Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Personalizing Our Professional Development

Our teacher leadership system has become quite successful. Based on a system designed to strengthen instruction through embedded professional development, we are seeing results. Relentless in our effort to ensure professional development is connected to district initiatives that improve student outcomes in the areas of math, reading, and technology; the vast majority of our faculty have been exposed to and implemented research based instructional strategies into practice that we know work. The formula used for our model of delivery is quite simple and elegant. Without much elaboration, once a problem of practice has been identified and researched, professional development is delivered using a common workshop model on Wednesday afternoons during early dismissal. Those delivering professional development content may include consultants from the AEA, or our own instructional coaches and model teachers. Following the delivery of content, our teacher leadership team works with teachers on the implementation phase of the professional development to embed it into practice. 

So when Mr. Schlatter came to me several months ago and said the teacher leadership team wanted to explore personalized professional development I was opposed. The concerns I had were many, but perhaps highest on the list was accountability and connection to district initiatives. In my mind, as soon as we completely turned the reigns over to individual teachers to figure out what they wanted their professional development to look like anarchy would reign! That's right, anarchy I say! But, he convinced me to keep an open mind, which I begrudgingly did. They could do their exploration, and I would *cough* keep an open mind. Anarchy!

As the months went by I received regular updates from Mr. Schlatter about their study. While still not convinced, I gave him a list of non-negotiables. Among them were those mentioned above: we had to ensure accountability and a connection to district initiatives. He promised those guardrails would be part of the proposed model and shared that at some point the team would want to present their plan to me. Now, I wouldn't say that I was softening on my stance, but I could see they were very serious about this and, frankly as happy as I was with how professional development was going, wasn't naive enough to believe all was Utopia in the land of professional learning in our school district. So, where are those problems?

If you read the opening paragraph again hopefully you will catch one of the most glaring; because I was very deliberate in my narrative: "The vast majority of our faculty....". You see it, right? Indeed, not all our teachers are exposed to the same professional development. For example, if you aren't a math teacher, the professional development we provided on number talks was likely irrelevant to your daily practice. In fact, there are swaths of faculty on a regular basis that not impacted by our professional development. Think about our specialists! Then there are the aspects of professional development that just are 'the way it is'. Oftentimes, and even justifiably so it is difficult to maintain a high attention and energy level during professional development. Why? Because teachers are pre-occupied with numerous other tasks that need to be completed. Lesson plans. Grades. Providing feedback to students. The list goes on. Indeed, I can remember as a teacher thinking that my time would be best spent one of the other numerous things that needed to be accomplished before I went home that night. 

Nonetheless, I resisted a change. The model we used worked as well as any, and in my humble opinion better than most. It provided the framework to avoid.....anarchy.

My perception changed about two weeks ago when the teacher leadership team pitched me their idea. Months in the planning, I could tell they were a bit nervous about how this would unfold. They had a tough task ahead of them and knew that I would ask difficult questions. They spoke eloquently about the positive attributes of the current professional development system, while arguing that we could, and should, do even better. They politely pointed out the flaws in our system and reminded me that teacher leadership was designed not only to strengthen instruction through embedded professional development, but to empower our teachers to be better and to strive for improvement. They contended that while a top down approach to professional development might garner compliance, a bottom up approach would meet the needs of all our teachers and truly take us to the next level. 

The plan they put together that ultimately gained my approval not only put the fail-safes in place that I had insisted on, it takes the concept of our teacher leadership system to a much higher state of professional enlightenment. Further, it takes an existing model that had been exclusively used for personalized professional development in technology and adapts it across disciplines. This allows us here at Hudson to maintain our spirit of innovation and be on the cutting edge of practice! In addition, it assigns each teacher or group of teachers a coach that will guide them through the professional development of their choosing, ensuring they align to district priorities and the Iowa Professional Development Model. Finally, and perhaps the best part is the concluding activity: They will share what they have learned with their colleagues, creating a library of wealth and knowledge for all our practitioners. 

The work these teacher leaders have done was impressive and exactly the kind of bold leadership that we embrace in our school district. They have put together an impressive plan. I can't wait to see how this unfolds next year. I am sold!

No comments:

Post a Comment