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.