing her copies from the copy room, writing a note or modeling lessons in a class. Keeping a healthy community of teachers is vital to the fulfillment of the school's mission.
2. Parent Perspective- In the classroom, a teacher's main concern is student learning and well-being. As a teacher, I worked to make strong connections with families because they provide insight into the child and support for the child's learning. Parents gave me information, compliments, notes, suggestions and complaints. As an administrator, the latter is the most common to hear. Complaints. Thus there is a need for listening I never had before. Listen for what the real message is and address that. Parents want what's best for their child and we, as a school, want what's best for all the children. I definitely have been gaining a new broader perspective.
3. Schedule: Full of variety and unpredictability- As a classroom teacher the day was always busy and full of laughter, learning and sometimes tears. The events of the day were unpredictable but maintained a predictable routine. As an administrator, about all I can predict is that I will be going to school. The variety of my day is great....from working with children to adults, from problems to solutions, from old ideas to new ones, from maintenance issues to supervision, from children learning to teachers learning. Then the superintendent walks in my office and says he wants me to fly to São Paulo for the day to attend a meeting. The variety of my day to day is enough to keep my brain active, jumping around and awake well past my bedtime.
4. Judgement- As a classroom teacher I always wanted what was best for my students and that meant for advocating for them. I now realize, at times, I was wearing blinders and only seeing what was in front of me. As an administrator, I want what's best for the school and that means everyone. For example, the guards were being too loud on the microphone during elementary dismissal and disturbing secondary classes that were still in session, I needed to figure out a solution and make it better quickly. I now have a clearer view of all the moving parts at work to provide what is best for students. Solutions are not as clear and easy as they seemed when I was a classroom teacher.
5. Risk-taking and Mistake-making- Just as we want our students to take risks and make mistakes, as a teacher I would take risks and make mistakes too. They always provided for great conversations in the classroom. Within my four walls, I could trip up, say I was sorry, fix it and move on. As an administrator, mistakes or misjudgements have a large ripple effect. The idea of apologizing, fixing it and moving on takes more courage due to being in the spotlight on a grander scale. Realizing when mistakes or wrong decisions are made, it is not about ego or who is right and who is wrong, it is about the education of our students. The bottom line is student learning. Saying sorry to a group of parents or a teacher can be humbling but it is all part of the job.
6. Keeping to Myself: information and thoughts- As a classroom teacher, it was very important to share, collaboration and talk about teaching and learning. The topics that I use to talk about were pretty much for anyone's ears, but now I find as an administrator that I have to think before speaking. While I still speak about teaching and learning, I also have information and thoughts that now need to be kept to myself or timed very well. Not be coy, but rather to keep confidential information as it is meant to be kept. Timing is everything as the saying goes, administrators have many different aspects of the school to keep in mind, many pieces to the puzzle.
While I loved being a teacher with my 18 students, I am loving being a part of the bigger picture. I enjoy the new challenges I am being faced with. As my administrative career progresses, I am sure some changes I am experiencing now will be "old hat" and new ones will soon arise. I have been building school-wide relationships based on trust and collaboration. I really enjoy working with all the people that make our school function so that children have positive experiences and learn at school. I really loved my old work and I love my new work too!
Do any of these experiences resonate with you? If so, leave a comment below.
Readings that influenced this post:
Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
Hacking Leadership: 10 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Learning that Teachers, Students and Parents Love by Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis
Reframing the Path to School Leadership by Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal